Sunday, March 27, 2016

Faith in the Resurrection

It's an interesting gospel the Church gives us for this Easter Sunday, because here on the day of the Lord's Resurrection, we have a gospel that doesn't actually have Jesus in it. We have an empty tomb, but we have no Jesus (it turns out this is the gospel for every Easter Sunday, I'm just slow to catch up).

John the gospel writer does this deliberately. He wants to show us how different disciples slowly came to a belief in the Resurrection at different speeds. Despite what Jesus had told them repeatedly throughout his ministry, they still didn't get it. They didn't look at this empty tomb and exclaim, "He has risen!", no, they looked at the tomb, examined it closely, and just wondered. The beloved disciple may have gotten it, but Peter and Mary Magdalene, they just wondered.

The gospel gives us some clues and symbols to understand how the disciples were feeling. First off, it tells us that Mary came to the tomb while it was still dark. This darkness symbolizes her own desolation, since she had seen Jesus die on the cross three days prior. Immediately we see that she doesn't get it yet, she thinks the body has been stolen.

But then with Peter and John (beloved disciple=John) having this footrace to the tomb, the gospel writer though it was important enough to give us this race report about John being faster than Peter. Why? Again, this gospel is full of symbolism. Peter represents authority, but John, being called the beloved disciple, represents love. John was faithful through the Passion, he was the one standing next to mother Mary when Jesus said, "Behold your mother." So John's love propels him to the tomb first. But then he pauses. He doesn't enter the tomb. Even though his love propelled him to the tomb first, he yields to Peter's authority. He naturally understood that Peter should investigate first. John follows Peter in, and it says that John "saw and believed." The gospel doesn't tell us that Peter or Mary Magdalene quite believed yet, we'll see that happen in the next couple weeks. But John's exceptional love prepared him to believe when no one else quite could yet.

And the gospel goes to great pains to make us see even in this passage that Jesus has indeed risen, his body hasn't been stolen. By describing the burial cloths, the fact that they were still there and the fact that they seemed to be somewhat organized, tells us that this is not an act of theft, nor is it a resurrection like Lazarus, who came out of the tomb still tied in the burial cloths. Something completely unique happened here.

But again, most of the disciples come to faith in the Resurrection slowly. Over the next couple weeks, we'll see Jesus's initial encounters with his disciples unfold. With our twenty centuries of hindsight and reflection, it's easy for us to see Easter Morning bursting upon the disciples with some sort of magnificence, but the reality is that he rose in secret. No one saw it. And then at the first evidence of the Resurrection, they responded with still more doubt.

What does this say about the disciples? Quite simply, it means that they were human. If you and I stumble upon an empty grave, our first thought would still not be, "He rose from the dead and has destroyed death forever," even though we have seen it happen before. So with the apostles, who have never seen this new Resurrection, we can take hope in the slowness of their faith, because if Jesus could still love them, then he'll probably be patient with us as well.

Over the next couple of Sundays, were going to see Jesus actually meet his apostles and move them into a more solid belief in the Resurrection. Their belief wasn't solid on Easter morning. Nor was it totally solid on the evening of Easter Sunday, when Jesus's first appearances took place. Faith in the Resurrection was a lifelong process. In this empty tomb, this Resurrection, Jesus has offered them a new way of living. He showed them a life that doesn't actually end at the grave, and then he offered that life to them. And he offers that same life to us, a life that doesn't end at the grave, but stretches beyond it. For all of us, this very idea takes some getting used to. We have to consider faith in the Resurrection to be a lifelong process for each of us.

So once we have experienced the mystery and the glory of Easter Sunday, once we've experienced the empty tomb and the Risen Lord, we have to figure out how to let this event make a difference in our lives. And here's the trick for doing that, best I can figure out: we have to keep revisiting Easter Sunday. It is the most sublime and magnificent thing to ever happen to the human race, so we do ourselves a great disservice if tomorrow we act like it never happened.

So how do we revisit Easter Sunday? How do we revisit the empty tomb and the Risen Lord? We revisit and stay connected to these events first and foremost by staying connected to his Church. At the very least, this means going to mass not just on Easter Sunday, but also on the Sunday after that, and then the Sunday after that, all the way until the next Easter Sunday. If we do that, great! What next? The Resurrection is a radical event, and it requires a radical response. None of us are ever done in our growth in the Christian life. There's never a point where we can say our faith is, "good enough." Jesus is always calling us to new and deeper things. So where is Jesus inviting you, personally, to live more truly in his Resurrection? Is he calling you back to confession? (yes!) Is he calling you to pick up a Bible and learn about him and make your faith personal (yes!) Is he calling you to serve in the Church in some capacity or to serve his beloved poor? (yes!)

Do not leave here today without seriously confronting this question: How do I need to grow in my faith of the Resurrection? If Jesus really rose from the dead, then he really is God and I can't hold anything back from him. Growth in faith is a lifelong process, so it's always good to have before your eyes the specific thing you're trying to grow in. So ask Jesus today at this Mass how he wants you to grow and change. Ask him, and then with the grace from this Easter Sunday, make that change to grow closer to our Risen Lord.

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