EASTER SUNDAY (A) April 12, 2020
Acts 10: 34a, 37-43; Psalm 118; 1 Corinthians 5: 6b-8; John 20: 1-9
by Jude Siciliano, OP
PRE-NOTE: I am writing this some weeks in advance. Not sure if the Corona virus will have diminished in intensity and the "lockdown" lifted to enable us to mix with loved ones this Easter. If it hasn’t, the opening of this reflection will sound like a dream! Here’s hoping and praying it comes true!
What kind of Easter Sunday is this? Here we are with lighted candles, flowers, joyful music and all dressed up. We’re looking forward to Easter dinner with family and friends. Maybe we’ll even have some champagne to celebrate. If there are little ones we will arrange an Easter egg hunt. There will be chocolate Easter bunnies, especially appealing if you gave up chocolate for Lent.
We are all primed for our Easter celebration, both here in church and at home. But what we get in the Scriptures, in today’s gospel, isn’t about a flash of lightning, the appearance of an angel rolling the stone back and telling the women, "Don’t be afraid. He is not here. He has been raised." Nor, as another gospel story has it, are there two young men in dazzling garments asking, "Why do you search for the living one among the dead? He is not here, he has been raised!" Isn’t that what we expected to hear today? Instead, we don’t get a story of spectacle and surprise, but an account of an empty tomb – and that’s it! It feels like a letdown, leaving us with questions "What’s going on? What does it all mean?"
First, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb. She had traveled with Jesus, witnessed his marvelous deeds, heard his words and loved him. Maybe she went to the tomb to shut the door on part of her life – the way we go to the empty room after the death of a loved one. They are not there, but some part of them is. So we go, sit, remember, grieve and prepare to shut the door on, what once was, and carry on, as best we can. Was that what brought Mary to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark? A final farewell? Shutting the door?
But his body was gone! Mary rushes to tell the other disciples, not that he was risen, but that "they" had stolen his body. Resurrection from the dead would not have entered their minds. So, Simon Peter and the disciple Jesus loved, run to the tomb where they had placed Jesus’ body. They expected little to happen, after all he was dead; they were sure of that. Some people claim that Jesus wasn’t really dead, that the disciples took him away and revived him. No, the Romans were masters of torture and murder. Jesus was dead; of that the disciples were sure.
The two who ran to the tomb found it just as Mary had described. The tomb was empty, the body gone. Peter enters the tomb first, sees the burial cloths and the head cloth neatly folded in a separate place. Nice and neat. But they were not looking for neatness, they had come looking for their beloved Jesus.
Do you ever put yourself in place of one of the characters in the stories? Ever try to imagine how you would react if you were in their place? This may not be the story we would prefer to hear on this, the greatest feast of the Christian year. But perhaps it’s a very appropriate story for where we find ourselves at this time. Unlike those other resurrection accounts, we don’t meet the risen Christ in the garden as Mary did. He doesn’t appear to us, as he did to the apostles, when we are troubled, anxious, or afraid behind locked doors.
What we get, at those times, is like this gospel story: an empty tomb and two disciples peering into the dark and emptiness. What parts of our lives do these two disciples capture for us at the tomb? Are we Simon Peter, the most prominent but also flawed disciple? We have had our moments of failure, sadness and discouragement. He may represent us at the empty tomb or, at least, some part of us – when we just don’t understand what’s going on in our lives; when things feel barren and empty; when we have to live, for this moment at least, with ambiguity and mystery. No answers.
Or, are we like the second disciple who enters, sees what Peter saw and, as John tells us, "He saw and believed." He had personally experienced Jesus’ love. He looked into the emptiness, though he saw no risen apparition, he did see with "faith eyes." Is that the way we experience similar situations of emptiness? We draw on our experience of Christ’s love and believe? Maybe it is the faith passed on to us by parents, or other disciples of Jesus. Maybe it is the Scripture stories that enable us to look into the emptiness and still see; not lose our footing; not throw our hands up in despair, but believe and have hope.
Is that it? Is that all there is for us on Easter Sunday? No appearance to frightened disciples in an upper room? No appearance to Mary in the garden where she first thinks he is the gardener? We will hear those stories later this Easter season. But not today. Today has us peering into emptiness with Simon Peter and the beloved disciple and observing their different reactions to what is before them and us.
Which disciple are we? I think we have both in us. At moments of our lives we feel lost and do not know what to do next. We just don’t see. At other times, just as empty, like that tomb, we see, go forward and grow stronger, despite the emptiness. We may be bringing a mixture of both to church today.
It is Easter, when life overcomes death; when faith sustains our doubts. Faith is not physical sight, faith is trust in God. We have a "Nevertheless Faith," when we can’t prove what we believe but, like the beloved disciple, we know we are loved, nevertheless. We believe, despite the appearances, nevertheless.
Jesus cured blind people. We know that "seeing" is a biblical symbol for faith. Jesus not only gives physical sight, but gives the sight of faith; brings light into the dark places of our lives. He did that for those first doubting disciples, and he will do that for us too.
This day is not about what those first disciples accomplished. It is not about how deserving they were of God’s love. They did not earn the resurrection as a payment for good behavior, or strong faith. Quite the contrary. This past week showed that, as confused as they were, as broken as they were, as much like each of us they were – still, they were the ones whom God had chosen to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just as we are chosen to do.
Faith in the resurrection isn’t simply a claim about our future status, after we die. It is first, of all, a demonstration about who God is and how God works. It is about our God, who makes new life where there has been death. And more… Resurrection is about our vocation. It is a summons, a task to be undertaken, that sends us out to announce, by our words and actions, God’s love and forgiveness for sinners, outcasts, neglected, forgotten and displaced.
If we do that, accept our vocation, others will come to know what we profess here today… the tomb is empty because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! And that’s not the end of the story, it has only just begun!
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