John’s resurrection account is relatively brief and differs significantly from the Synoptic accounts. Mary Magdalene has a prominent role here and the mysterious “other disciple whom Jesus loved” appears again just as he did at the Last Supper. The special attention given to Mary Magdalene suggests that she is a person who embodies the ideal of love that is so evident in the fourth gospel.
After hearing about the empty tomb, Peter hurries there to see what this might mean. But the unnamed “other disciple” outruns him, and then defers to him, thus permitting Peter to be the first to enter the tomb. This gesture acknowledges the authority of Peter but it also reveals how deeply the beloved disciple has understood the teaching of Jesus about unselfish love. It has been noted that in John’s gospel Peter is the unquestioned leader of the Church, thus guaranteeing good order. The “disciple whom Jesus loved” represents the prophetic and mystical dimension of the Church that prevents authority from becoming too authoritarian.
Easter is the feast of all feasts. The feast of Christmas did not even exist for the first two centuries of the church’s life, but Christianity is inconceivable without Easter. This feast is the contact point between the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament for it occurred on the anniversary of the Exodus of Israel from Egyptian bondage and fulfills the promise in that central event in Israel’s history. If we do not understand Easter, we do not have a clue about the meaning of Christianity or about its relationship to Israel.
To understand this central feast, we must realize that it is, as it were, the third act in a drama that begins already on Holy Thursday and continues through Good Friday. Missing the first two acts of the drama almost guarantees that one will miss the meaning of the drama. Therefore, to ignore Holy Thursday and Good Friday almost guarantees a misunderstanding of Easter Sunday.
On Holy Thursday, Jesus sums up the whole meaning and purpose of his mission on earth. This meaning is found in the Eucharist in which Jesus offers his Body and pours out his precious Blood for others. In other words, Jesus has come to tell us that the only path to real life and happiness is the path of unselfish love. We must begin our Easter celebration, therefore, with our acceptance of this ideal as the model for our own behavior.
Good Friday tells us that living unselfishly will be very difficult. Every act of unselfish love is a little dying. But in such dying there is also a hint of the happiness and life that are promised to those who are not afraid to walk the path of Jesus.
On Holy Saturday, the liturgy is muted and there is a quiet but powerful sense of expectation. It seems that the whole universe, here and in heaven. is holding its breath as it waits to see whether unselfish love, which often appears to be so foolish, really does make sense for us. The triumphant answer is given on Easter Sunday when the flowers and the bells and the alleluias attempt to capture the glory of this resounding victory of Jesus over sin and death. The celebration of Easter joy thus confirms the wisdom of believing what Jesus taught on Holy Thursday and of living this wisdom, patiently and trustingly, on the Good Fridays of our lives.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.
Image: Christ Risen, Vincent de Paul Crosby, O.S.B.