“They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know…” says Mary Magdalene at the discovery that the tomb of Jesus is empty. There are certain things in life we just don’t know because they are a great mystery. Augustine said, “If you have understood, then what you have understood is not God.” In the life of the Christian, nothing is greater or more mysterious than the resurrection, of which Jesus declared, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn 11:25). How should we approach this mystery? In what way should the mystery of the resurrection effect us?
Jesus tried to prepare them for the mystery by predicting his death and indicating his resurrection, but they could not understand. When the event did take place, they were so stupefied that the angel had to remind them, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to the hands of sinners and be crucified and on the third day rise again” (Lk 24:6). With the cruel passion and gruesome crucifixion still fresh in their memories, they thought everything was finished with his death. Some even began to walk away and return to their former lives saying, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21). In today’s passage, Mary Magdalene saw stone removed from the tomb and was convinced that it was some form of robbery, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb.” Jesus was dead and consequently could not have opened the tomb himself and leave. Thus Mary proclaimed to Peter and the other disciple, “and we do not know where they put him.” When Peter and John heard the news, they ran out to see for themselves, but they did not fare any better. The Evangelist had to interject into the story to make the point clear, “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (Jn 20:9).
Coincidentally, the three persons who first encountered the mystery of the resurrection all had a loving relationship with Jesus that was unique and intense. Peter was made the rock of the Church for his ability to listen to the Father and recognise Jesus as the Son of the Living God. His love was fierce and insisted on following Jesus even at the cost of his life. John is called the “Beloved” and often accompanied Jesus at crucial moments: transfiguration, Gethsemane, and crucifixion. He was the one who laid his head upon the breast of Jesus at the last supper. Mary Magdalene was the one, “from whom seven demons had gone out,” who remained at the foot of the cross with Mary and John and who appeared in all accounts of the resurrection (Lk 8:2). Mary, full of love and full of agony, probably did not sleep at all, but stayed awake and came out to the tomb at the earliest possible moment: when the Sabbath fast had ended and while it was still dark. Although they did not understand the resurrection, they did understand that Jesus loved them to the end and their love for him was real.
With this love, they remained open to what was possible when the Holy Spirit would come upon them and reveal everything. After this, Peter, representing all the disciples, would be able to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). In due time, the Holy Spirit will reveal to us the meaning of everything: that the resurrection is the source of decisive victory over sin, malice and wickedness; that Jesus is the source of our forgiveness; that our desire to live in sincerity and truth is possible; that we can begin to live a life hidden with Christ in God. None of these inspirations were possible before the resurrection. If we have walked closely with Christ during these Lenten days, we will have had abundant evidence that we cannot achieve these inspirations without Jesus. Our weakness and the weight of our sin has been a sharing in the passion. In our darkness, Jesus has been our light. He has taken on our sins and nailed them to the cross. His resurrection gives meaning to his suffering and reveals the definitive power of divine love.
We are called to enter a new mystery of light and life. We are invited, like the two disciples after the resurrection, to walk with Jesus and reflect back on all the moments of intense love and tenderness. We are encouraged to continue to hope, let our hearts burn with ardor, and let our eyes open to his resurrected presence in our midst.
By Fr Marion Nguyen, osb
Abbot of St. Martin Abbey Lacey, Washington