Reading I: Acts 10: 34a, 37-43
Psalm 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Reading II: Colossians 3: 1-4
Gospel: John 20:1-9
Easter is always a “Big Deal” in my southwestern Minnesota family. We participate in all the liturgies and then spend Easter Sunday feasting, with loads of fun and lots of laughter. But when planning this year’s Easter gathering, a twenty-something, self-proclaimed agnostic daughter of one of my cousins, questioned: “I think Easter is just a lot of lights and lilies; trumpet flourishes, flowers, and a really good story! But what about all those innocent children, murdered in the Ukraine – and the threat of nuclear war if we try to help them?” Momentarily stunned, I heard myself responding in my best pastoral tone: “Well yes – it is a really good story! But it’s more than that, as well.” “Well how do you know?” she retorted. Then I had to admit, what I know is the real heart of the matter: “I don’t really know – but I do actually believe!” The story is good – more than good! It’s pushing three millennia, and “the story” has changed my life and countless others! I do believe that Easter provides the very reasons that enable anyone to recognize those atrocities as egregious evils! But what is more, it empowers us to stand and act against them!
In today’s Gospel, Mary of Magdala arrives at the tomb of Jesus in the darkness (Jn.20:1). She notices the stone from the tomb’s entrance was removed. Steeped in grief, loss, and confusion concerning events of the last two days, she presumes grave robbery has occurred (v. 2). She flees the tomb but shares her discovery with Peter and John, and returns. The men come to the tomb to see for themselves. Initially only Peter enters the tomb and sees the neatly placed burial clothes but fails to ask what “grave robber” would have been so meticulous! That detail casts doubt on the likelihood of grave robbery! Finally, John entered the tomb and noting the burial clothes still in place – he “saw and believed” (v.8). Indeed – something else is afoot here!
Today’s Gospel concludes: “For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (v 9). And “Then the disciples returned home” (v.10). Yet, this is not the end of the story! As Peter attests (Acts 10:40-43) following the mysterious event of the resurrection, the Christians were mandated to testify to all that Jesus said and did, specifically to “bear witness that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Considering this – though Peter and John left the empty tomb, notably Mary stayed on and faced her bewilderment. She expressed her confusion in tears and questions (Jn 20:11-15). Finally, “… she bent over into the tomb, and saw two angels…” (vv.11-12). She tells them of her sorrow and loss, only to turn and hear the voice of Jesus (though she initially mistook him for the gardener). Then, in a most intimate exchange, Jesus called her by name, “Mary!” And she responded in faith and recognition, “Rabbouni” (v. 13). Mary of Magdala’s life changed (v16)! She went to the disciples and announced, “I have seen the Lord,” and what he told her (v18). Therefore, of the countless women who followed Jesus, we know her name.
As we celebrate Easter, let us open ourselves to receive the power of the faith and mystery taken up by Mary of Magdala, Apostola Apostolorum. Let us deliver on the hope that we profess, in concrete actions. Faith in the risen Christ must lead Christians act as did Jesus, in deep solidarity with those who suffer. Easter faith and hope must lead to greater forgiveness and reconciliation, not passivity in the face of injustice. True reconciliation is perfected in the hands of God. Answering the call of the risen Christ is not easy; it does not erase the wounds of the crucifixion. But forgiveness is the only path to unity and, ultimately, to a community that acts for justice. If we are true to Mary of Magdala’s example, our Easter faith will become more credible to the young agnostics of our day – and more. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!