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"Seeing, Believing... and Understanding" - A Scripture Reflection for Easter Sunday: The Resurrection of the Lord
by Stephen Bevans, SVD | April 16, 2017
"Seeing, Believing... and Understanding"
A Scripture Reflection for Easter Sunday: The Resurrection of the Lord
April 16, 2017: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Col 3:1-4 or 1 Cor 5:6b-8; Sequence -- Victimae Paschali Laudes; Jn 20:1-9 or Mt 28:1-10 or Lk 24:13-35
When we read the scriptures for today we are struck by the power and joy and certainty of the early community about Jesus’ being raised from the dead, triumphing over death, and offering transformation and new life to those who believe in him. This is Easter morning! If Christ be not raised our faith is in vain, and we are the most wretched of creatures! As Mary Magdelene proclaims in the poem or “sequence” right before the gospel “Christ my hope is risen! To Galilee he goes before you!”
But read the gospel carefully. If you do, you’ll discover that there is much more confusion than certainty, and a lot more panic than joy. The gospel opens up with Mary Magdelene going to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark. What she saw, the text says, was that the stone that had covered the entrance to the tomb had been taken away. In panic, she ran back to where Simon Peter and that shadowy figure called the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” telling them what she had seen, and adding her suspicion that someone had removed Jesus’ body.
Then Simon Peter and that “other disciple” both ran to the tomb to see for themselves. The other, maybe younger one, arrived first, but only bent over and saw the linen cloths. When Simon Peter arrived and, true to his impetuous nature no doubt, charged right into the tomb and also saw the linen cloths and the cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. And then, finally, the “other disciple” went in, and saw and believed.
It’s clear what Mary, Simon Peter, and the “other disciple” saw, but what did the “other disciple” believe? That is certainly not clear. My hunch is that he did not yet believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but that he finally believed Mary’s story that the tomb was indeed empty. The text basically says so—they did not yet understand the scripture, which said that Jesus would rise from the dead. This understanding only becomes clear in the next three scenes in this chapter from John’s gospel, where Jesus appears to Mary Magdelene, then “stands in the midst” of the disciples in the evening, then appears to Thomas a week later. I imagine the disciples not believing Mary at first, just like Thomas did not yet believe the disciples. They could see and believe that the tomb was empty, but only gradually began to understand what it meant.
What a great parable for our own journey of faith, and our own journey of discernment! So often we, like Mary, Simon Peter, and the other disciple, see our world, our lives, and the happenings in our lives but don’t really understand what they actually mean.
The evidence is there that God is doing some great things in our lives—just like it was there at the empty tomb—but, like Mary, we mistake what we see for something else. We see our own unworthiness; we see all the distractions of life; wesee all the gifts that we are endowed with; we see other people around us; we see the great needs of our world and of our church. But we don’t always understand what they all add up to. They are not just an empty tomb. They are the building blocks of what our lives can be.
Despite what Mary Magdalene saw, they didn’t take Jesus away. Despite what we see, our lives are not the confusion and lack of clarity that we might think. If we are patient, take the time to discern, be faithful to prayer, talk with our Catholics on Call mentors or spiritual directors, or keep contact with one another, we might very well experience the Risen Christ calling our name, and calling us in turn to tell the other disciples that he is indeed alive and going before us into the world like he went before the original disciples into Galilee.
It’s important to realize that Easter is not just about something that happened to Jesus long ago. Easter is something that can happen today, in our own lives. We may see and believe that the tomb is just empty. But if we listen to God’s voice in our prayer and in our friends, we can come to understand that Christ is really risen, and offers to us the new life of purpose and direction, which is the Resurrection’s true meaning.
Image from the Public Domain.
Stephen Bevans, SVD
Steve Bevans is Professor Emeritus at Catholic Theological Union and the Faculty Moderator for Catholics on Call. He is a Roman Catholic priest in the Society of the Divine Word, an international missionary congregation, and served for nine years (1972-1981) as a missionary in the Philippines.
His publications include: Models of Contextual Theology (2002), Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (2004, with Roger Schroeder), Evangelization and Freedom (2009, with Jeffrey Gros), and Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2009).
He is past president of the American Society of Missiology (2006) and past member of the board of directors of the Catholic Theological Society of America (2007-2009). In 2009 he was visiting lecturer at Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne, Australia, and in 2013 he was the only Catholic to speak at a Plenary at the Tenth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, Korea.