There is little question that a great deal has occurred in our world and in our lives during the past year. Last year on Easter Sunday our churches were closed for public worship due to the coronavirus. While we have come a long way since then, this year we still have safety restrictions and limitations making our experience of worship in church different from that with which we are familiar. During the past year we may have experienced illness, the loss of a loved one and other difficult challenges due to the coronavirus or due to completely other circumstances in our personal lives. As we celebrate Easter, we must realize that no matter what is before us, bad or good, it is our faith in the Risen Christ which not only enables us to truly see what is before us, but to put it in the perspective of God’s creative love. It is His love which always raises us to life, both now and in eternity.
Faith in the Resurrection of Christ is how we discern the world, not in a manner that colors reality to pacify ourselves, but that reveals the truth before us. Hope is the virtue that enlivens us to know that what we believe in faith is true, even though we do not see it before us. Hope in the Resurrection of Christ is not taking a chance that something we want may happen in the future. It is the assurance, that while we may not see it, what we hope for will occur.
As Pope Francis stated in his recent visit to Iraq while reflecting on the “wounds of war and violence” suffered by the country: “The temptation is to react to these and other painful experiences with human power, human wisdom. Instead, Jesus shows us the way of God, the path He took, the path on which He calls us to follow Him. ... The truth is that all of us need the power and wisdom of God revealed by Jesus on the Cross.”
The three disciples, Mary of Magdala, John, and Peter, whom we encounter in the Gospel of Easter Sunday, had been through a great deal in their lives. The crucifixion and death of Jesus was the breaking point of their experience. They were understandably heartbroken, frightened, and confused. Still, as they approached the empty tomb of Jesus, it was their faith and hope which should have enabled them to experience what was before them. Jesus had revealed to them the reality of His upcoming Passion and Death but also assured them of His Resurrection within three days. Peter and John were with the Lord at His Transfiguration and experienced directly His glory.
As Mary of Magdala approached the tomb, she saw the stone removed. Her coming to the tomb was a true sign of love for the Lord, but not one of faith or hope. She did not take the time to look into the tomb but was so frightened and upset that she ran to Peter and John to tell them that the Lord was not there. Her words were most telling, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put Him.” Mary’s response was colored by the rumor that, after His death, the body of Jesus would be stolen from the tomb. She jumped to the conclusion that this had occurred even though the Lord had told her He would be raised. Mary’s faith and her hope were not part of her encounter at the empty tomb.
As Peter and James rushed to the tomb at the words of Mary, they encountered what she did as well, a tomb with the stone rolled away. However, they went a bit further by entering the tomb. Peter saw the burial cloths rolled up in a careful manner. However, he had no insight in regard to what had occurred. He was baffled by it. Perhaps he believed that the body of Jesus was stolen or that something else had occurred. However, there was no reaction of faith or hope which he should have had, especially since Jesus so many times revealed to him the reality of His Resurrection as He did at the Transfiguration.
However, as John entered the tomb we are told that, “He saw and believed.” Of the three disciples, John was the one to have seen what was before him through the eyes of faith. Nevertheless, his faith response was not an immediate one as he did not say to Mary or to Peter beforehand, “You should not be surprised as the Lord has revealed that He would be raised from the dead.” John had to see something in order to come to faith, but it was his faith that saw the truth that was before him.
As we face situations in our lives, difficult or otherwise, it is good for us to recall the reaction of the three disciples at the empty tomb on that first Easter. We can, at times, be like Mary and not understand what is before us and accept the false suppositions of others. How often we receive information not based on what actually happened but on how others perceive that it happened. That can easily happen to us, especially in our society today in which facts are portrayed from a political perspective. Faith should overcome our tendency to accept how others view things. As Pope Francis stated, “The truth is that all of us need the power and wisdom of God rendered by Jesus on the Cross.”
It is well to reflect on how the Lord appeared to Mary of Magdala in the Gospel of John immediately after her encountering the empty tomb without faith. She stood by the tomb weeping still believing that the Lord’s body had been stolen. The risen Jesus appeared to her, but her faith still did not see Him. She was so overcome by grief and confusion that He asked her why she was weeping. She responded by asking Him if He was the one who took the body away. It was the loving words of Jesus speaking her name, “Mary,” that enkindled her faith into recognizing Him. It was His loving presence that awakened her hope. The Risen Lord will never abandon us no matter how we may lose faith and hope in Him. In our darkest moments, He stands beside us and calls us by name with His loving words, even when we do not see or hear Him. He speaks to us and calls us by name just as He did with Mary of Magdala. The power of the Lord’s Resurrection in our lives can never be underestimated.
The Lord also encountered Peter, John and the other disciples after His Resurrection and awakened in them their faith through His loving presence. In the Gospel of St. John, we encounter doubting Thomas, who would not believe in the Resurrection of Christ until he saw Him personally. The words of Jesus to Thomas are so important for us, “Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed.” The Lord is with us and raises us up through the power of His Resurrection. Even though we do not see Him, He is there, His words are there, and, above all, His love is there. May the Resurrection of the Lord enkindle our faith and enable us more readily to see Him before us. May it awaken our hope in a world that needs it.
In a beautiful Easter homily, Saint John Chrysostom, spoke moving words which the Church has used for centuries, reminding us of the reality that we celebrate today. They are, “Christ is risen, and you, o death, are overthrown! Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen! Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice, Christ is risen, and life reigns! Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!”
A Blessed Easter!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
April 2, 2021