Easter Sunday Lectio Divina, April 4, 2021
By David Kilby
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.”
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.
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.
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning
Mary’s devotion proves her love for Jesus. Her devotion is rewarded with an invitation to deeper faith. She was the first to witness that Jesus had risen, even if she didn’t understand what she was seeing at first. Sometimes we get so caught up in our religious devotion that we don’t leave room for God to show us how he is revealing himself to us and inviting us deeper into the mystery of his existence. Mary probably wasn’t expecting to experience anything extraordinary when she went to the tomb. She was probably just going to leave some flowers. Little did she know that she would be the first to witness the Resurrection, and that her story would be told for centuries. Let that be a testimony to the unseen ways we witness the truth without knowing it. Our small devotions to our Lord is part of a bigger story. It may encourage someone who witnesses our devotion to have greater faith of their own. Or God may reveal some truth we had been searching for. Let’s just make sure we are paying attention when he reveals himself to us, because--like happened with Mary here--sometimes God’s ways of revealing himself go unnoticed.
They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.
Mary’s immediate assumption upon seeing the tomb empty is one of suspicion. Roman guards were set before the tomb of Jesus to prevent anyone from stealing the body, because there were rumors that Christ’s followers would steal it and then tell everyone that he rose from the dead. So it’s curious that Mary believes someone took Jesus’ body, since she is a believer herself. By “they”, does she mean other believers took the body? It’s noteworthy to recognize how she immediately assumes the worst when she experiences something unexpected; the empty tomb. How often do we do the same thing? When we lose something, we often assume someone stole it. When a utility bill is unusually high, we often assume the utility company is trying to rob us. In our vulnerable human state, we are looking for any opportunity to point the finger at someone, because it’s often hard just to get through a day and blaming someone else for our plight seems to relieve us of our burden at least a little. How often do we let grace in, though? How often do we allow a glorious mystery to illuminate our lives and explain the unexpected? Perhaps whatever plight we are experiencing is paving the way for something better. Perhaps the Jesus we thought we lost in our darkest hour is actually waiting for us in the garden as the resurrected Jesus, inviting us to new life.
Simon Peter saw “the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.”
Two things about this detail stick out. First, the inclusion of the detail itself seems to give the account more credibility. After all, who would bother describing how the burial cloths were rolled up unless they were describing an event they actually witnessed? Second, the cloth that covered Jesus’ face is given greater care than the cloth covering the rest of his body. Scripture talks about the significance of seeing God’s face and its glory. King David exclaimed, “Hide not they face from me” (Ps. 143:7). The Lord said to Moses, “you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live” (Ex. 33:20). There is something special about the face of God, and the way Jesus rolls up the burial cloth that covered his face seems to point to that here.
he saw and believed
A doubter may have seen the burial cloths and the stone rolled away, and may have simply believed that the body of Jesus was stolen. Peter is starting to get it, though. He had witnessed Jesus’ divine power. Now it’s just a matter of putting the pieces together. Perhaps we all would believe if we witnessed everything Peter witnessed, but Christ says of us who haven’t witnessed Christ’s miracles, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet still believe” (John 20:29). We may not have the blessing of witnessing Christ’s miracles in the Holy Land when he walked the earth, but we do have the sacraments and the graces of the lives of the saints, who we can call upon to deepen our faith. We have all the miracles that have happened since the time of Christ, which the disciples did not have to bolster their faith, like those at Fatima and Guadalupe, and all the Eucharistic miracles. This is not to compare what the disciples received to what we have received through God’s grace, and try to notice who his favorite is, but only to show that God is constantly reaching out to us and inviting us to believe in countless ways, if we only care to look.
they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead
John’s perspective in writing these words has a great deal of hindsight. Not only is he affirming that Jesus rose from the dead. He also knows that Jesus had to rise from the dead. That means, when he wrote his Gospel, he knew the missing piece in salvation history. Not only did he believe that Jesus rose from the dead. He also knows why Jesus rose from the dead. Do we know why? Or is the Resurrection just a cool story that shows how awesome Jesus is? St. Paul says if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then all of our faith is in vain (1 Cor 15:14). Why so? Isn’t it still worthwhile to believe in a God who came down from heaven to perform awesome miracles, show us how to live, and preach some really wise stuff? Well, St. Paul says without Christ’s resurrection there is no resurrection from the dead. If Christ did not come to free us from death, then everything else he did doesn’t matter much. But if he did rise from the dead, then we can see why he did everything he did before that. Then we see how his whole life ministry was a ministry of leading us to new life. If he did rise from the dead, preaching Christ to the world is not just about preaching another altruistic philosophy that makes the world a better place. It’s about giving people hope of a better world beyond this one, about inviting people back to our true home in heaven. If Christ did rise from the dead, it changes everything.
Jesus, let your resurrection fill us with new life. We are here longing for something more, and we sense you just beyond our senses reaching out to us, inviting us to something more. Give us faith to see the life you are offering to us, to know that what we see with our eyes everyday is not all there is. Let the Gospel message that ends with the hope of the Resurrection fill our lives and animate our everyday actions. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
As spring starts, resurrection and new life are all around us. The story of the gospel is written in creation. All we need to do is watch and listen. With the eyes of faith, we can see God’s glory if we know where and how to look. Take a moment to be silent, and see how God’s invitation to new life truly does surround us.
David Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.
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