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Easter Sunday: Day of Deliverance and Victory

Today’s Gospel describes an absence that confounds the disciples, preparing them for the Presence their hearts desire.

Gospel (Read Jn 20:1-9)

On Palm Sunday, the narrative of our Lord’s Passion ended with these words: “Then they rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb” (Mk 15:46b).  Jesus’ dead body had been quickly prepared for burial, because the Sabbath sundown approached, and He was laid in the fresh tomb of a rich man.  Then, for His followers, there was silence and utter desolation.  We can only imagine how much “rest” they got on what must have been the longest Sabbath day of their lives.

Today, St. John tells us, “On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark” (Jn 20:1).  Now that the Sabbath was over, she was coming to finish the burial anointing.  Why did she arrive so early, before dawn?  Anyone who has grieved over the death of a loved one knows the answer to this question.  The finality of death, even for those prepared for its arrival, is literally un-believable.  We cannot bear the thought of not seeing this dear one again.  Mary had the opportunity to be near Jesus once more, to see and touch Him.  Even in death, He drew her to Him with an irresistible force.

Mary saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.  Shock!  We can feel her eagerness to be with Jesus again, yet He was not in the tomb.  St. John wants us to see that the followers of Jesus were slow to understand what He had told them many times:  He would rise from the dead.  Mary believed that someone had taken the Lord and put Him elsewhere.  Imagine this for a moment:  profound grief was compounded by profound horror.  For Mary, the empty tomb was not a source of joy.  It was an agonizing twist in what was becoming a nightmare.

Peter and John (“the other disciple whom Jesus loved”) ran to the tomb with Mary’s news.  They, too, were drawn to the Lord in this energetic race.  John arrived first, but notice his deference to Peter, the Lord’s own appointed leader of the apostles.  Once inside, they quickly realized that grave robbers were not responsible for the absence of Jesus.  The burial cloths (fine, expensive linen) would never have been left behind by robbers this way.   No, something big was underway.  St. John tells us that when he entered the tomb and saw the burial cloths, “…he believed” (Jn 20:8).  What did he believe?  Only that Jesus was really gone from the tomb—itself a great mystery.  He goes on to make that clear: “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that He had to rise from the dead” (Jn 20:9).

So, on Easter Sunday, the Gospel reading leaves us with only clues.  How interesting!  There is not, as we might expect, the boundless joy of the disciples seeing Jesus alive again.  Instead, we spend time with His followers in their longing, anxiety, sadness, and utter confusion.  We, of course, know what’s going on, but they don’t as yet.  St. John wants us to linger for a spell in the very human reactions to an astounding miracle.  He helps us feel deeply the question that boggled the disciples:  What has happened to Jesus? It is only by entering fully into this human dilemma that we are truly prepared for the answer:  Jesus has conquered Death.  The worst thing that has ever happened in human history (men killed the “Author of life,” Acts 3:15) has become the best thing that has ever happened in human history, and man’s history has been changed forever.

Possible response:  Lord Jesus, sometimes I am shocked that You don’t seem to be where I expect You.  Help me believe that what I feel as Your absence will always lead to Your Presence.

Read more at Catholic Exchange 

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