(Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9)
If you listen closely to the gospel passage we just heard proclaimed, one thing becomes apparent—none of what they were seeing and experiencing on that morning of the first day of the week was making any sense. Not to Mary Magdalene or her companions, not to Peter nor John. The author of the gospel attributed this to the fact that none of them—neither his closest apostles nor his most devoted followers—understood the Scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. Yet, when the beloved disciple followed Peter inside the tomb and saw the clothes lying there, we are told that he believed. The gospel does not say what he believed; only that he believed. There is no further conversation between him and Peter that is recorded for us, only that they returned to their homes. The rest of the story—as Paul Harvey used to say—belongs to Mary Magdalene. She is the one who saw the angels...she is the one who saw the risen Lord. Peter and John saw nothing but a vacant tomb and some clothes piled up in a corner. Any way you look at it, that’s a mighty shaky beginning for a faith that has lasted nearly two thousand years and has billions of adherents throughout the world.
And yet, that is where we continue to focus our attention on this glorious Easter morning—on an empty tomb...on what did or did not happen there...and on how we might explain it to anyone who does not believe. Resurrection does not square with anything else we know about physical human life. No one saw it happen on that first Easter morning; no one has ever seen it happen since. Ironically, this most important event in the life of Jesus is the one and only event that was not witnessed by anyone; it was entirely between him and the Father. There were no witnesses whatsoever; they all arrived after the fact. Two of them saw a pile of clothes, one of them saw a vision of angels, and most them saw nothing because they were home in bed, hiding behind pulled up blankets and securely bolted doors.
In the end, none of that really matters and to focus on an empty tomb is to miss the point. The tomb was just an empty shell—a cocoon—and the living being that had been inside was no longer there. Maybe that’s why Peter and John did not stay very long. Clearly, Jesus was not there. He had outgrown his tomb and the stone walls could not contain the life, the energy, and the hope that were radiating from his new being and that needed to be shared. As we are sometimes wont to say, the risen Lord had people to see, things to do, and places to go. His business was among the living to whom he appeared over and over in John’s gospel. And every time he came to his friends they became stronger, wiser, kinder, more daring. Every time he came to them, they became more like him. That’s where our focus should be this morning; not on an empty tomb, but on the presence of a living and breathing God who showed himself to his frightened disciples and transformed their fear into the ability and desire to continue to live and proclaim the message he spoke to them while he was among them.
That is the Easter miracle, my brothers and sisters; not an empty tomb, but an encounter with the living Lord. Easter began for Mary Magdalene not when she stood frightened and confused before an empty tomb, but when she saw the Lord and he spoke her name. It is no different for us. Easter is not about bunnies or colored eggs or even an empty tomb; we will know the true meaning and deep joy of Easter when we acknowledge the Lord who stands before us in our sisters and brothers...in all the moments of our lives...who speaks our names...and offers us nothing less than a participation in his own new and glorious life.
– Fr. Anthony M. Criscitelli, T.O.R.