Lectionary 42, Gospel John 20: 1-9
On this glorious Easter Sunday we rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead as we hear John the evangelist’s account of the discovery of the empty tomb. Mary Magdalen is the first one there, and she brings back the stunning and as yet not understood news of the vacant tomb to the disciples. Peter and John then swing into action and run to the tomb to see for themselves, and John is said to have “believed” as the result of witnessing the burial cloths lying where the body of Jesus had been placed.
The gospel reading for today’s mass ends at that point, however we know that the story of the resurrection continues. In fact, although Peter and John immediately “return home” after seeing the empty tomb, Mary remains and mourns the death of Jesus, whom she does not yet realize has been raised from the dead—she thinks his body has been taken away. The risen Lord himself then appears to Mary and while at first glance she does not recognize him, she quickly comes to realize that Jesus has indeed risen from the dead and she runs to the rest of the disciples to proclaim the good news.
Mary’s movement from confusion to peace and joy in the risen Lord is one that hopefully has taken place in our lives, perhaps in a very powerful and defining way. We are wise then to continue following Mary Magdalene as she goes forth from her encounter with the risen Jesus and enters fully into the life of the nascent Christian community. As noted already her first step after seeing the empty tomb was to share the news of her discovery with her fellow believers. She now shares her joy once more by returning to Jerusalem and announcing that she had seen and spoken with Jesus.
The gospel merges with the message of the earlier readings to remind us that this connection between believing and sharing the joy and hope that come from our belief should be a natural part of our lives. In other words the mission is a fundamental and essential element of Christian belief! In his letters to the Colossians and the Corinthians (both are optional readings at mass today) St. Paul writes of how the event of the resurrection should do two things. First, it should transform us at the most basic level, rendering our lives meaningful by inviting us out of our old ways: “Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough” (1 Cor 5:6-7). Secondly, our faith in the resurrection should encourage us to strive for ever greater life together with God in Christ: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (Col 3:1-2). That striving for union with God through Christ naturally leads, as in Mary Magdalene’s life, to our spreading the good news to all who will hear us.
This sort of progression from newly-appropriated belief in Christ to rejoicing in the Lord to sharing that joy through the mission is exactly what we hear of in this Easter Sunday’s first reading, taken from the Acts of the Apostles. There Peter is seen some years after his trip to the empty tomb, proclaiming the resurrection to Cornelius, a Roman centurion. Peter tells Cornelius: “We are witnesses of all that [Jesus] did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day…” (Acts 10:39-41). This Easter season let us put on the fidelity of Mary Magdalene and the humble conversion of Peter and resolve to believe anew in the risen Lord, to shape our lives around his message, and to share that good news with all whom we encounter—Alleluia!
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.