4th April 2021
Year B – Psalter week 1
He must rise from the dead.
We have come through our Lenten journey of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, to help us to draw closer to God and to help us to renew, from the heart, our baptismal promises. We have passed through Holy Week in which we have focused particularly upon the suffering and death of Jesus for each of us, so that our sins may be forgiven. And this has all come to a climax over the last three days, during the Easter Triduum, in which we have re-lived the Last Supper, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection of the Lord.
The celebration of the Easter Vigil, the holiest night of our liturgical year, is the beginning of our celebration of Christ’s resurrection. It takes faith to believe that Jesus’ death on the cross was for the forgiveness of our sins and that He has truly risen from the dead!
In the readings for the Easter Vigil this year, we hear Mark’s account of the women going to the tomb with spices to anoint the body of Jesus. Upon arriving they found the stone at the entrance of the tomb rolled away. And Mark tells us: “On entering the tomb, they saw a young man in a white robe seated on the right-hand side, and they were struck with amazement. But he said to them, “There is no need for alarm. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he has risen, he is not here. See, here is the place where they laid him. But you must go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; it is there that you will see him, just as he told you.’”” All these women had to go on, then, was the word of a young man they had met in the tomb, who told them that Jesus was risen. They then rushed back and told Peter and the other disciples.
This Easter Sunday, we hear again the account of this episode, but in this case from John’s gospel. According to John, Mary Magdala went to the tomb, presumably with the other women, very early on Sunday morning, but no mention is made of an encounter with a young man. Instead, John says that when she saw the stone rolled away from the tomb, she immediately went to tell Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved (who we understand to be John) and told them: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him.”
In the gospels, then, there do seem to be discrepancies when it comes to the account of the empty tomb: of what exactly happened, to whom, and when. But we must remember that the gospels are not simply history books, or photographs, as it were, of Jesus’ life. Rather, each gospel was written for a particular community, and was written in a way that addressed the needs of that community, bringing out the saving events in the life of Jesus, and what they mean, in different ways. This is, after all, why the Church has retained for us four different gospels, each of which provides for us a different, yet important perspective, upon Jesus’ life and ministry.
Mark is most probably the earliest gospel and so is often more basic and to the point. The Gospel of John, on the other hand, was the last gospel to be written, and is the most theologically developed. And so, in his account of the empty tomb we might expect to find deeper hidden meaning. Why is it, for example, that John’s gospel includes the race between Peter and John to the tomb? Why is it that John, when he gets to the tomb first, does not go in, but goes in only after Peter has caught up and has himself gone into the tomb. Why is it that when John went in, “he saw and he believed,” but no mention is made of Peter’s reaction?
One explanation for John remaining outside the tomb until Peter arrives, is that he is in fact deferring to Peter, because Jesus himself bestowed authority upon Peter, who is the rock upon which Jesus built his Church. But there are other meanings we can draw out of John’s account of the empty tomb.
One ancient homily says that the tomb in John is an allegory of the sacred scriptures. Peter is faith, which is the first thing we bring to scripture when we read it, but John is understanding, which afterward enters and penetrates the meaning of scripture more deeply.
Morally, meanwhile, Peter and John represent the active and contemplative missions of the Church, so that even when contemplatives in the Church are the first to arrive at a deeper understanding of the faith, deference is nevertheless still given to the hierarchical leadership of the Church (the Pope and the bishops, who are the successors of Peter and the apostles), who later define and makes official the authentic insights of contemplatives.
These are just some examples of the deeper meaning we can draw from what seems, on the surface, a very simple gospel passage today in John. So far, however, we have only heard about the empty tomb. For John, that was enough: When he went into the empty tomb, “He saw and he believed.” For others, more was needed. And to help each of us to grow in faith, and to grow in our own knowledge that Jesus has truly risen from the dead, we now enter into the joy and hope-filled season of Easter.
Over the next fifty days we will hear of the post-resurrection appearances of the risen Lord to the disciples, we will reflect upon the gift of eternal life that the risen Jesus offers to each of us in Him, and we will await in anticipation the renewed grace of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promises to all who thirst for him. In short, we ourselves hope and pray for a fresh encounter with the risen Lord.
Despite the challenges we continue to live through, may this Easter Season be for all of us a time of great celebration, of joy, of hope, and of abundant blessing, as we open ourselves up evermore to the grace, power and presence of the risen Jesus in our lives.
Have a happy and blessed Easter!
Download Fr Andy’s homily here
 See Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, The Gospel of John, 20:4.
This day was made by the Lord: we rejoice and are glad
Look for the things that are in heaven, where Christ is
He must rise from the dead
Sunday Message and Look
Download this weeks Sunday Message and Look (for our younger parishioners) by clicking on the images, for all the readings for this week, as well as the prayers during mass and the usual weekly thoughts and reflections.
Christ, our passover, has been sacrificed:
let us celebrate the feast then, in the Lord.