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Easter’s Confounding Empty Tomb

Sunday’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.

Easter Sunday, 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.

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