A Reflection on the Gospel for April 17th, 2022: The Solemnity of Easter Sunday
John 20.1-9 (shorter) (For the longer version, see the print edition of Living with Christ.)
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in.
Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
Reading this Gospel, I can’t help but imagine how the Disciples and Apostles felt. There was something different about Jesus. His life had transformed their lives and the lives of those around them. He had told them in parables, which He sometimes explained to a select few in private. They had met or heard of John the Baptist and grew up reading and hearing about the prophets and teachers God had sent to their people, but this moment with Jesus had felt different. They had begun to understand who He truly was. Then He’d done something strange at the Passover. And He’d said He would be betrayed and denied. Jesus was arrested and then brutally crucified. And all the Apostles except John had fled to that upper room, holed up for three days, wondering what would come next.
Jesus’ mother, the Apostle John, and a collection of female disciples, including Mary Magdalen, stood witness to that crucifixion. They, of all those who loved Jesus, knew best the truth of what they had seen – that Jesus had died. His death had been incredible, but not some cosmic fake out, with a very alive Jesus sneaking off for a surprise reappearance.
So when Mary Magdalene went to the tomb that day to prepare His body now that the Passover was complete, she was not prepared for the tomb to be empty. When John and Peter ran to the tomb, they were likely expecting signs of someone having stolen the body. Instead, they found the linen wrappings lying there. No mere grave robber in their right mind would have left the linen wrappings. And if it were some authorities seeking to interfere with the hero worship that often arises at tombs like this, why would they have taken on the arduous task of unwrapping His body? Why not throw a sheet over Him and haul Him away as is?
Seeing this, John believed, even without full understanding of what the Scriptures had said. Something was different. Something had changed. This man, who was unlike any other sage or prophet in human history, didn’t even have a death according to expectations.
I wonder how much hope they allowed themselves to feel in this moment between the discovery of the empty tomb and when Jesus appeared to them? When we celebrate Easter, we know how the story ends. We know that the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Christ are the facts of the Triduum. But today, as we prepare for Easter Sunday, we have the opportunity to recapture the feeling of that first Easter by seeing the Triduum through the eyes and hearts of the Apostles and Disciples. We can experience through them the tenderness of Jesus’ love at the Last Supper, the horror at Judas’ (and our own) betrayal of Christ, the agony of His crucifixion, the despair at His death, the longing hope at the empty tomb, and the ecstatic joy at the resurrection!