Easter Sunday: The Resurrection of the Lord (Year C)
THE MASS OF EASTER DAY
This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad
Seeing the signs of the resurrection
“Alleluia! Christ is risen!” With joy we greet each other on this very special morning of Easter Sunday. This exclamation will be our humble profession of faith in the resurrection of Christ to be announced to the world. It is the Mystery of mysteries which is still realized today in the liturgical celebration and in the life of each of us. This Sunday’s Gospel, that of Saint John, read every year in the “mass of Easter day”, helps us to enter even more deeply into the mystical and mysterious meaning of the “first day of the week”. A careful rereading of some details of this Gospel passage will lead to (re)discovering important aspects for understanding and living our faith in the Risen Christ ever more intensely as his missionary disciples.
1. The detective story of the stone removed from the tomb and the disciples’ morning races
The Johannine account of what happened that morning resembles a detective story. We should therefore follow and meditate on its smallest details to grasp the key points that shed light on the overall message. It all starts with Mary Magdalene’s discovery of the overturned stone (from the tomb of Jesus) and the implicit absence of his body. This made her run to the two disciples, Peter and the other, specified as “the one Jesus loved”, to communicate this fact to them. They too ran to the tomb, but “the other disciple ran faster than Peter” and “arrived there first”.
Here is the first detail that has intrigued many curious listeners / readers of today and of the past. The first and simplest explanation is because the other disciple is stronger or younger than Peter. Someone has even hypothesized that the other disciple, traditionally identified with the apostle John, was faster because he was a virgin (wifeless), unlike Peter (a married man)!
However, the text shows the only difference between these two disciples, which may be the key to read what happened: that other disciple is indicated as “the one Jesus loved”. In other words, according to the Gospel text, the distinctive qualification of the disciple who ran faster is that special love between Jesus and him. Obviously the divine Master loved all of his disciples, Peter included, and he loved them to the end (cf. Jn 13:1-2), as we mentioned in the reflection on Good Friday. Therefore, the exalted particularity of the love between the Master and a disciple seems to refer not only to Jesus’ love for him but also to the intensity of the love that the disciple had for Jesus. And it is precisely this love which has “pushed” the beloved disciple to run to the tomb as quickly as possible, to find the beloved Master.
2. The way to arrive to faith in the resurrection
This intense love of the beloved disciple for his Master also seems to be the key to read what happened afterwards at the tomb. Here, we note another intriguing detail of the story: “what did Peter and the other disciple see?” Let us recompose the sequence of facts to understand this better. The beloved disciple arrived first and initially saw “the burial cloths there” in the tomb, “but [he] did not go in.” Then, Peter, who arrived later, “ went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head.” Finally, “the other disciple also went in, (...) and he saw and believed”.
For centuries the reason of this “saw and believed” on the part of the beloved disciple has been questioned. In this regard, we should immediately stress that the verb here is strictly in the singular and clearly refers to the beloved disciple. The text therefore makes no mention of Peter’s “faith”, even though he had seen the same things the other disciple saw. Moreover, and we must emphasise this, the Gospel immediately underlines that “[both] had not yet understood Scripture, that is, that he had to rise from the dead.” What does it all mean?
All this seems to highlight that there are two ways to arrive at faith in the resurrection of Christ. The first is based on the correct understanding of Holy Scripture, and we can say that both disciples had not arrived at this knowledge at the time at the tomb. The second possible way instead comes from the direct experience of the signs that the crucified and risen Christ left. Here, however, even though Peter and the other disciple had seen the same things, only the latter “believed”. Why?
Someone replied that only after entering the tomb the beloved disciple probably noticed some “strange” position of the shroud (he had not seen before) and hence believed, but it does not seem a plausible explanation to me. Someone wanted to limit the meaning of the verb “to believe”, not as a manifestation of faith in the resurrection (of Jesus), but as a reference only to “recognizing” as true what Mary of Magdala had said before about the stolen body. Not even this (rather trivial) interpretation seems satisfying. The only satisfactory answer that you too who are following this “mystery” may well have guessed is love. That love for the Master that enlightened and led the beloved disciple from seeing to believing, recognizing, and “understanding” the mystery which had not happened before. It is no coincidence that it will be him, the beloved disciple, to be the first to recognize the risen Master during His appearance on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, and to inform Peter of the fact (cf. Jn 21:7). It is the intelligence of heart that opens the intelligence of mind.
3. Seeing the signs of the Risen One
The resurrection of Jesus is the divine Mystery, which as such always remains elusive to the human mind. This will also apply to the risen Lord’s apparitions which took place according to the will and wisdom of God and not human wisdom nor will, as stated in the first reading: “This man [Jesus] God raised (on) the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” On the other hand, the Risen One will say to the apostles, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed!” (Jn 20:29). (It should be remembered that he prayed for these “blessed” who believed only on the basis of the words of the apostles [cf. Jn 17:20]). This blessed faith is a grace which in any case needs a constant flowering in Jesus’ disciples themselves. It does come from apostolic witness, but also from experiencing the signs of the Risen One in their lives. And these signs will only be perceptible thanks to love.
As we meditated on Good Friday, Jesus loved his own to the end. And he continued to love them even beyond the end! Dead for love, he is risen in love. Today as then, Christ always leaves the concrete signs of his resurrection to his disciples. Indeed, he accompanies them in the mission with the signs of his real and operative presence. These signs are sometimes as simple as the cloths and the shroud, sometimes even ambiguous like that “stone removed from the tomb” which may allude to a theft of the corpse or to an intentional demonstration of the empty tomb: «It is not here. He is risen” (Lk 24:6). (Was it necessary for the risen Christ, who later will also be able to pass through closed doors [cf. Jn 20:19, 26], to remove the stone to get out of the tomb?). The fundamental question then is this: which of his disciples will see these signs of the Risen One and believe first, in order to point them out to others?
May God open the eyes of our hearts, so that we can contemplate this morning, in front of the empty tomb, the presence of the dead and risen Master who loved his disciples to the end, indeed, beyond the end. And that we can see in love the signs of his resurrection around us to enter the joy of a life which is continually reborn in Him despite all the difficulties, tribulations, tragedies, and deaths. “Christ is risen! He is truly risen!”