Commentary to EASTER SUNDAY – Year ABC
“On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, ‘They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.’”
A blessed Easter! In today's Gospel text, we will find three characters. There are three people who have been involved in a deep loving relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. These are not transient infatuations like those described by the prophet Hosea, with the image of the morning cloud that disappears when the sun appears. Or like the dew that vanishes at dawn. NO. With them it is a profound relationship that has changed his life. They had given Jesus their adhesion because they had understood that he was an extraordinary man who was on the road to success. But his life had ended in a dramatic way; He had been executed by the holders of political and religious power.
The inglorious end of Jesus of Nazareth affected, in a different way, those who had known him because the relationship with him had not been the same. Whether in Galilee or Jerusalem, many people had admired him, for his rectitude, for the gestures of love he made, for the moral, sublime message he had announced. All these were certainly very sorry for his death. These people admired Jesus of Nazareth, but admiration is very different from falling in love. And only a group of disciples were really in love with him, to the point of risking their lives to follow him.
And there are three of these that are presented to us in today's Gospel text. It is not difficult to imagine the questions they have in their hearts. They are the lovers and wonder if the deep love relationship they have cultivated with Jesus is over forever. Can love disappear with death? In the text that we have read we have already heard the word 'sepulcher' three times, and we will listen to it four more times in this text. In Greek, 'sepulcher' is 'menemion' and is the same word that means 'memory'.
The sepulcher is a memory. He or she who goes to the grave inevitably wonders about the person who is there. What is left of that person? What remains of the love that person has shared? Only the memory? The sepulcher that dominates the scene is in the foreground because it is in this tomb where we will find these three characters mentioned in today's Gospel. And we are called to confront them to verify if our love for Jesus of Nazareth is like theirs.
If our love is like theirs, if we love him, we cannot help but ask ourselves the same question that those characters had. We also ask: Where has Jesus of Nazareth ended? I'm interested to know if he is dead forever... We ask this question together with these characters. The first character that appears on the scene is Mary Magdalene. A woman who has been healed by Jesus. She reaches the sepulcher at dawn, when it was still dark. It seems a contradiction: at dawn, but it is still dark. It is a darkness that has a symbolic meaning. It is the one that has enveloped the world when Judas left the Cenacle. The evangelist John points out that when Judas leaves to deliver Jesus 'it was night.'
About this struggle between the light and the darkness of the world, the evangelist John speaks from the beginning of his gospel: "The light was coming into the world, the true light that enlightens everyone. The light shines in darkness, light that darkness could not overcome” (Jn 1:9.5). And then, talking to Nicodemus, Jesus says: "The light came into the world, and people preferred darkness to light. And its actions were bad." Then, Jesus will say of himself: "I am the light of the world" (Jn 8:12).
He is the life of the world. This is, then, the meaning of the darkness that still envelop the world at the dawn of Easter Day. The darkness here has a symbolic meaning; it is the symbol and the signal of the apparent victory of death over life. It also represents the inner darkness of the heart of the Mary Magdalene. The question that worries her: Why should a love relationship end? On the morning of Easter this darkness begins to disappear and a light appears that allows 'seeing'. You start to see. In fact, the most important verb in this text is: to 'see'.
What do these three characters see in the sepulcher? In our languages we have only one verb to say to 'see', but in Greek we will find three verbs to say: 'see' but with a different meaning. We will notice the different nuances of this vision that these three characters have before the sepulcher. What does the Mary Magdalene see? The verb used here is 'blepo' = to see, to look, to observe. She reaches the grave and 'see' with the material sight,she sees what they all see... see the verifiable: the stone was separated from the sepulcher.
Remember that it is a stone that separates the world from the living from the world of the dead. And Jesus had said: "Take away the stone" (Jn 11:39) at the tomb of Lazarus. And here, when the Mary Magdalene arrives at the tomb, she 'sees', 'verifies' a historical fact. The stone has been moved. Somebody has moved it; someone has opened the tomb... But the Magdalene does not know who has done it.
This is the concrete fact. The reading of this fact is multiple: the enemies, the opponents of Jesus never denied this fact. The stone of the sepulcher had been removed and the body of Jesus was no longer there. The interpretation of this fact was diverse. The whole story goes around this tomb that is empty. A corpse should be inside, but it is not there. Who does Mary Magdalene represent? The disciple ... but the disciple really in love with Christ; the one who has united his or her life to Jesus, the one who has shared in depth the options that Jesus has made and, in the most intimate core of their being, do not resign to lose Jesus. She is the disciple who says: without him, my life has no meaning; I cannot live without him.
If we do not have this passion for Christ it means that our relationship with him is very superficial and marginal. It means that there are other people and things that really interest you. And they 'trust': they think that if Jesus—to whom they have given their life—if he is not alive, their life has no meaning. This means that one is really in love with him; not only admiring him because he has been a very significant character in his time, who has marked the history of the world.
Falling in love is another thing. And we see it properly in Mary Magdalene that cannot be without him. What does she do? She runs. Before everything was quiet on Saturday, but now everything begins to move. The Magdalene runs. Then, shortly, we will see that Peter and the other disciple rush out and also run to the tomb. He runs and goes to Simon Peter and the other disciple who was a friend of Jesus, whom Jesus loved and says to them: "They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we do not know where they have placed him."
The love of Christ is not lived in an individualistic, intimate way. The attitude of Mary Magdalene tells us that she belongs to a community and does not seek alone the answer to the question about the meaning of our life; she seeks it together with the brothers. The Mary Magdalene gives her contribution to this search and shares with the disciples what she saw.
It is his first interpretation. It is what everyone can verify and try to give an explanation: 'They have taken him out'. Then Mary Magdalene goes out of the scene.
Let us now hear how Peter reacts to the words of Mary Magdalene:
“So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first;. he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.”
After meeting Mary Magdalene, we now meet two disciples who are also in love with Christ. We know the first one very well, he is Peter. The second one has no name. Tradition has always identified him with the evangelist John, who because of humility would not have put his name as the disciple whom Jesus loved, whom Jesus privileged. There is no doubt that the evangelist John corresponds to the figure of this beloved disciple, but we must leave the gospel as it is, nameless.
The objective of the evangelist is clear: it is an invitation to put our name next to that disciple and confront our love for Christ with this disciple that Jesus loved. In the Gospel of John, it always appears in some way in relation to Peter. He enters the scene before Peter. He is one of the two disciples of the Baptist who when they see that the Baptist indicate Jesus as the Lamb of God, they follow him. They ask Jesus where he lives and spend that night with him.
After the encounter with Christ a new day begins for them, a new life. This disciple without a name, the disciple that Jesus loved, arrives before Peter. It represents the one who upon finding Christ immediately feels himself wrapped in a love relationship. Then, this disciple is only remembered at the last supper, when Jesus declares that among the Twelve there is one who will deliver him. Peter does not know how to distinguish between those who are on Jesus' side and those who betray the Master and ask this disciple that Jesus loves to tell him who is the one who betrays Jesus. Peter does not know how to distinguish between the disciple who loves Jesus but the other immediately recognizes who is on the Master's side and who is against the new man and the new world. Then, during the passion, this disciple has the courage to follow the teacher in the house of the high priest. Although Peter tries to follow the Master... then he denies him.
Instead, the disciple whom Jesus loves has the courage to be present not when everyone applauds the Master, but when he begins to be harassed. It is a very current message for us today. The one who is in love with the Master, even when the Master is no longer applauded, remains always faithful to this love Then, he appears again on Calvary. Peter is not there but the disciple that Jesus loved is there. He is not Juan. John has escaped along with all the others, say the evangelists. Present at Calvary, therefore, following Jesus to the end, to the total gift of life, following the proposal of a new man made by Jesus of Nazareth who gives his life for love. And there is also the disciple that Jesus loves. Then we have today's text. The disciple that Jesus loves arrives at the tomb before Peter.
It is the image of the passion of uncontainable love that moves him. Later he will again appear in the lake of Galilee; it is this disciple who recognizes the Resurrected One ahead of Peter. And he says to Peter: The man who is there, on the shore is the Lord. Finally, this beloved disciple is present when the Risen One says to Peter: 'Follow me' and Peter is undecided and looks at this disciple that Jesus loves because he knows that it is with this disciple that he must model his relationship with the Lord. Here represents the authentic disciple. Let's now go to the narrative of today's Gospel text. What does this disciple that Jesus loves do when he comes to the tomb? He leans and observes.
Again, the verb that is the same that was used with Mary Magdalene. To observe: it is a material look. He saw the same thing that Mary Magdalene had seen before and nothing else. He saw the burial clothes that was there, but did not enter. To understand this, it must be said that the tombs of that time, as indicated by the picture. You see the entry into this tomb which is contemporary to the sepulcher of Jesus.
At the entrance, there were two places, one that was the anteroom, and another, which is of special interest to us, is the one that has the shape of an arch. Jesus was placed there in a place like the one you see; Jesus was placed there. What has this disciple that Jesus loved seen? He saw what Mary Magdalene has also observed and in fact the same verb is used; He has seen a funeral sheet. They were not bandages like those used in the mummies of Egypt. NO.
The Hebrews only wrapped the corpse in a robe that was about four meters long and one meter wide. This sheet was then folded over the person and there were also three bandages that served to fix this sheet to the body, a bandage around the neck, another to the center and another to the ankles. This was the way they buried. The text says that this disciple saw this sheet.
The Greek verb is 'kéimena' - 'keimai' means 'deflated'. Previously, when the body was there, this sheet was 'swollen.' Now it had the same shape, but it was like deflated, wrinkled. Everything was in the same position, only that the corpse was no more there. The clothes were down. This disciple that Jesus loved is the one who begins to recognize on the burial clothes the husband's thalamus, the beloved one and, according to the Gospel of John, this sheet is still perfumed with the aromas of the betrothal placed by Nicodemus and by Joseph of Arimathea. They had brought a mixture of myrrh and aloe, 100 pounds... 45 kilos of perfumes.
An enormity and it has a very important theological meaning. The evangelist tells us that these disciples in love with Christ have recognized in Jesus the husband who has given his life; he has loved so much that he has given himself totally. This is the meaning of that perfume that the disciples have poured on that cloth. Therefore, this disciple has seen the signs of death. This figure of the Church is beautiful: the disciple does not enter, but waits for Peter to arrive. This is our Church. And the challenge is to have in the community people so diverse: some run more... some are more in love and arrive first, others arrive later, but they know how to wait and respect for one another. This disciple who arrives first waits for Peter. He wanted to get there first to find the answer to the question: where is the person we love? And now Peter also arrives.
When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead. And the disciples went home. Then Peter comes to the tomb, following this disciple in love with Christ and he contemplates the burial clothes on the floor, that is, the sheet that had been deflated. But the verb used here is no more 'blepo' = to observe what everyone sees, but a verb that means to 'contemplate', to look with stupor, to reflect on what everyone observes... In other words, Peter lets the memories of those three years spent with Jesus come out, the words he has heard... he begins to see something that goes beyond the material gaze, beyond the verifiable. The love that attracted him to Christ begins to come into play and it is this love that makes him penetrate the mystery. He does not see only the lying burial clothes but also, the shroud that was in the head and that did not lie next to the burial clothes but separated, wrapped in a certain place.
What was this shroud? It was the handkerchief that was tied to the head of the deceased to keep his mouth shut. It was bent. The Greek verb is 'entulizo' which can mean 'wrapped', as coiled. And this shroud was not rolled up like the linen cloth but it is as if it had kept the shape of the head of Jesus. And at this moment, the two disciples begin to have the intuition
described by John Chrysostom who says that if the corpse had been taken by thieves they would not have stripped it before stealing the cadaver. They would not have taken the trouble to remove and fold the shroud and put it in a separate place and in order. And here the disciple that Jesus loved enters the scene again.
He also enters the tomb, after Peter, and the text says: "He saw and began to believe." And here is the third verb 'to see' = 'orao', that is a seeing that goes beyond the verifiable, is the look inside the mystery, the look that goes beyond what is verifiable by the senses. The beloved disciple begins to believe. It is the beginning of the path to faith, also for us. Facing the signs of death, you begin to perceive the victory of life. The empty tomb, the sheets, the folded shroud present questions, but do not force one to believe; they are not proofs of the resurrection.
They are ambiguous signals that can be read very differently. John the Evangelist says that in the way of faith you must go through these three ways of seeing to be authentic. Begin what is verifiable, then reflect on what you have seen, but the last step it is not dictated by rationality, it cannot be, but it is indicated by rationality and love. True faith does not deny rationality, otherwise it would be a very naïve belief. It goes beyond rationality. Love is not limited to the rational, it goes a step further.
And this is why faith cannot be imposed and it is also because of this that faith is reached in a different way and because love comes into play. In fact, we note that the beloved disciple does not try to convince Peter in which he has begun to believe. But does not speak because faith has a very personal dimension. The disciple reads events with the eyes of love. These three characters represent the diverse members of the Christian community. Each one, in his or her own way, gives his or her contribution to the discovery of the paschal event. They all seek faith passionately, they debate in doubts, they have different intuitions, but they remain united. And as soon as someone discovers a light it is shared with the brothers and sisters. Peter is the slow, clumsy disciple who always comes late to understand the signs and to hear the voice of the Lord, to recognize the Risen One. He represents the disciples who love the Lord, but are trapped in their own incomprehension of the Scripture and on their fixation on traditional ideas, on their own convictions.
The beloved disciple is passionately in love and is sensitive to move from signs to reality. It represents that part of the community that is guided by love and comes quickly to faith in the Risen One; and this faith transforms your life. Among the three, Mary Magdalene is the first in having the clear vision of the Risen One and the reason is that she loved Jesus more than the other two.
She will be the one who will run to announce to everyone what her love has made her discover: '??ρακα τ?ν Κ?ριον' - 'Eokara ton Kyrion' "I have seen the Lord!" Here the Greek uses the verb 'orao' (Jn 20:18), it is the verb that goes beyond rationality, It does not deny it, but goes beyond it. It is what love makes you understand. The Magdalene does not say that she has 'seen Jesus', she has seen the 'Lord'. She has not seen him return to this world; she has seen him resurrected in the world of God, with the look that only love can give.
I wish everyone a good Easter.