“Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark …”
The first sentence of the gospel reading today is profound, in so many ways. It is worth pausing for a moment to think about this verse before reflecting on the rest of the scriptures for Easter Sunday.
First of all, what a beautiful witness Mary Magdala gave to her faith in Jesus, just by her presence at the grave site that morning. Sometimes we don’t need to do anything spectacular in our lives to give testimony about Jesus, or do extraordinary things to show people that we love them. Sometimes, our presence speaks louder than any words that we could say. Just being there counts. Ask anyone who is hurting, or suffering, or sick, or dying. And yet, there are many people who stay away from those who are suffering the most, because they are afraid to be in the presence of suffering, sickness, or death. Death terrifies them, so they keep their distance from those they love the most, out of fear.
Mary Magdala was a courageous woman though. She ventured out to Jesus’s grave in the darkest part of the night, (which is just before dawn.) Her love for Jesus must have been very strong, pulling at her heartstrings to rise, get dressed, and go to his grave in the dark night. Have you ever been in a graveyard at night? A lot of people are afraid to go to graveyards at night, and that’s why so many scary movies depict cemeteries in the nighttime. And yet, Mary Magdala wasn’t the slightest bit afraid to go to Jesus’s grave in the darkest part of the night … just before the first light of dawn. Her love for Jesus Christ overshadowed her fear.
Can you imagine Mary Magdala walking to the tomb in the darkness after the traumatic events of Jesus’s death? So many had lost hope that he was the Messaiah, so many had retreated to their own thoughts, within their own circle of family and friends. Christ’s death was such a let down that left many people doubting that he really was the Messaiah. (Like the two disciples who were on the way to Emmaus.)
This woman’s steadfast love for Jesus never failed.
Can you imagine the shocked look on her face when she arrived at the tomb in the early morning light and saw that Jesus’s body was gone? The look of disbelief on her face … the conflicting emotions … the questions. Had someone stolen his body? Confusion, anger, tears. Such strong emotions. Perhaps Mary was crying as she ran to get the disciples to see what had happened to their friend and teacher.
Peter and “the other disciple whom Jesus loved” ran to the empty tomb as fast as they could to see what had happened. They examined the empty tomb and the empty burial cloths, with disbelief.
They had lost all their hope in Jesus, but in that moment … perhaps a spark was lit in the darkness of their grief. A tiny spark of hope was ignited in the empty grave. Doubt, despair, grief and darkness began to crumble right before their eyes. Something new began to stir and take shape within them. Their hearts were converted from the darkness of doubt, despair and grief – into hope, faith and joy.
Mary and the disciples began to think that perhaps after all, there could be something to this. This could be the evidence that Jesus really was who he said he was after all, the Son of the living God, the Messaiah the world had been waiting for. Was it possible that Jesus actually defeated death itself??? He raised Lazarus and other people from the dead. No other human being had ever brought another person back to life after they had died, except for Jesus. If Jesus raised himself from the dead … this would be the greatest miracle that mankind has ever known. This would mean that death isn’t the end of our existence. On the other side of death … is life. Life in a different form than we know it on earth, but life none the less.
Hope, faith and joy was reborn in Mary and the disciples as they stood in the stillness of the empty tomb. As they walked outside into the morning light, their hearts were transformed … forever. The world as they knew it, was also transformed forever. But, this transformation didn’t occur through human effort. The transformation that changed the entire world, first began in the hearts of Mary Magdala, Peter and “the other disciple” who had seen the empty tomb. Their hearts were transformed from doubt into faith, through their openness to the Holy Spirit that enveloped them, as they gazed in wonder and amazement at Jesus’s burial cloths and the empty tomb.
Perhaps it is a good thing that, “the other disciple that Jesus loved” wasn’t named in this gospel account. It might do us some good to place ourselves in his shoes when we go through dark periods in our own lives. We sometimes encounter situations that seem hopeless or without a solution, and it can be difficult to see through the darkness that envelopes our lives. We can be tempted to doubt God or even blame him for our troubles.
However, when we find ourselves in that situation in the future, we could try placing ourselves in the shoes of “the other disciple whom Jesus loved.” He was also sad, hurting and full of doubts about Jesus. The future looked pretty bleak and hopeless at the time. But, he stepped out in faith anyway, hoping that maybe his current reality wasn’t all there was. Maybe the story wasn’t over yet … maybe he had just been caught up in the events of the last few days. Hope … was just around the bend. A new reality that he couldn’t even begin to envision. All he had to do was open his heart to new possibilities that he had never even considered before, and allow Jesus to transform his life.
Our Easter joy lies in the certainty that our present circumstances are not all there is to life. We are, “the other disciples whom Jesus loves.” And, there is a far greater happiness ahead of us too … just around the bend.
Happy Easter everyone!!!