Mary of Magdala comes to the tomb during the wee hours of the morning while it is still dark and finds the stone rolled away. She runs to Peter and John to share with them the news, that: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him” (Jn 20:2). Peter and John retrace the steps of Mary, running to find the tomb empty as well. All three are stunned because “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (Jn 20:9).
How can we blame them? Do we fully understand the reality and fact that Jesus has risen from the dead? There is conjecture today that Jesus did not really die, but woke up three days later, aching all over from the excruciating effects of the crucifixion. Others say that the accounts of the resurrection were mass hallucinations, or that the Gospel accounts of Jesus rising from the dead are a mere myth. These propositions do not stand up to the fact that Jesus, fully God and fully man died, entered death, and conquered it. In so doing he entered into a new life, a new reality. Jesus, in becoming the firstborn of the dead, was transfigured from our three-dimensional reality that we all know and experience, such that he now resonates at a higher pitch, in a higher dimensional reality. Jesus is the firstborn of a new creation!
All of human history changed in that tomb because of this new fact of the resurrection of Jesus. How this has happened is indeed a mystery, but in our seeking understanding, we will fall short and be frustrated if we only approach the mystery of God in the same way that we tackle a problem to be solved. The Apostles and disciples of Jesus struggled to find meaning and understanding about how Jesus crucified was now gone from the tomb. They came to understand the Mystery of the Resurrection, the same way that they would the mystery that Jesus is fully human and fully divine. This happened when they encountered Jesus again. The Mystery of the Resurrection is not a problem to be solved, but a person to encounter, a relationship to embrace, as it was for the Apostles and is so for each of us.
Faith seeking understanding is grounded in having an encounter with a person, Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Pope Francis writes: “The joy of the Gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness” (Francis, 9).
Easter Sunday is the day where this joy first truly became possible, yet this Easter, the greater majority of Catholics are not able to celebrate the Mass in person side by side in pews overflowing with people. They are not able to dip their fingers into the baptismal or holy water font. Not being able to do this simple act that we may have taken for granted for years might give us a chance to reflect on why we were ever doing it in the first place? We did so to recall our baptism when we entered into the death and new life of Jesus, to renew the vows of our baptism.
Each day may we renew our commitment to open our hearts and minds to Jesus who is the Christ, who has truly risen – Alleluia, Alleluia!!!
We are an alleluia people, meaning that even in our trials, loneliness, confusion, suffering, sin, and state of quarantine, we are a people endowed with hope. We have not only been loved into existence, but we have also been loved into the promise of eternity, where suffering and death are no more! A promise I believe even more strongly in this Easter, for it is my first in twenty-three years without JoAnn. I believe though that she is now celebrating along with Mary and the saints. She is now where we will one day be rejoicing with her because Jesus opened up heaven for us in the humanity he assumed, the death he conquered, and the resurrection we celebrate today! Alleluia!
Photo: Christ the Redeemer statue – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Francis. Evangelii Gaudium, Joy of the Gospel, Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Frederick, MD: The Word Among Us Press, 2013.