How does John describes the events of Easter Sunday? Jesus has risen, but, first of all, only the person who is driven by love, Mary Magdala, goes out in search of him. The others remain as they are, locked inside their own sadness, despair and disappointment. But love seeks out its beloved and Mary Magdala goes out, spices in hand.
The gospel announces that something new must be about to take place. “On the first day of the week.” Where, when and how does this “newness” happen? The earth is in darkness. In this setting, a faithful woman journeys to her place of mourning, wanting at least to embalm his dead body.
Alone in the darkness of her grief, she made her way to the grave where her hopes had so recently been buried with her Teacher. She finds his grave empty and runs back to Peter and the beloved disciple and tells them the tomb is empty and someone must have taken the Lord out of the tomb. Note that Mary whose love causes her to wake from sleep and go to the tomb while yet dark does not believe that Christ has resurrected.
The two disciples race off together, towards the tomb, but the disciple whom Jesus loved out-runs Peter and gets to the tomb first, but he doesn't enter, he waits for Peter, the elder, to go in first.
Peter enters the empty tomb, sees the linens that had covered the body of Jesus, but does not understand. Then the beloved disciple, love, enters. He sees and he does understand. Of course, the paradox is that he saw nothing! Love grasps the mystery. But did John grasp it completely. If the Beloved had come to a full-fledged resurrection faith, he surely would have begun to preach rather than simply return home after his early-morning run to the garden.
Mary’s love caused her to mourn; to remain near the tomb in that place of emptiness, to search for at least the dead body of Jesus. It is then that Jesus appears to her but she does not recognize him. He speaks her name which expresses his personal relationship with her. She calls him Teacher and wants to cling to him. Now when she returns in joy to the disciples her message is not one of an empty tomb but a RISEN CHRIST whom she now calls “Lord”. St Johnhas avoided using the word Lord in his Gospel till now. He has done so very deliberately, Jesus revealed himself and his task only gradually to the disciples and it is only now in the light of the resurrection that they begin to understand who he really is. In the early Christian Community and indeed down the ages till now the use of the title Lord is an expression of faith—by calling Jesus Lord we acknowledge that he is the Christ, Son of God.
Mary moved from dark mourning to being the first person to announce the resurrection. Love is the eye. It pre-disposes one to trust, to believe. It is what lets us see and understand the resurrection.
That is why, after the resurrection, some saw Jesus but others did not. Some understood the resurrection while others did not. Those with the eyes of love saw and understood. Those without the eyes of love either didn't see anything or were perplexed or upset by what they did see.
The first reading today is from the Acts of the Apostles. Clearly, the church chose these verses from Acts because they testify to the resurrection and to the mission of the disciples who ate and drank with the risen Lord. Peter enunciates the historical facts of Jesus’ baptism, good works and healing activity. After that summary of Jesus’ life, Peter explains the implications of it all for his own life and identity. Peter says, “We are witnesses of all that he did” (v. 39).
Peter makes the point that the resurrection witnesses chosen by God “ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (v. 41).
First of all, we must remember that eating with someone was the supreme sign of solidarity, of communion with them. But in truth many who ate and drank with him throughout his earthly sojourn ate with him unworthily because they broke communion, even his own apostles where no one but John stayed by him and some explicitly betrayed him. What did it mean to eat and drink with the risen Lord as opposed to claiming affiliation with him for having shared an earthly meal?
The risen Jesus’ appearance among them was a surprise on many levels. They did not seek him; he sought and found them, and offered them peace. Jesus’ appearances were signs of his love for them. The meal of solidarity was one of reconciliation, one in which the Jesus who had preached forgiveness reached out to them, his closest companions, bestowing on them an experience of forgiveness that they had never imagined. Only after they met him in their weakness could they become messengers of his forgiving presence.
“Simon , Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:34)
As Peter preached the sermon we hear today, he was clearly fulfilling the role of the disciple who had turned back and could now strengthen the others. Peter had a new identity. He was humbled. He could any longer brag about the unwavering strength of his fidelity. Peter recognized his limitations. God had made him a witness; the one who could preach forgiveness of sins because he had been forgiven of the worst thing he could have imagined doing. With our psalmist, the new Peter could proclaim with all his heart: “Give thanks to the Lord whose mercy endures forever!” (Ps 118:1).
If you study the Gospel stories about the resurrection, you notice they are not primarily about what happened to Jesus, but what happened to his followers. As readers, we know that all three of these characters Peter, John and Mary developed their faith through encounters with the risen Lord. Their spiritual growth is the key to the meaning of today’s readings.
We can take great comfort from hearing these readings because they clearly reveal that not even one of those who had walked with Jesus immediately understood resurrection as the key to a new discipleship lived in Joy!