by Msgr. Charles Pope
One option for the Gospel for Easter Sunday morning is from John 20:1-8. And
like most of the resurrection Gospels it paints a portrait of a journey some of
the early disciples have to make out of fear and into faith. It shows the need
to experience the resurrection and then come to understand it more deeply.
I have blogged before on the Matthean gospel option for Easter Sunday morning
in Malankara World Journal Issue 341 here.). This year I present John's. Let us focus especially on the journey that
St. John makes from fear to faith. While the Gospel begins with Mary Magdalene,
the focus quickly shifts to St. John. Lets study his journey.
I. REACTION MODE
The text begins by describing every one is a mere reaction mode, quite literally
running about in a panic! – The text says,
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw
the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the
other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, "They have taken the Lord from
the tomb, and we don't know where they put him."
Notice that the text describes the opening moments as "still dark." And it is
likely that John is doing more than giving us the time of day. The deeper point
is that there is still a darkness that envelopes everyone's mind. The darkness
makes it difficult for us to see and our fears and our sorrows can blind us.
Therefore also notice that she looks right at the evidence of the Resurrection
but she presumes and concludes the worst: grave robbers have surely come and
snatched the body of the Lord! It doesn't even occur to her to remember that
Jesus had said that he would rise on the third day and that this was that very
third day. No she goes immediately into reaction mode, instead of reflection
mode. Her mind jumps to the negative and worst conclusion and she, by reacting
and failing to reflect looks right at the blessing and sees a curse.
And often we do this too. We look at our life and see only the burdens instead
of the blessings. And thus:
I clutch my blanket and growl when the alarm rings, instead of thinking, "Thank
you, Lord, that I can hear. There are many who are deaf. Thank that I have the
strength to rise, there are many who do not."
Even though the first hour of a day may be hectic, when socks are lost, toast is
burned and tempers are short, the children are so loud! Instead of thinking,
"Thank you Lord, for my family. There are many who are lonely.
Yes, we can even be thankful for the taxes we pay, because it means we're
employed; the clothes that fit a little too snugly, because it means we have
enough to eat; our heating bill, because it means we are warm; and weariness and
aching muscles at the end of the day, because it means we have been productive.
Yes, every day ten million things go right and a half a dozen things go wrong.
What will you focus on? Will we look right at the signs of our blessings and
call them burdens, or will we bless the Lord? Do we live lives that are merely
reactive and negative, or do we live reflectively, remembering what the Lord
says, that even our burdens are gifts in strange packages. Romans 8 says, And we
know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who
are the called according to his purpose. (8:28)
Do we know this, or are we like the disciples on that early morning, when it is
still dark, looking right at the blessings but drawing only negative
conclusions, reacting and failing to reflect?
II. RECOVERY MODE
The Text goes on to describe a certain move from reaction to reflection in a
subtle way. The text says,
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to
the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and
arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did
not go in.
We start in reaction mode. Notice how Mary Magdalene's anxiety is contagious?
She comes running to the apostles, all out of breath, and says that "they"
(whoever they are) have taken the Lord (she speak of him still as a corpse) and
"we" (she and the other women who had gone out) don't know where they put him
(again she speaks of him as an inanimate corpse). And Mary's panic and reactive
mode, triggers that same reaction in the Apostles. They're all running now! The
mad dash to the tomb has begun.
But notice they are running to verify grave-robbery, not the resurrection. Had
they but taken time to reflect, perhaps they would have thought to remember that
the Lord had said he would rise on the third day, and this was the third day.
Never mind all that, panic and running have spread and they rush forth to
confirm their worst fears.
But note a subtlety. John begins to pick up speed as he runs. And his speed, I
would argue, signals reflection and hope. Some scholars say it indicates merely
that he was the younger man. Unlikely. The Holy Spirit speaking through John is
not likely interested in passing things like youth. Some of the Father's of the
Church see a greater truth at work in the love and mystical tradition that John
the Apostle symbolizes. He was the Disciple whom Jesus loved, the disciple who
knew and experienced that love of God. And love often sees what knowledge and
authority can only appreciate and affirm later. Love gets there first.
There is also a Bible verse that I would argue decodes John's increasing
strength as he runs:
But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on
wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be
faint. (Is 40:31).
Perhaps as John ran faster as he began to move from reaction to reflection and
remembrance. When you run fast, even with others, you can't talk a lot. So you
get alone with your thoughts. There is something about love that enlightens and
recalls what the beloved has said. Perhaps John begins to think, to reflect and
Didn't Jesus say he'd rise three days later?!
And something started to happen in John. And I have it on the best of authority
that he began to sing in his heart as he ran:
I don't feel no ways tired. Come too far from where I started from. Nobody told
me that the road would be easy but I don't believe he brought me this far to
Yes, John is in recovery now. He's moved from reaction to reflection and he is
starting to regain his faith.
The text says he looked in and saw the grave clothes, but awaited Peter. Mystics
and lovers may get there first, but the Church has a Magisterium that must be
respected too. John waits, but as we shall see he has made his transition from
reaction to reflection, from fear to faith.
III. REASSESSMENT MODE
In life, our initial reactions must often be reassessed as further evidence
comes in. And now, Peter and John must take a fresh look at the evidence from
their own perspective. The text says,
Isn't this that day?
Perhaps he considered too:
Didn't my Lord deliver Daniel?
Didn't he deliver Noah from the flood?
Joseph from the hands of his brothers, and from the deep dungeon
Didn't he deliver Moses and the people from Egypt
David from Goliath and Saul
Jonah from the whale
Queen Esther and the people from wicked men
Susanna from her false accusers
Judith from Holofernes
And didn't Jesus raise the dead?!
And Didn't he promise to rise.
Didn't God promise to deliver the just from all their trial?
Ah! As for me I know that my redeemer liveth!
When Simon Peter arrived after him, he
went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths [lying] there, and the cloth that
had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate
Mary Magdalene's assessment had been, in effect, grave robbers. But the evidence
for that seems odd. Usually grave robbers were after the fine linens that the
dead were buried in. But here are the linens and gone is the body! Strange.
And there is something even stranger about the linens. If it had been grave
robbers they wouldn't have taken time to unwrap the body of valuable grave
linens. The Greek text uses the word describes the clothes as κείμενα (keimena)
– lying stretched out in place, lying in order. It is almost as if the clothes
simply "deflated" in place when the body they covered disappeared!
Not only that, but the most valuable cloth of all, the σουδάριον (soudarion) is
carefully folded. Grave robbers would not leave the most valuable things behind.
And surely, even if for some strange reason they wanted the body, they would not
have bothered to carefully unwrap and fold things, and leaven them all stretched
out in an orderly way. Robbers work quickly, they grab and snatch and leave
disorder behind them.
And life is like this. You can't simply accept the first interpretation of
things. Every reporter knows that "in the fog of war, the first reports are
always wrong." And thus we too have to be careful not to jump to all sorts of
negative conclusions just because someone else is worried. Sometimes we need to
take a fresh look at the evidence and interpret it as men and women of hope and
faith, as men and women who know that God will not utterly forsake us, even if
he tests us.
John is now looking at the same evidence as did Mary Magdalene, but his faith
and hope give him a different vision. His capacity to move beyond fearful
reaction to faithful reflection is changing the picture.
We know little of the reaction of Peter or Mary Magdalene at this point. The
focus is on John. And the focus is on you. What do you see in life? Do you see
grave robbers? Or are you willing to reconsider and move from knee-jerk fear to
Does your resurrection faith make you ready to reassess even the bad news you
receive and look for a blessing even in crosses?
IV. RESURRECTION MODE
And now, though somewhat cryptically we focus on the reaction and mindset of St.
John. The text says,
Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had
arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet
understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.
At one level the text says, plainly that St. John saw and believed. Does the
text mean only that he believed Mary Magdalene's story that the body was gone?
Well, as is almost always the case with John's Gospel, there is both a plain
meaning and a deeper meaning. The context here seems clearly to be that John has
moved to a deeper level. The text says he ἐπίστευσεν (episteusen) "believed."
The verb here is in the aorist tense, a verb form that generally portrays a
situation as simple or undivided, that is, as having perfective (or completed)
aspect. In other words, something has come to fruition in him.
And yet, what the text gives, it also seems to qualify, saying, they did not yet
understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. It is as if to say,
"John came to believe that Jesus had risen, though he had not yet come to fully
understand all the scriptural connections and how this had to be. He only knew
in his heart by love and through this evidence that Jesus was risen. Deeper
understanding would have to come later.
But for our purposes, let us observe that St. John has gone from fear to faith.
He has not yet seen Jesus alive, but he believes based on the evidence, and what
his own heart and mind tell him.
And now, at this moment John is like us. He has not seen, but believes. Neither
have we seen, but we believe. John would seem him alive soon enough and so will
We may not have an advanced degree in Scripture but through love we too can know
he lives. Why and how? Because of the same evidence:
The grave clothes of my old life are strewn before me.
St. John leaves this scene a believer. His faith may not be the fully perfected
faith it will become, but he does believe. John has gone from fear to faith,
from reaction to reflection, from panic to peace. This is his journey, and
prayerfully, our too.
I am rising to new life.
I am experiencing greater victory over sin.
Old sins and my old Adam are being put to death
And the life of the new Adam, Christ is coming alive.
I'm being set free and have hope and confidence, new life and new gifts.
I have increasing gratitude, courage and a deep peace that says: Everything is alright.
Yes, the grave clothes of my old way of life lie stretched out before me and I now wear a new robe of righteousness.
I'm not what I want to be but I'm no what I used to be.
So we like John, see. We see not the risen Lord, not yet anyway. But we see the evidence and we believe.
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