• Acts 10:34a, 37-43
• Psa. 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
• Col. 3:1-4 or I Cor. 5:6b-8
• Jn. 20:1-9 or Mt. 28:1-10
“Hidden first in a womb of flesh, he sanctified human birth by his own birth. Hidden afterward in the womb of the earth, he gave life to the dead by his resurrection.” This beautiful reflection on the Resurrection is from the pen of Hesychius of Jerusalem, a fifth-century priest, monk, and theologian revered in the Eastern churches.
Throughout the Gospels there is much about Christ that is hidden, mysterious, and difficult to comprehend. The disciples are repeatedly depicted as misunderstanding Jesus, in constant need of further explanation about the deeper meaning of His parables and teachings—especially as they related to His approaching Passion, death, and Resurrection. Their three years with Jesus were filled with fits and starts of understanding, as though the light of their Master’s words would sometimes break through and briefly burn away their limited, lacking notions of who He was and what He meant to do.
And yet, until what seemed to be the very end, the glorious, stunning truth about their Master’s death was beyond their grasp.
This is evident in today’s Gospel reading, from the Fourth Gospel. It was Mary of Magdala who went to the tomb “while it was still dark.” Why? Perhaps to mourn. Perhaps she was sent by some of the Apostles. We don’t know for certain. But the mention of darkness is deliberate, pointing as it does to the darkness of vision still afflicting the followers of the Crucified Christ.
Seeing that the stone was moved, Mary Magdalene ran back to Peter and John, “the beloved disciple.” We can surmise that by the time they arrived at the tomb there was some morning light in the sky, for Peter is able to see inside. And yet, the Evangelist points out, “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” After they had returned home, it was Mary—“weeping outside the tomb”—who saw the two angels before seeing Jesus, who she initially mistook for a gardener (Jn 20:10-18).
This Gospel reading and the reading from the tenth chapter of Acts make a clear and vital connection between belief and witness. Belief in the Resurrected Lord is not just intellectual assent or sentimental longing, but a way of seeing, living, and acting rooted in complete communion with God the Father, made possible through the Son’s work and the power of the Holy Spirit. And this belief, by God’s grace, is based on witness. “How does one arrive at this present of the past, at this always of the once and for all, at the today of Easter?” asked Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in Images of Hope (Ignatius, 2006). “As a first ground rule we can say: on this path we need witnesses. … [Jesus] shows himself to witnesses who accompanied him on a part of his path to death. In accompanying them, one can encounter the truth.”
There are, to borrow from the realm of education, three “R’s” that flow in succession here.
First, there is the reality of the Resurrection—the fact that, as Peter proclaimed, “this man God raised on the third day.”
Secondly, there is the reliability of the witnesses, the men and women who were there and who saw, touched, and spoke with the Risen Lord: “We are witnesses of all that he did.”
Third, there is the responsibility that each of us is given as a follower of Christ. “If then you were raised with Christ,” Paul exhorted the Christians in Colossae, “seek what is above.” That includes living as though there really is an “above”—that is, heavenly glory—and not as though this world is all that exists or matters.
“On this day,” wrote Hesychius of Jerusalem, “ the divine call is heard, the kingdom is prepared, we are saved and Christ is adored.”
The life-changing, soul-saving reality of Easter is hidden to many. May we, filled with love like Mary Magdalene, Peter, John and all the saints, be light-bearing witnesses to the truth of the Resurrection.
(This “Opening the Word” column originally appeared in the March 23, 2008, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!