Acts 10:34A, 37-43
Psalm 118:1-2, 167-17, 22-23
John 20:1-9

I overheard the woman’s rant as she made her way out of the church that Easter Sunday morning.  “They read the wrong Gospel!”

“How’s that?” her friend responded in a low voice, probably hoping the irate one would tone her voice down too.

“I wanted to hear about the Risen Body and all I heard was something about an empty tomb!”

Are there many that feel that same disappointment at the end of the Gospel for Easter Sunday?  It is quite likely that many come hoping to hear about the Body and leave feeling as empty as the tomb.  Easter is that kind of feast.  Churches fill to overflowing, the way they do after a disaster.  People come to Mass who have not been to church for months.  Some may not have been inside the doors for years, but because they are visiting parents for the holiday they tag along for the morning ritual, all the while thinking of the super breakfast that will follow when they return home.  Then there are the angry regulars resenting that a stranger has taken their place in the pew.  Let’s hope that their anger isn’t so intense that they are prevented from hearing the proclamation of the Good News.

Easter should be the feast that shores up challenged faith. I would wager that every year there are those that come into the celebration hoping against hope.  This Feast is especially important for those who are new to mourning: parents that have lost a child; brothers and sisters who have lost a sibling or a parent; a man or woman who has lost a spouse.  Depending on the intensity of the grief, the mourner can wonder if there is reason to hope, reason to go on living.

The one who sees does not believe.  If I see another face-to-face I do not have to believe that s/he exists.  There is no faith in heaven, no hope, only love.  Those in glory do not have to believe.  They are in the presence.

The wrong Gospel is the important one to hear.  It is a proclamation about grief-stricken people wondering if anything worse could possibly happen.  Mary of Magdala is distraught when, upon her arrival and expecting to prepare properly Jesus’ body for burial, she finds the tomb empty.  She reports to Peter, the seasoned disciple, and the Beloved Disciple, the neophyte, They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.  Not that her standing at the cross in witness to his execution did not break Mary’s faith that Jesus is Lord.  But her faith will have to take another step in order to believe that He is risen.

It is not a bad idea to try to imagine what thoughts raced through the heads of Peter and the Beloved One as they raced to the Tomb.  Peter remains burdened by the memory of having denied that he was a disciple or that he even knew Jesus.  Moments of panic can surface scores of memories.  He could have been experiencing kaleidoscopic images of the first meeting on the seashore and the mountaintop Transfiguration.  He might have been feeling still the tug of the net teeming with fish caught at Jesus’ direction to cast the nets again after a night of fruitless labor.  Perhaps he saw Jesus walking on the water in the midst of the storm, remembering how he sank when Jesus had bidden him to come.  There is the possibility that he shivered, remembering the gaze that passed between them during that final encounter following Peter’s third denial.

The other disciple, the one Jesus loved, what was he thinking as he raced ahead of the older Peter.  Beloved.  That is his designation, one denoting a special relationship.  At the final meal he had reclined at table next to Jesus and had leaned into his embrace to ask Jesus which one would betray him.  He had stood at the cross on that terrible day only to hear Jesus entrust his mother to the Beloved One’s care.  But notice that his eagerness to see for himself did not keep him from deferring to Peter, allowing him to enter the Tomb first.  Imagine the heart pounding within his breast as he waited at the entrance, storing up the signs, wondering what they meant.

In the end the Gospel is about faith that results from the confrontation of signs.  When Peter arrives, he enters and sees the burial cloths.  A curious detail is added.  The cloth that had covered the body’s face was folded and placed apart from the other cloths.  Peter drank in the visuals, but the pericope does not speak of Peter’s response.  The Beloved Disciple follows Peter into the tomb, drinks in the signs and seeing, he believes.

Of course it is possible that both Peter and the Beloved disciple believed in that moment.  The Gospel doesn’t say that.  It is also possible that it took Peter longer to believe just as it had taken him longer to arrive at the tomb.  That is not a fault.  It is a reminder that faith is a gift that comes when grace empowers belief.

If only we could have been party to their discussion as the two walked home again.

So, on this morning we are confronted by the Empty Tomb and are invited to see the signs.  The wrappings of death rolled up and put aside tell us that death is not forever.  But that should not make us conclude that resurrection is resuscitation as it is depicted in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.  If you ever have the opportunity, view Pier Paolo Pasolini’s brilliant The Gospel According to St. Matthew.  Pasolini got it right.  You’ll catch the difference immediately.

To confuse resurrection and resuscitation is to limit the Mystery and contain it.  Jesus resuscitated Lazarus; but remember that Lazarus had to die again.

So, we come to Easter variously burdened.  Perhaps we are seasoned believers, aging as did Peter.  Perhaps we are newly aware of being sinners as Pope Francis declared himself to be.  There will be those who come to the celebration burden with a new diagnosis of a terminal disease.  The neophytes in their white robes stand as the Beloved Disciple, drinking in the signs, pondering as they rejoice in their newfound faith.  We all come with cares needing to have signs contradicted.  The betrayed and the shunned come hoping against hope, needing to have their wounds anointed and to find some reason to go on believing.  Will love ever triumph?  Will there ever be one human family?  Will we ever live in peace and experience God’s reign?

Maybe we will limp in with all the others, those familiar to us and those strangers.  All of us bearing scars of another year’s wounds we encountered on the way.  But if, burdened by them, we move from the Table of the Word and stand with them at the Table of the Eucharist we will remember and recognize Him in the Breaking of the Bread.  Sharing in the meal, we will know the Presence.



No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: