Faith, Fellowship and Fun

April 4: John 20:1-9 pdf version here
John 20:1   Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

John 20:11   But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

In some ways this gospel is a difficult one for prayer.    It only presents a part of the story and the full unfolding of the good news the story contains lies in the next part of the text.   However, even with this section there is plenty of material for reflection and for prayer.

  1. The disciples are in a state of shock and suffering from a traumatic loss.    Jesus, the one in whom they had placed so much hope, has been murdered and buried.   Then, before they have time to recover comes another shock - the body of Jesus is missing. In the past year we have had shock after shock during the coronavirus crisis.    What was that like for you?   How did you cope?    What, or who, sustained you then?

  1. Mary and Peter, and possibly others, came and discovered that the tomb was empty.    The part of the story we have in this text gives no explanations of what has happened.    They are left in a state of bewilderment “for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”    Have you been in that kind of a situation, faced with events you cannot explain, possibly events which have dashed your hopes in another person, or in God?    What has that been like for you?

  1. Yet in spite of the lack of explanation, the beloved disciple “saw and believed”. Have there been times when others have done something that you could not understand, and which they could not explain at the time and yet you believed that all was not as it seemed?  .... times when you decided to trust in spite of the evidence? Have there been times when others have shown this kind of faith in you when you were not able to offer satisfactory explanations, and all you could say was “trust me”? Have there been times in your relationship with God when you have felt that you were faced with an empty tomb and still you believed?
The account of the first Easter Sunday morning is significant in that it highlights how each of us believers must come to terms with the mystery of the resurrection. Mary reports to Peter and the beloved disciple that the tomb is empty. They in turn run to investigate and, while the disciple reached the tomb first, he holds back in deference to Peter, the leader of the twelve. It is only when the beloved disciple enters the tomb that we are told an appropriate response to the event: “he saw and he believed”. The beloved disciple is unnamed, but in John’s gospel he is present and close to Jesus at a the key moments: the Last Supper, Calvary and now the tomb. In a sense he symbolises where all true believers should be, for each of us is called to be a beloved disciple who accompanies Jesus on his way. “Where I am there also my servant shall be” Jn 12.26. The evangelist then makes a comment on the scene he has described by saying “Until now they had not understood the teaching of the scripture that he must rise from the dead.” It is clear that the first disciples were not expecting the events of Easter; they were taken by surprise and then had to make sense of it. One of the key ways of doing this was to revisit the scriptures, the Old Testament, and pray about how God had been faithful to his people throughout their history. Now, through the Easter story, we have reached the highest expression of that faithfulness “This day was made by the Lord. We rejoice and are glad.

Our readings today bring home to us with tremendous enthusiasm and fervour how our faith life is meaningless if not rooted in the resurrection of Jesus. The gospel is not merely a story in which we are offered the good example of a man who lived a life of love. It is much more, for it shows that God has renewed our life totally from within through the Spirit of the Risen Christ who now lives in us. This is our Easter faith so let’s sing Alleluia with a full heart and voice today!

SEAN GOAN - Let the Reader Understand
It is odd that Mary seems to be absent during vv. 3-10 and that the disciples, whom she alerted, evidently ignore her. It is odd that we are not told she came back with them although we discover she did. It is odd that the beloved disciple and Peter simply “went back to their homes”—to do what exactly? These unusual features become tolerable once we realise we are dealing a core tradition symbolically expanded, by the genius who wrote the Fourth Gospel, for didactic and theological purposes.

A component of the Gospel writer’s objective here is to recount how we come to resurrection faith. This Gospel brings something very special for our consideration. Earlier, in John 11, we read that the gift of resurrected life flows from the love of God or the Son of God’s distress at the human condition (“Jesus wept”). Correspondingly, the double story here tells us that the move to Easter faith is also a movement of love. The eyes of faith are opened by the heart. Such an analysis explains both the structure of the passage and the oddity of it.

John’s account of the resurrection is in two stages: - verses 1-2 are about Mary of Magdala’s experience; - verses 3 to 10 tell us about the experience of the two disciples. In verses 1 and 2 you might like to focus on the symbolism of it being “still dark” and yet a “first day” of a new time. The large stone symbolises all the forces, human and other, that keep God’s grace in the bondage of the tomb. Your experience will help you interpret how Mary responded. Did she run in confusion? Or in fear? The story of Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved can be read from various points of view. You can take them together as experiencing the resurrection, focusing on the details, especially the cloths lying on the ground, useless now since Jesus was alive, but also on the fact that until they saw the empty tomb they did not believe the teaching of the scriptures. St John makes a point of contrasting the two apostles. If you would like to meditate on this aspect of the story, see Peter as symbol of the Church leader, while “the other disciple” is the one who, while having no position of authority, is specially loved by Jesus and, perhaps as a result, is first in faith.

They can kill a bishop, but they cannot kill the Church which is the people.” Archbishop Romero, some days before he was martyred Lord, we thank you for people of faith. They believe the teaching of the scriptures That your work may lie in the tomb for some days But it must rise again.

MICHEL DE VERTEUIL—Lectio Divina on the Sunday Gospels, Year B
What happened in Jesus’ resurrection?
(Notes from c14 of JESUS: AN HISTORICAL APPROXIMATION by José A Pagola) Jesus resurrection is not a return to his earlier life on earth. Jesus does not return to biological life
as we know it. The sources never suggest that.
The resurrection is not a kind of mysterious survival of his immortal soul as Greek culture would think of it. His followers are Hebrews, and in their way of thinking the ‘body’ is not simply the material or physical side of a person, something that can be separated from a different spiritual side. The ‘body’ is the whole person, who experiences his or her own rootedness in the world and in life with others. When they speak of the ‘body’ they are thinking of a person in his or her whole world of relationships and shared experiences, a whole history of conflicts and hurts, joys and suffering.
For the first Christians, Jesus resurrection is an act of God, whose creative power rescues him from death and brings him fully into God’s own life. At the very moment when Jesus feels that his whole being is lost forever, as is the sad fate of all human beings, God is beginning something radically new. When everything seems irremediably lost in the absurdity of death, God is beginning a new creation.
What happened to make Jesus’ disciples believe something so amazing had happened? What caused the radical turnaround in these disciples, who had given him up as a lost cause just a few days earlier?
The stories that have come down to us do not provide a clear basis for understanding just what happened after Jesus’ death. We cannot penetrate the meaning of their experience by using historical methods. It is clear however, that the faith of his followers did not come out of nowhere. Something happened to them. Indeed the apostolic preaching, with all its enthusiasm and audacity, would be unthinkable unless the witnesses were in real contact with the totally new and unexpected event that had happened to them, that is the manifestation of the risen Christ and the fact that he had spoken with them. All the sources tell us that what they went through not only revived their faith in Jesus, but opened them to a new and surprising experience of his presence in their midst.
It is a rich and complex process including questions, reflections, unexpected events, and amazing experiences of faith. But their growing sense of his presence with them after his death does not come only from reflection on the past. The disciples are convinced of this: God is making the risen Jesus present in their hearts. What the accounts suggest is not so much that the risen one has appeared as a visible figure, but rather that is acting within the disciples, creating conditions in which they can perceive his presence.
When Paul is speaking of his experience he never described or explains it in psychological terms. What has happened to him is a ‘grace’. It is a gift, which he attributes to God’s initiative or to the intervention of the risen one. He can only say that he has been ‘reached’ by Christ Jesus and the impact is so powerful the it causes a total reorientation of his life.
The core of the appearance stories is a personal encounter with Jesus full of life. That is the key:
This encounter with Jesus is a gift. The disciples don’t take the initiative; Jesus does. It is a grace from God. This encounter transforms them to their very roots. Once more Jesus offers them his trust; their disloyalty has been cured by forgiveness and they can begin a new life. The encounter with the risen one has to be communicated and shared with others. They feel ‘sent’ by Jesus. All those who met the risen Christ feel the call to share their own experience with others.
Was the tomb empty?
Paul never mentions the empty tomb. By all the evidence it did not play a significant role in the birth of faith in the risen Jesus. Researchers ask: do the empty tomb narratives reflect the memory of what happened, or are they literary compositions that try to describe graphically what everyone believes: That if Jesus has risen, then we should not look for him in the world of the dead?
A close reading of the narrative enables us to see it from more than a purely historical perspective. Indeed, the key to the narrative is not the empty tomb but the ‘revelation’ by the messenger of God to the women. The scene apparently is not intended to present the empty tomb as a proof of the resurrection. In fact, it does not inspire the women to faith, but to fear and trembling. What we need to hear is the voice of the angel, which naturally calls for faith.
Even today in the texts that have come down to us, we can see the joy of the first disciples on discovering that God has not abandoned Jesus. “You crucified him; but God raised him up”. God has not only vindicated Jesus, he has also done him justice. God was not passively, silently watching what they were doing to Jesus; he has returned in all its fullness the life that was so unjustly taken from him.
The early Christians believed that on his death, Jesus entered into God’s glory. He died trusting in his Father, and the Father has accepted him into his unfathomable life. It was a death- resurrection. He did not die into emptiness and nothingness. He entered into full communion with God. The Father did not save him from death, but in his death.
The Father does not want Jesus to suffer. That was never his will. His will was that Jesus remain faithful to the end to his mission. The Father does not wish an ignominious death for Jesus, and Jesus does not offer is blood expecting it to please the Father. The early Christians never thought anything like that. Father and Son are united in the crucifixion, not for the sake of blood and destruction, but in confronting the ultimate consequences of evil. Jesus will go to his death if need be, to be faithful to God’s reign; everyone will see the depth of his trust in the Father and his love for humanity
The crucifixion-resurrection is the supreme revelation of God’s love. In the crucified-risen Jesus God is with us, thinking only about us, suffering like us, dying for us.
The resurrection shows that God was with Jesus in a real way, not intervening against his torturers, but assuring his final triumph. That is the most amazing thing about God’s love: it has the power to annihilate evil without destroying the evil people. He does justice for Jesus without destroying the men who crucified him.
God does not appear as one who required Jesus’ suffering and destruction in order to satisfy his honour and justice, or to forgive human beings. God does not appear as one taking out his anger on Jesus. The Father never holds him responsible for sins he has not committed. How could a just God impute sins to Jesus that he has not committed? Jesus is innocent: sin has not entered into his heart. He is not suffering any punishment from God on the cross. He is suffering the rejection of those who oppose God’s reign. He is not the victim of the Father but of Caiaphas and Pilate.
Suffering in itself is evil; it has no redemptive power. It does not please God to see Jesus suffer. The only salvific thing about Calvary is the unfathomable love of God, incarnate in the suffering and death of his Son.
The story of the empty tomb, as it is given at the end of each gospel, carries a message of great importance. It would be a mistake to look for the crucified Jesus in a tomb; he is not there, he does not belong to the world of the dead. It would be mistake to worship and acknowledge him for what he did in the past. He has risen. He is more full of life than ever. He is still enlivening and guiding his followers. We must go back to Galilee and follow his steps: curing those who suffer, accepting those who are excluded, forgiving sinners, defending women and blessing children. We must offer meals to everyone, and go into people’s houses proclaiming peace; we must tell parables about the goodness of God, and denounce all religion that works against people’s happiness; we must go on proclaiming the nearness of God’s reign. A different, more friendly, abundant and just life is possible with Jesus. There is hope for everyone. Go back to Galilee. He is going ahead of you; there you will see him.