Fr. Michael Fones, OP
It was the first day of the week, the Sabbath was over, that time of resting from labor.
In the garden, like that first garden, the first hint of the new day brightened the eastern sky.
It was dark, but “the light that shines in the darkness, the light the darkness cannot overcome”, was about to meet three of his most beloved friends.
Mary of Magdala, who stood silent at the foot of his cross, now braves the darkness that threatens to swallow her life, her hope, picks her way through the garden to grieve before her Lord’s sepulcher.
She sees the stone cast aside, the black maw of death that swallowed her beloved, and presumes: she needn’t even look to see if he’s there – she knows that those who hated him so much that they crucified him have “taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”
Who is this we?
Perhaps it is all who fail to believe.
Like the Samaritan woman who ran to her friends in town to tell them of the strange Jew she met at the well, Mary Magdalene carries the news of her lack of encounter with Jesus to her friends.
Peter, the leader of the shaken and seriously depleted band of disciples, runs with another disciple to the tomb.
He enters, sees the scattered burial wrappings, including the head cloth rolled up in a separate place, and stands there mute.
No reaction? Perhaps questions: What does this mean? What do I tell those for whom I feel so responsible?
The other, nameless, but beloved disciple, sees and believes.
What does he see that Mary and Peter don’t?
All three reactions of these disciples are reactions that we present-day disciples share with our brothers and sister when confronted with the empty tomb.
Mary, like all of us, jumps to a conclusion: it’s easier to presume human action in the world than it is God’s action.
When we wake up each morning and realize we have to face a spouse whom we’ve hurt through negligence or insensitivity;
Or when we haul our creaking bones up steps we would have bounded up decades before;
When we hold the pink slip in our hand and feel an utter failure;
It’s easy to believe God is far, far, off – a creator who was busy a long time ago, and not terribly bothered about the details of our life.
Peter can’t decide.
He’s agnostic –maybe Mary’s right, and there’s a perfectly logical, human-generated explanation.
But wavering between belief and unbelief is no different from unbelief.
It’s comforting in some way to say, “I don’t disbelieve God”.
At least I’m not saying I’m an atheist - but no one’s going to bet their life on a statement like that.
No one’s going to subject themselves to the kind of discipline or soul-searching or trust that faith requires if they can only say, “I don’t disbelieve”.
Someone who doesn’t disbelieve will make a promise to die for a friend, then when face to face with the possibility, will deny even knowing him -
A fair-weather disciple.
How many of us are like Peter – full of faith in the good times, full of doubt when confronted with pain?
The beloved disciple sees and believes.
Why? What’s so special about this disciple, who of all the disciples named in John’s Gospel, is identified only by the quality of being loved by Jesus?
Perhaps this disciple, of all those Jesus loved, knew he was loved by Jesus.
Or, better, believed he was loved.
His first act of belief is the fundamental act of belief of every Christian – of every human who truly believes in God.
He believes he is loved.
It’s the hardest act of faith we can make.
In our most honest moments, we are confronted with our sinfulness: our ability to lie and hide behind an image we hope others believe and love.
When we look in the mirror of truth, we see a person who has been unfaithful to friends; who has sold out to comfort, rather than charity; who has whined about petty pains and ignored the cries of hunger, loneliness, despair that rise daily about us.
Yet the beloved disciple is so sure of God’s great love that he can believe God made his dwelling among us in the person of Jesus, and can believe that Jesus could be raised from the dead.
Having witnessed the abuse heaped upon God-made-man by the religious and political bigwigs – the smartest, holiest and most powerful people in his world - he can still believe God loves this sin-sick world.
This disciple lives today in the woman who acknowledges that no matter how great her sin, God’s love for her is stronger.
This disciple lives in the man who fearlessly confronts his own sin, and, grateful for God’s love, approaches the sacrament of reconciliation with confidence.
This is the disciple who knows that the best examples of human virtue are still capable of desperation, sinfulness, foolishness – and believes the worst of us are still capable of responding to God’s grace with acts of gentle kindness.
The disciple who knows she’s loved can believe God’s spirit is at work within her, so that when she listens silently to a friend pour out his grief, it is the Spirit within her who comforts him.
The beloved knows that God works through him, and says, “Lord, I am not worthy, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
Beloved – the empty tomb, the empty cross are signs of God’s love and forgiveness.
On the first day of the week in that garden, a new creation was begun.
In response to God’s love, let us love Him in return, by clearing out the old yeast of our lives - the sins, large and small, that continue to harm His creation and His beloved creatures and our brothers and sisters.
Let us believe that God’s love is so great, that even our sins are not great enough to separate us from Him if we only believe.
Believe in love.
Believe in a love stronger than crucifixion, stronger than death.
Believe, as Mary Magdalene did when the Lord called her by name in that garden, called her as the Good Shepherd who knew her by name, and loved her.
Believe as Peter did later, when on an empty shore Jesus asked him if he loved him enough to lay down his life for him – and reaffirmed Peter’s leadership even when Peter could only reply, “Lord, you know I’m your friend”.
Believe the witness of the great sinner-turned-saint Augustine, who in perhaps his most insightful moment, when confronted with the resurrection, cried, “God loves each of us, as though there were only one of us.”
You are the beloved disciple. See the tomb Love emptied– and believe.