In the Gospel of St. John on Easter Sunday morning, we are presented with three disciples who approach the empty tomb after the Resurrection of Jesus: Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. John the Evangelist always uses certain words in his narrative to give a deeper meaning to what He is trying to relate. The word for Easter is “to see.”
The first to approach the tomb was Mary. John tells us that “She saw that the stone had been moved away.” Mary was in a state of deep grief after the crucifixion of Jesus and had witnessed the most horrible of crimes. She was not only grieving but was distraught at the evil which she experienced so closely. That is why she saw the stone rolled away and perceived some malice. She did not believe that the stone was rolled away because Jesus had been raised from the dead. Rather, she expressed her judgment when she went back to Peter and John and told them, “The Lord has been taken from the tomb.”
Peter and John then ran to the tomb after hearing what Mary had seen. John the Evangelist tells us that, out of respect for Peter, John allowed Peter to go into the tomb before him. Then we are told that once again Peter saw something. He saw the burial wrappings on the ground and the piece of cloth which had covered the Lord’s head rolled up in a place by itself. Peter did not judge, like Mary, that an enemy did this, but began to analyze very carefully what was before him. He, too, did not associate what he saw in a way that tied it to the Resurrection. He sees the facts, nothing more.
Finally, John himself went in and saw what was before him. However, the evangelist tells us that, “He saw and believed.” His seeing, his vision, was tied to his faith in the Resurrection of Jesus even though he did not see it occur. Unlike Mary and Peter, what John saw was tied to his faith.
Throughout the Gospel of St. John, seeing is always used by Jesus in a perspective of faith. Jesus heals the blind man. Jesus makes frequent references to the fact that those who see Him see the Father but refuse to recognize it. Those who were unable to see who Jesus truly was by refusing to acknowledge who sent Him were tied to the evil of not seeing themselves as they were, but perceived themselves in a more significant position. Indeed, it was that attitude, that pride, which led to the Lord’s crucifixion and the continuing evil which still can be chosen in this world.
In the second reading on Easter Sunday from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, he tells that, being raised with Christ, we are to see the things which are above and not what is on the earth. These are very important words in regard to the message of Easter and significantly tied to the message of John the Evangelist and how we see things. Our vision of faith makes a difference in our living each and every day in a manner that sees that Christ has raised us even in the most difficult situations of our lives. He has opened the darkest tombs, and we can see this by looking to what is above, where he is seated at God’s right hand in heaven.
However, the proper vision of life, the proper seeing of things before us in the light of Christ’s Resurrection, does not separate heaven from earth. Jesus became one of us in our human nature. He took our sins to himself and died in the most agonizing manner to be with us ultimately in the fullness of life in heaven, where every tear and sorrow will be wiped away. However, He is also fully present to us in this world. To live as a follower of Jesus Christ is to see that He is present among us. The only manner of living is by casting out the evil that still exists in our world which prevents us from seeing Him. We must see what is above in the present moment of our lives.
As we look at Mary Magdalene, we realize, understandably, that false judgment can easily bring about a lack of understanding of what is before us and lead to sin. We live in a world quick to judge and are affected by that. We see so many false judgments all around us today. As we look at Peter analyzing the tomb, we realize that over-analysis of what is before us can cloud our faith and make life too mundane. We see only what is before us and our world analyzes too much. It is the faith of John, which always sees in a believing manner, that makes the difference and leads to life. John believed in the Resurrection by seeing it before him, not in a miraculous manifestation, but in the burial cloths left in the empty tomb. He was able to join that which is above with that which is below since Christ came below for us.
To understand even more deeply the point that John the Evangelist is trying to make, it is well to look at what happens on the evening of the Lord’s Resurrection when the disciples are gathered together with the exception of Thomas the Apostle. Jesus appears before them, and they see Him. Thomas, when he is told about the appearance, refuses to believe it unless he can see it himself. A week later, Jesus appears before the Apostles, with Thomas in their midst. He now believes because he sees. However, Jesus points to the ultimate act of faith, to the ultimate act of not separating what is above from what is below, when He says, “You have believed because you have seen. Blessed are they who have not seen but believe!” Certainly, He is referring to us.
As we celebrate Easter this year, we do so in the context of many challenging matters going on in our world, our nation and our lives personally. How we see all of these things in the vision of our faith makes all the difference in the world. We realize that evil can only be conquered by faith through the power of the Lord’s Resurrection. We look forward to the things that are above in heaven, but we realize that Christ became part of what is below to raise us to life today. May faith enable us to see things through the eyes of Christ and to see the eternal in the present. May Easter be filled with every grace and blessing for you and all of your families, and may we raise the things of the earth to that which is above and always have the joy God wants us to possess.
A blessed Easter to all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
April 7, 2023