John 20: 1–9
On that first Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb of Jesus early in the morning and sees that the stone had been removed from the tomb. She runs to get Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved, and tells them what she saw. Simon Peter and the other disciple enter the tomb to find burial cloths there and the cloth that had covered the head of Jesus. The beloved disciple sees and believes. The gospel passage continues, reaching its climax in subsequent verses with the appearance of the Risen Lord to Mary Magdalene after the two other disciples had gone home.
Today is the day of Easter joy. Yet, even as we celebrate we are painfully aware that for many people it is still Good Friday. Every day it seems there is something to remind us of the poverty, injustice, and violence of our world. Reflecting on his own experience of life, Pope John Paul II in an address to pilgrims in Rome used apocalyptic images: “If we cast a glance at the world…it seems that horsemen are riding through the barren lands of the earth, bearing now the crown of victorious power, now the sword of violence, now the scales of poverty and famine, now death’s sharp sickle.” We are aware that our Easter celebration is an affirmation of hope in a world that appears to experience the pain of Good Friday more than the joy of Easter Sunday.
Jean-Paul Sartre, a much-read atheist philosopher of a few decades ago, in his play No Exit gives us one of the most tragic images of what it means to live in a world without hope and without joy. Three characters of his play, having been condemned to hell, are led by a valet into a pleasant drawing room. Surprised by the absence of fire and brimstone, they remark how nice a place hell has turned out to be. Gradually, however, they begin to get on each other’s nerves and at each other’s throats. They decide not to speak to each other, but they are stuck with each other. There is nowhere else to go. Finally they realize that they themselves are each other’s hell. “Real torture is having no escape, real hell is having no hope.”
The three characters of the Easter gospel, representing all of us, experience Jesus, not as the “other” who is their hell, but as their friend who knows them and loves them beyond measure. Mary Magdalene remains at the tomb after the two other disciples went home. Jesus appears to her as she weeps, and says to her, “Mary!” She turns to him and says, “Rabbouni” (which means My Teacher). The tender exchange of recognition between Jesus and Mary Magdalene is the Easter revelation of authentic human existence.
We can celebrate Easter in hope and in joy because Jesus, the Risen Lord, is with us. He knows us, and with affection calls each of us by name. Through the Easter gift of sharing his new life and liberating love, we too can recognize and treat each other with justice and with affection. Easter means that we can be heaven for each other, a source of hope and joy in our No Exit world. We can thank God and sing the Easter song together: “Yes, Christ my hope is arisen…our new life obtaining.”
Campion P. Gavaler, O.S.B.