"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

EASTER SUNDAY -C- April 17, 2022

Acts 10: 34a, 37-43; Psalm 118;
Colossians 3: 1-4; John 20: 1-9

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

Happy Easter!

I would have preferred a different gospel for this Easter Sunday. There is so much death in the world these days. As I write this the Russians are still on their murderous spree in Ukraine. Some are calling it a Holocaust. They seem bent on wiping out the Ukrainian people and, for those who survive, what would they have to return to, but ruins and devastation?

The effects of the horror go further than the borders of Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine supply more than a quarter of the world’s wheat, feeding billions of people. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the boycott on Russian goods threaten to cut off substantial supplies of wheat. One researcher predicts that in four months, when the next harvest is due, things can be "particularly gloomy," for many countries in Africa and the Middle East that depend on that wheat. We are talking about hunger and starvation in the future, just one more deadly result of this war. That is why on Easter Sunday I would have preferred a more spectacular, spirit-rousing resurrection story, not one of Mary and two apostles finding an empty tomb. Is that all there is!

Mary Magdalene and the other women play a consistent role in the final stages of Jesus’ life. In Holy Week we sing, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" Well, Mary and the women were there. The gospel narratives of Jesus’ last days mention the women who were with him till the end. Mary Magdalene was one of them. They could not relieve his pain and dying, but they could be present to him, loving faces amid the mockery and surrounding brutality. Only a tiny group of women were with Jesus as he died. Where were his other disciples? Consistent in the stories was the presence of Mary. She wasn’t listed as a disciple still, she and the other women risked their lives by being present with the dying Jesus. It was a danger for them to be there because they might have also been considered revolutionaries, as Jesus was.

Mary is also a key witness to Jesus’ resurrection. The first hint that something is astir is when she comes early in the morning, as John puts it, "while it was still dark." Light and dark are key themes in John. He isn’t just mentioning the time of day. Death rules in the dark, Jesus is the approaching light. She finds the stone removed and the tomb empty.

There is a hint of a new day coming; but not quite yet. For Mary it is still dark, all she knows is that her beloved Jesus is dead and now his body is gone. Many of us experience the death of a loved one in a similar way. We go to visit a grave, pay respects to the dead, remember and grieve our loss. It is still dark. What Mary finds is an empty tomb. Her interpretation of the "facts" is, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we don’t know where they put him."

For people in dire straits, because of severe illness, the death of a loved one, loss of a job, homelessness, etc., life can feel like an empty tomb and Jesus gone. Yet, we believe he is alive and the lives of faithful Christians can be sure signs of his living and caring presence. It is hard to be with the dying and desperate and not be able to change their fate. Mary Magdalene, through Jesus’ last hours and at the empty tomb, is a faithful presence. As we read further in John, she is also the first to meet the risen Lord (20:11ff). Still – at the tomb – death seemed to be the final victor – but it was not!

The resurrection accounts remind us that we are more like the first disciples. In some of the accounts women go to the tomb with spices to anoint Jesus’ body for entombment. In John’s account Mary also goes prepared for death and to grieve the loss of Jesus. When she tells Peter and John the body is missing, they race to the tomb expecting that and no more – a missing, dead body.

Is that what we expect: what is dead, stays dead? Is it possible that what is too good to be true, is true? That life is the reality we can believe in? Can we go to the places where no life seems possible, like that tomb, and be the "beloved disciple" who believes, even before he and we get to see and touch the risen Lord?

If Peter gets to the tomb and comes to believe then he will have to view the world through the lens Jesus’ Spirit gives; there will be no other way of looking and judging. As we look into the empty tomb, will we believe? Will we accept the forgiveness of our past disloyalties and compromises, as Peter did? And then, whom must we forgive and set free with new life? Will we live and proclaim the Easter faith by forgiving enemies, feeding the hungry, encouraging those with weak, or beginner’s faith? Will sharing in this Eucharist today, God’s generous gift of new life, stir up in us a desire to be generous to others? The empty tomb raises a lot of questions for us.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/041722.cfmx