Every Easter I return to a fascinating fact at the heart of the Gospel for Easter Sunday Mass. We are told that Simon Peter and “the disciple whom Jesus loved” run to the tomb, prompted by the witness of Mary Magdalene. The beloved disciple gets there first: “He bent down and saw the burial cloths there.” Only after Simon Peter arrives does the other disciple himself proceed to enter the tomb. “He saw and believed.” What is all this about?
Recognition leads to belief
My dear friend Fr. Richard Veras offers a most intriguing and compelling suggestion. He has written:
Mary Magdalene thought the body had perhaps been stolen. Peter seems not to have known what to think. Only one disciple, the beloved disciple, saw the empty tomb and believed. Only the disciple whom Jesus loved was able to look at an empty tomb and some burial cloths and be certain that Jesus was alive, that love is stronger than death. It is only the experience of Jesus’ love, present in the flesh of the members of the Church, that makes the Christian heart recognize the Church as a life, the life of the Risen Christ, and not a mere organization or moral philosophy.
And what triggered such certainty? It was that, upon seeing the burial cloths, the beloved disciple was struck by something familiar about the manner in which those covers were rolled up. As Fr. Veras explains, the beloved disciple, gazing into that tomb, recalled his own experience of living with Jesus day after day. The disciple had the habit, like all people who love intensely, of noticing everything about his friend and of paying close attention to even little details of how Jesus did things … like how he made his bed in the morning. And those rolled up cloths, neatly put to one side — that was Jesus’ way! The Lord must be alive!
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is real … but it will not coerce or overpower us. Christ’s Resurrection appears subtly, stealthily, for those attentive … sensitive … vigilant. We too crave the certainty of the beloved disciple as he confronts the empty tomb. We want to see and believe. It will happen if — in love — we refuse to succumb to sadness, if— in faith — we race to the place of death, and if — in hope — we scour death’s place for a trace of grace. Our personal experience of living with Jesus in faith gives us every reason to believe — even in the face of rock-bound death — that “God crosses through the thickness of the world to come to us” (Simone Weil).
Superhuman power and joy
The Easter Alleluia emerges as we are attuned to clues of Christ’s Risen Life alive in our striving. We can understand this by considering the exceptional case of the martyrs. Dominican Fr. Servais Pinckaers explains:
For the martyrs, the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus are no longer past events, but rather they take on the most poignant actuality in the face of suffering and death: The martyrs testify that Christ opens to them the way of life at exactly the point where others only see torment and annihilation. If Christ had not died and risen for us, if he were not truly the Son of God, then he would not be able to help his witnesses in such an actual and effective way, nor would he be able to communicate to them a superhuman power and a joy that is already triumphant even in the midst of their suffering.
We may at the moment not be in the place of the martyrs, but we nonetheless know the reality of this superhuman power whose sole source is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. As Pope Benedict XVI expressed it, “The radical liberation of our ‘I’ from loneliness is the proof, the evidence of the Resurrection.” We have experienced that joy triumphant in the midst of our torment and annihilation. And we know this joy is not of the world’s making. “The links that we cannot forge are evidence of the transcendent” (Simone Weil).
Let’s peer into Christ’s tomb and recognize the Mystery. As Servant of God Luigi Giussani encourages us:
Unless you recognize the presence of Mystery, night advances, confusion abounds and — when it touches your freedom — rebellion erupts, or disappointment is so overwhelming that you’ll wait for nothing more and live desiring nothing more. From the mystery of Christ’s Resurrection a new light floods the world, fighting for territory, inch by inch, pushing back the night.
Find Fr. Peter John Cameron’s reflection on the Sunday Gospel each week here.