Gospel JN 20:1-9
On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead.
Or MT 28:1-10
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning,
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
And behold, there was a great earthquake;
for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,
approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
His appearance was like lightning
and his clothing was white as snow.
The guards were shaken with fear of him
and became like dead men.
Then the angel said to the women in reply,
"Do not be afraid!
I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.
He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.
Come and see the place where he lay.
Then go quickly and tell his disciples,
'He has been raised from the dead,
and he is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him.'
Behold, I have told you."
Then they went away quickly from the tomb,
fearful yet overjoyed,
and ran to announce this to his disciples.
And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them.
They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.
Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid.
Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee,
and there they will see me."
Or LK 24:13-35
At an afternoon or evening Mass.
That very day, the first day of the week,
two of Jesus' disciples were going
to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,
and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.
And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,
Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
He asked them,
"What are you discussing as you walk along?"
They stopped, looking downcast.
One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply,
"Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem
who does not know of the things
that have taken place there in these days?"
And he replied to them, "What sort of things?"
They said to him,
"The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene,
who was a prophet mighty in deed and word
before God and all the people,
how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over
to a sentence of death and crucified him.
But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel;
and besides all this,
it is now the third day since this took place.
Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:
they were at the tomb early in the morning
and did not find his body;
they came back and reported
that they had indeed seen a vision of angels
who announced that he was alive.
Then some of those with us went to the tomb
and found things just as the women had described,
but him they did not see."
And he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are!
How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!
Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things
and enter into his glory?"
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets,
he interpreted to them what referred to him
in all the Scriptures.
As they approached the village to which they were going,
he gave the impression that he was going on farther.
But they urged him, "Stay with us,
for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over."
So he went in to stay with them.
And it happened that, while he was with them at table,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them.
With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight.
Then they said to each other,
"Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?"
So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem
where they found gathered together
the eleven and those with them who were saying,
"The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!"
Then the two recounted
what had taken place on the way
and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.
Reflecting & Living God’s Words
Gospel JN 20:1-9
(Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9)
These Easter readings have similar beginnings. For example, today’s gospel starts, "...on the first day of the week...." St. Luke begins his story of the disciples traveling to Emmaus, "That very day, the first day of the week...." Next Sunday we will hear again these words from John as he tells the story of Jesus’ appearance to the huddled disciples behind the locked doors, "On the evening of that first day of the week...." Usually the gospels are not that fussy about precise days and hours. Most stories begin more generically, "After that Jesus went to Jerusalem...." or, "Early in the morning Jesus entered the Temple." Given such generalities, we moderns want to ask: exactly when did Jesus go to Jerusalem...what day, year and hour?" But instead we are almost always frustrated when we ask for that kind of information. It is as if the gospel writer is saying, "That’s not the point here."
Despite the fact that the details of these Easter readings get confusing (were there two angels at the tomb, or just a young man.... did Mary Magdalene go alone or with two other women, etc.?), it seems that, concerning the day of the week of the resurrection, the writers are specific about one thing – it was "the first day of the week." Not just the day after the Sabbath, not just Sunday, but "the first day of the week." The evangelists haven’t changing their usual habit of ambiguity about specifics. They just want to make the point that something new has happened, there is a fresh start, a new beginning for us all, it is "the first day of the week." Just as God, on the first day, created light to pierce the darkness, so now God’s light has once again pierced the darkness – this time it is the darkness of the tomb. Because of "the first day of the week," we no longer need to fear death.
There is much to learn on this first day and the three disciples in today’s story are our teachers. Mary goes to the tomb in the same way we have visited grave sites: to grieve; to pay respects to someone gone; to call to mind a relationship ended abruptly by death. She hasn’t anticipated the resurrection. Thus, John tells us, she went "while it was still dark." It is dark because she does not yet see by the light of faith and so does not understand what has happened. An empty tomb is not enough to convince her that Jesus is risen. Instead, she draws the same logical conclusion we would, "The Lord has been taken from the tomb!" That is the first bit of news she has to announce.
We look around the world trying to find logical arguments and hints of resurrection. We point to caterpillars that become butterflies with the gift of beauty and flight. We north-easterners point to frozen earth, bleak and brown and then to green shoots that soon will become daffodils. Somehow we think these are arguments for the resurrection, signs that life comes from unexpected, even dead-looking places. But with so much evidence of death these days; with more slaughter from car bombs in Iraq; death by starvation threatening millions in Africa, unending murder, rape and pillage of innocents in numerous countries (cf. below for information about world slavery) and with our own more immediate losses from the death of loved ones--- caterpillars becoming butterflies do not offer enough comfort and assurance in our grief. As a relative told me recently when her husband died, "He was my whole life." More is needed to get through that kind of grief. The seeming "logic" of life--- to death-- to new life, leaves big question marks and not deep solace when death stares us in the face. We need more to keep us from faltering and, thankfully, we have more. Later in the story, though not in today’s reading, Mary will meet the risen Lord and come to believe what we believe – the dark shadow of death has been driven out by the light of the risen Lord. Once given the gift of light, she will proclaim the good news to the frightened apostles waiting in the upper room, "I have seen the Lord" (20: 11-18).
I wonder what slowed Peter up as he and "the other disciple" raced to the tomb? Is Peter’s slow pace John’s poetic touch suggesting that Peter’s memory of betrayal had slowed him down? Is he burdened by the weight of the past? If Peter comes to faith in the resurrection, everything will change for him. In the face of the risen Lord, Peter will have to accept forgiveness. It will be a gift, not something he earned, but something he must offer others – if he is to believe in the risen Lord. Hadn’t he heard Jesus say that he must forgive "seventy times seven times?" As we look into the empty tomb with the disciples today and express faith in the risen Christ, can we accept the forgiveness he offers us? And if we do, whom must we then forgive? Perhaps we don’t have any "heavy" sins to slow us down as we approach the empty tomb with the disciples. But when we reflect on the quality of our discipleship; the love we have for Christ; our dedication to his message and our response in service to our neighbor – perhaps we too might be slow in approaching the tomb. But if we remain slowed down by the past with Peter, we won’t "see" the resurrected one. This "first day of the week" will just be another Sunday.
If Peter believes in the resurrection, he will have to view the world through the lens of Jesus; there can be no other lens, no other standard of behavior. He will have to give total loyalty to the Christ, and turn away from all other contrary powers. We who have resurrection faith will also have to question and work to change all powers and institutions to which we give allegiance, if they do not manifest the love and justice Jesus has taught. Why, for example, in the richest country in the world, do almost 25% of our children live in poverty? Why aren’t women given equality in our church, the church of the One whose resurrection was first announced to and proclaimed by a woman? How does the resurrection faith we have received challenge and empower us to speak and act, now that it is "the first day of the week?"
But if this is "the first day," then John is reminding us that something entirely new and unexpected is happening and we have reason to hope. There is one more person in our "first day story." John tells us it is "the one Jesus loved." Some think it was John himself. The gospel may be intentionally ambiguous here so that each of us can put ourselves in the story. The beloved disciple looked into the tomb and "saw and believed." The love this disciple had known had opened his eyes. Our faith tells us that we can call our selves "the disciple Jesus loved." The experience of that love may open our eyes to the possibilities of this first day of the week – as the beloved disciples’ eyes were opened when he peered into the tomb. Love gave him sight. This love is not based on merit, or achievements or our brilliant insights. Rather, as it is with love, it is given as a gift. We, the beloved, now can confront death in its many guises.
Love invites us to take a close look at what is before us on this first day of new life. We don’t look back over our shoulder at who we were and what we did in the past. This is a new day with new realizations and possibilities, after all, we are the beloved disciples. The love we have received is a basis for a new way to live. We can begin – or start again – to act like loved ones. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we trust we will not fall out of the embrace of God’s love and so we can take chances in loving others we might not ordinarily take.
We return from the empty tomb asking ourselves how we can live the life of a beloved disciple. How can we love better? Especially, how can we show love to those who don’t have the signs our culture loves – like youth, looks, wealth and power? Each of us makes the trip to the empty tomb today, peers into the tomb and into our lives. Is there someone we have not forgiven? Have we hesitated getting involved in serving others? What signs of death do we see that we must turn away from or confront? In the light of what we "see" on this first day of the week, what new life do we experience and with whom should we share it in word and act?
Fr. Jude Siciliano, OP