Christ My Hope is Arisen
Gospel Reflection for April 9, 2023, Easter Sunday - John 20:1-9
Early in the morning on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalen went to the tomb, and found the stone moved away from the tomb door.
So she came running to Simon Peter, and that other disciple, whom Jesus loved; They have carried the Lord away from the tomb, she said to them, and we cannot tell where they have taken him.
Upon this, Peter and the other disciple both set out, and made their way to the tomb;
they began running side by side, but the other disciple outran Peter, and reached the tomb first.
He looked in and saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.
Simon Peter, coming up after him, went into the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there,
and also the veil which had been put over Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths, but still wrapped round and round in a place by itself.
Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and saw this, and learned to believe.
They had not yet mastered what was written of him, that he was to rise from the dead. (Jn 20:1-9 Knox Version)
This reading for Easter Sunday can seem to have been ill-chosen, since it does not contain an apparent depiction of Our Lord resurrected. Yet it is a revelatory selection, a scene which describes and points to the state of the Church Militant on Earth from the time of the Resurrection until the Second Coming of Christ, the age of evangelization (as St. Peter mentions in the first reading), the unfolding of the mysteries of Christ through the instruction of the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:26) and the penitential sufferings of Christ’s disciples in His name “as, in this mortal frame of mine, I help to pay off the debt which the afflictions of Christ still leave to be paid, for the sake of his body, the Church.” (Col 1:24) Although the true Church established by Christ is already one, holy, catholic and apostolic, she is sent out to give “ever better expression” to these four marks, until all division is solidified, all sin is purified and the whole world is converted to Christ through her apostolic authority. (Unitatis redintegratio, 4)
Just as the Church in this fallen world is eager for salvation yet stumbles in the darkness of confusion and sin, “looking at a confused reflection in a mirror” and gaining “only glimpses of knowledge”, (1 Cor 13:12) so Mary Magdalen raced to the tomb but could not discern the meaning of its emptiness: “The Sabbath being now over, during which it was unlawful to be there, Mary Magdalene could rest no longer, but came very early in the morning, to seek consolation at the grave: The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre.” (Chrysostom, Catena Aurea) Like the faithful laity today, Mary looked to the shepherds of the Church, the apostles, for guidance, and when their two greatest leaders, St. Peter and St. John the Beloved Disciple, ran to the tomb, even though John arrived first, he submitted to the authority of Peter, the chief of the apostles and vicar of Christ on Earth, who then first entered the tomb. John recognized the priority and special mission given to Peter by Christ, corroborated through the list of apostles and the activities of the early Church in the Book of Acts and which the Supreme Pontiff continues today as his successor.
Nevertheless, at this time, Peter did not find his resurrected Lord in person; he found only “motives of credibility” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 156) pointing to and demonstrating the truth which the prophets of the Old Testament and Christ Himself had already revealed. As St. John Chrysostom explains,
Which circumstances were proof of His resurrection. For had they carried Him away, they would not have stripped Him; nor, if any had stolen Him, would they have taken the trouble to wrap up the napkin, and put it in a place by itself, apart from the linen clothes; but would have taken away the body as it was. John mentioned the myrrh first of all, for this reason, i. e. to shew you that He could not have been stolen away. For myrrh would make the linen adhere to the body, and so caused trouble to the thieves, and they would never have been so senseless as to have taken this unnecessary pains about the matter. (Catena Aurea)
Like Peter, people today, longing for the certain hope of salvation which Christ created on Easter Sunday, search for these motives of credibility, whose surest signs are the four marks of the Church mentioned above. (CCC, 812) These proofs, knowable only through the grace of faith, are evidence for that which cannot be proven by mere human reason, or even known by ordinary experience without God’s special revelation; instead, as Christ appeared visibly only to those who already knew and believed in Him, we must now look to and trust the Church, the Barque of St. Peter, which carries Christ’s divine life and the truth of the Deposit of Faith which He entrusted to her. (Acts 10:41) Despite her myriad sins and defects (and tested against them), the Church is ultimately inviolable and undefeatable through the Holy Spirit, and will continue to be “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Mt 5:13-14) until Christ returns, a reminder of the victory of infinite love against the seemingly insurmountable powers of darkness which He won for us on that very first Easter Sunday.