Easter is upon us! The first to reach the tomb and to make the discovery that the stone had been rolled away is Mary Magdalen. In the long history of the Church, venerable piety would link her to the prostitute whom Jesus reformed. Although modern exegesis would place this in some doubt; she, nonetheless, stands out as one of the so-called weaker sex, a woman who in that society often possessed a third class status behind oxen or other forms of property. To the eyes of many, she was worth nothing and invisible. And yet, the Scriptures place this female first at the tomb. Maybe this honor falls upon her to demonstrate how Christ has come to raise up the downtrodden and to reveal our equal dignity in the eyes of God? He comes for the poor, the oppressed, and the sinful. If as a child Jesus could be worshiped by lowly shepherds then why could he not first appear to a woman who herself was lowly in the eyes of many? She is afraid and runs to Peter with the news.
The second person to reach the tomb is John, “the disciple Jesus loved.” But, notice what he does. Although he has outrun Simon Peter, he hesitates at the entrance of the tomb and waits for him. John humbly knows quite well whom Jesus has placed in charge of the disciples — it is Peter. Peter is the one who first recognizes Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. But, remember what has happened recently. He has denied Christ three times. Unlike John, he runs and hides himself. He is absent from the Cross. Now, he is at the tomb. He is slowly recovering from his betrayal. With Jesus gone to the Father, it is Peter who would be the visible rock of Christ’s Church. In the tomb he sees the various wrappings, but we are not told whether he discerns more. We, like Peter, might also sometimes find ourselves in the paradox of both betraying Christ by our sins and yet searching earnestly for him. Where is he, we might ask?
After Peter looks into the tomb, John takes his turn. With John there is no mention of the various wrappings and artifacts which the human eye can see. No, it is John this time who sees deeper than the rest. With the same eyes which witnessed the Crucifixion and somehow did not totally abandon hope, he sees and believes. His eyes of faith see no mere empty tomb. Something new has happened — something unheard of — something which only a madman or a man of faith might hold — a man has risen from the grave. Notice that I say this is something new. In similar stories, as with the little girl or Lazarus, a person comes back to life, but it is more like resuscitation than resurrection. Jesus would never die again. Jesus is totally transformed. Everything he is becomes something new and wonderful — beyond suffering — beyond sickness — beyond death. Suddenly the quote from Jesus, that if his temple is destroyed, it would be restored in three days, make sense. He means his very own person.
The Gospels relate episodes where the risen Lord appears to his followers. He would greet his friends from a beach. He would appear to them in the locked upper room. He would manifest himself to a couple of followers along the road to Emmaus and be recognized in the breaking of the bread, an incident which points to his presence in the bread of life broken for us, the Eucharist. These other incidents are wonderful treasures in our heritage from God, but we must first take seriously the initial response of John and then the other disciples. Our eyes of faith must discern the Lord in his Church and in her sacraments; he is present and so is his saving activity. The Father’s love restores his Son back to life. Invited into this divine love, we are promised a share in eternal life.
Peace and blessings upon you all. Enjoy those jelly beans and chocolate bunnies!
Your Servant in Christ,
Fr. Joseph A. Jenkins