Easter Sunday – “The Resurrection of the Lord” by Salesian Sister Sarah O’Rourke
Easter Sunday Year A – Lectio Divina on Jn 20,1-9
The gospel account covers the first moments of the paschal experience. It describes how the empty tomb led to faith in the Resurrection. Not all, indeed only one, of those who found the tomb empty, came to faith. Neither Mary nor Peter saw and believed – they were so sure of the death of their master that they could not understand that God had restored him to life, a life without death or shroud. Only the beloved disciple knew that Jesus was alive, when he saw that he was no longer in the tomb and no longer had need of a shroud. Peter and the beloved disciple were alarmed by what Mary said. Together they ran the same road, but only the beloved disciple believed. Knowing that we are loved by Jesus is still the way to know that he is alive.
“1 On the first day of the week Mary, Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 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.” 3 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. 4 They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; 5 and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, 7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”
II. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it.
The synoptics emphasize the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus (Mk 16,6; Mt 28,6-7; Lk 24,5-6.34). John tells instead of the personal meetings that took place with Jesus in Jerusalem, on the first day of the week (20,1.19). John 20 is divided into two scenes. The first takes place at dawn, at the tomb (20,1-18). It speaks of the disappearance of the corpse (20,2.13.15). The second took place that evening in a particular house (20,19-29) when the Risen Lord appeared (20,18.25.29). Jesus dominates the account – he is mentioned fourteen times.
Our passage recalls the first episode (20,1-9) of the scene around the empty tomb (20,1-18). It was still dark when Mary and Peter arrived at the tomb which was open and empty. The account is true to life but it is especially a story of faith. Seeing is a necessary step before we can believe (20,8), but seeing does not necessarily lead to faith (20,1.7). Finding an empty tomb and a discarded shroud is not sufficient to make one believe that the man who was crucified is alive.
The empty tomb discovered at dawn points to the darkness in the heart of Mary, one of the women who assisted as the death of Jesus (21,1; 19,25). No indication is given as to what prompted Mary to go to the tomb. (Compare Mk 16,1; Lk 24,1: the women brought perfume to anoint the body; and Mt 28,1: they went to visit the sepulchre). Mary of Magdala (20,16.18), was the first to witness the triumph of Jesus over death, but she still did not believe. She imagined, “logically” that the body has been stolen and, again logically, she ran to tell Peter and the other disciple.
There is a double theological significance in this reaction of Mary. On the one hand, seeing the open empty tomb does not, by itself, lead to faith in the resurrection (20,10). On the other hand, the fact that the first person to go to the tomb finds it already open excludes, without saying so explicitly, the theft of the body (cf. Mt 27,64; 28,11-15).
Following this first fruitless visit we are told of the haste with which the two disciples competed to be first to arrive at the tomb (20,3-4). Peter is mentioned first and is first to enter the tomb (20,6). He sees only the cloths (20,6-7). The unnamed disciple (19,25-26) is the first to arrive at the tomb (20,4), sees the cloths (20,5; 19 40) and, most importantly, he comes to believe (20,8). Those who saw or entered the tomb were struck by the absence of Jesus. Those who had lived with him and had assisted at his passion (18,15-16), can confirm only the disappearance of the body. Here the disciples, and not the women (as in Lk 24,24), are witnesses of his death (20,5-6).
But only one of them saw and believed. He was the one who arrived first at the tomb but did not enter (20,8), the one who was known as the beloved disciple (20,2). He saw what Peter had seen, an empty tomb and some cloths laid aside, but he believed that the Absent One had conquered death. In John’s gospel, unlike the synoptics, the disciple who is first to believe in the Risen Lord is the one who believes that he is the most loved. The first believer in the Risen Lord is the one most loved. Love leads to a particular and profound form of recognition. Only the one among the disciples who loves is capable of seeing without proof, or better, capable of believing that his beloved Lord is alive, when all he saw was the shroud. The beatitude at the end of the fourth gospel applies especially to the beloved disciple, since he began to believe without needing to see (20,8.29).
An editorial note for the benefit of the reader concludes the account. It expresses a very ancient Christian conviction. Scripture alone did not lead to faith in the resurrection, even though it had been foretold in Scripture. The understanding of the scriptures came, not before but after the paschal experience (20,9. Cf. LK 24,25-27.44-45). Peter and Mary went back home knowing that Jesus was not in the tomb (20,10). They did not know where the body might be. They went away without knowing that he was alive. So far, they are witnesses only of his disappearance. Only the one who knew that he was loved by Jesus came to know that he was alive.
II. Meditate: apply what the text says to life
This gospel reading comes from the very beginning of the paschal experience. God was ahead of the early risers and restored Jesus to life. Indeed God was active so early that Easter morning that he caught even the earliest of the disciples unawares. They were so preoccupied with a corpse that they never suspected that God was already busy giving life, before even their day began. The open empty tomb was a silent witness to God’s action, but one that alarmed them. The power of death was shattered and defeated, but the disciples continued to search the graves, unable to believe it.
We still experience some of that early uncertainty and sadness that befell the disciples. We are conscious of the loss of Jesus and of being left orphans by his departure. We are lost in our world without him, and we make the same mistake as the disciples. We go looking for him among the dead, instead of among the living. We take it for granted that he’s gone but we don’t know where. We continue to act like those well-intentioned grave-searchers when, all the time, what Jesus needs is courageous witnesses to his resurrection. This may well be the impression we give to those who see us concerned about many things that are not the things of God.
We should return to our origins, go back to proclaiming what we know – that He is not among the dead, that He is alive forever, that He does not belong in any grave for He is risen. We should exchange our sadness for joy and speak to others of our experience. Wherever the Lord’s absence is felt today, there is need of Christians who will proclaim that He is present and alive. Where He is lost, we, as Christians, offer others a chance to find Him. Where people believe that He is dead or has disappeared from our world, we must find courage and enthusiasm, and the right words to proclaim that He is risen. The witness we have to give the world must not be limited to mere words. His new life is proclaimed when we life a new life, a life that is not guided by the criteria that condemned him to death, a life that is understandable only on the basis the He is truly alive. How do we come to the conviction that He is risen, that He is really alive? By following the same road travelled on the day of Resurrection by Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved. Both of them were alarmed by what Mary said. They ran together to the tomb, in great haste and great uncertainty, unable to believe what the woman had told them and incapable of imagining what God had done. They ran together, unashamed of their anxiety and incredulity, companions in haste and in bewilderment. They arrived together at the tomb and found it open and empty – death was overcome, but the body was missing, only the cloths remained. They both saw the same things, but only one of them believed, the disciple whom Jesus loved. The one who was loved most was first to arrive at faith. Knowing that he was loved led him to recognise the one who loved him.
To become witnesses of the Risen Christ we, like the one who was first to believe, must know that we are loved by Him. He was first to arrive at the conviction that Jesus was alive, not because he was first to arrive at the tomb, but because he knew that he was still loved by Jesus. Love sees more in the emptiness, is less put off by appearances, is quicker to overcome despair, is first to comprehend the darkness, and banishes doubt with greater conviction. Just as at dawn on the first Easter Day, Jesus is alive today in those who know they are loved by Him, in whom no doubt lingers, in those who feel loved and are sustained by love. Faith in the Resurrection is not so much an option that is taken, contrary to all the evidence, but an affirmation of what is not seen, an acceptance of gratuitous love, an affirmation of what we have already experienced. If we are certain of being loved we don’t need to see Him in order to believe, nor to find Him personally to know that we are personally loved.
We have to go against those who would wish in any way – and there are thousands of ways – to bury Jesus anew. We count on the love that He has for us. We have to be courageous enough to declare that all death has been conquered, and every tomb opened, because Jesus is risen. Nobody has a right to stay silent about the new life of the Risen Jesus. That would be denying our right to feel loved by Him. We must accept that God continues to anticipate our sadness and our death, as He did that first day of Easter. We must again proclaim what we know – that His tomb is empty because our heart is full of Him. Those who proclaim this are the witnesses to Christ that God and the world need today. When we say what we know, that Jesus is alive, we will know that we are His beloved witnesses.
It is not difficult, therefore, to become witnesses to Christ. All we have to do is to say what we know – that God still rises earlier than any of those who search among the graves, that the tomb of Jesus is empty, and that death has been defeated. We cannot be silent about it because we would lose our sense of being loved and the life without end that is ours after death. We risk too much if we do not feel that we are loved by the living Christ. He lives today to love us, and it is to love Him that we will live forever.
III. Pray: desire that what you have heard be done in you
I praise you, Risen Lord. Your victory over death fills my mortal life with hope. Give me strength to proclaim that you are alive, even where all, myself included, feel your absence. Come to me when I am surrounded by death and desolation. Let your empty tomb be the cradle of my faith, and the place of rebirth of your Church. Grant that I may feel your love even though I do not enjoy your physical presence. In that way I will be able to see the proofs of your death, to feel your absence and still believe that you are alive. If you allow me to feel loved by you, I will proclaim that you are risen. I praise you, Father of my Lord Jesus Christ, that you were up early that first day of the week to keep your Son from experiencing corruption, even though He had suffered death, and what a cruel death! Waking early that morning, before the dawn visit of the disciples, you recovered Jesus for yourself… and you did not leave us alone in this world. Grant that I may perceive your presence in the darkness and solitude when I am faced with death, my own and that of my loved ones. Help me to understand that death is but a passing stage that I must go through, with hope that one day I will become the companion forever of your Son, my Lord.