To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col 3:1-4;John 20:1-9
John Donne, the sixteenth century poet, ends his poem, “Death Be Not Proud” in the following manner: “One short sleep past we wake eternally, And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.”
This is a good summary of the Easter event. Death is no more; death has died because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter thus is primarily a feast of hope. Light has conquered darkness, truth has conquered untruth, and eternal life has conquered death. No more will death hold sway. No more will death be a threat. No more will death be something to be feared. Those who believe in the Resurrection can look death in the face and not be afraid. The hope that Easter brings is that, no matter how bleak the present might look, no matter how daunting the road ahead might seem, no matter how intimidating the situation at hand might be, one need not give in to despair, one need not give up or give in, one needs only to hope, trust, and believe. Jesus went to his death believing his Father would raise him on the third day and, his Father did.
The Gospel text of today brings out this fact in the narrative of the Empty tomb. Unlike the Synoptic Gospels, where Mary Magdalene is accompanied by other women, in the Gospel of John, she comes to the tomb alone. John alone mentions that “it was still dark”. John is not stating here a time of the day, or narrating the physical situation. He is saying that, no matter what time of the day it is, no matter how brightly the sun might be shining, it will continue to be dark, because Jesus is not present. The absence of Jesus is what causes the darkness. Once Jesus appears, it will always be light. This darkness that Mary experiences is the darkness all of us experience when Jesus is absent from our lives. Ordinary problems of life seem overwhelming. Small difficulties seem intimidating and life becomes a burden. However, with the appearance of Jesus, darkness retreats and only light appears.
The fact that the stone is rolled back does not necessarily mean that the Lord is not in the tomb yet, that is how Mary Magdalene interprets it. She goes even further when she interprets the absence of the body of Jesus as his having been taken away. She does not know where his body has been placed. This is indeed the mystery that all of us encounter. We cannot capture Jesus, we cannot confine him, and we cannot know where he comes from or where he is going. We have only to dare to follow and believe.
Peter and the beloved disciple act on Mary’s information and, like her, they run to the tomb to see for themselves what has been told them. If Mary saw only the stone rolled back, the beloved disciple sees that and also the linen cloths used to wrap the body of Jesus. Peter sees even more. Besides what the beloved disciple sees, Peter sees also the cloth that was used to wrap the head of Jesus. Thus, there is a progression, a development, an enlargement of the picture. The puzzle is not so much a puzzle now.
The leaving behind of the grave cloths is very significant since the empty tomb, by itself, does not signify that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Thus, the cloths are an indication of two facts. First, the body of Jesus could not have been stolen by grave robbers since is extremely unlikely that they would unwrap the body before stealing it and leave the cloths behind. What is more likely is that they would take the cloths and leave the body behind. Second, by leaving the grave cloths behind, it means that Jesus has left death behind. Death is symbolized by the grave cloths. When Lazarus, who was raised by Jesus from the dead, came out of the tomb, he brought out with him his grave cloths. This was because he would need them when he died again. Jesus, however, will never die again and so, will not need the grave cloths. He has risen to a new life. He has risen, never to die again. Death has died.
However, as Peter makes explicit in the first reading of today, the conquering of death by Jesus is only one part of the story. There is a second part, also narrated by Peter, and even a third part explicated in the second reading of today.
The second part of the story is that, because of Jesus’ resurrection, everyone who believes will also partake of the same privilege. For everyone who believes, death will never be the end. For everyone who believes, there is the hope of new life. This is because in Jesus, and through his death and resurrection, forgiveness of sins has been obtained by all. The colour of the person is inconsequential; the nationality does not matter; the language spoken is unimportant. God shows no partiality. God forgives and welcomes all in Jesus, the Risen Christ.
Precisely because God forgives and welcomes, this forgiveness has to be accepted and lived out. The living out of the forgiveness and acceptance follows the forgiveness and the new life. It is not a condition. This is the third part of the resurrection story. The manner in which it is to be lived out is spelled out in the second reading of today which is part of the letter to the Colossians. Those who accept this forgiveness of God, in Jesus, will be determined to seek only that which enhances and builds up. They will strive only for what is positive and life giving. They will be encouraged and encourage. They will never give in to despair, they will never give up or give in, and they will never lose hope.