Today’s readings give, directly, the Good News of Jesus’ glorious resurrection from the dead, and, indirectly, a picture of the Church and her Scriptures, a picture that is both admirable and reassuring.
Let us look at the Gospel first which says much – relatively speaking – about the Apostles Peter and John, and about the appearance, the condition, of the tomb with its remaining contents, along with a passing mention of Mary Magdalen and the previously opened (by whom?) entrance to the tomb. Of Jesus Himself, however, there is nothing at all apart from the statement that His Body was not to be found in the tomb. In fact, all that we are told about what might have happened to Jesus is to be deduced from the closing passage:
They did not yet understand the Scripture that He had to rise from the dead.
Now none of that is very surprising to us who believe, because we know and appreciate that the Resurrection was a supernatural and transcendentally holy occurrence to serve God’s glory and mankind’s salvation, not an intriguingly mysterious event staged for the titillation or satisfaction of human curiosity. Let us therefore turn our attention to what we are told, directly, about the Apostles Peter and John (as we presume) and indirectly about holy Mother Church, her Scriptures, and her proclamation of Jesus.
On hearing from Mary Magdalen about the empty tomb Peter and the other disciple went to see for themselves:
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.
The ‘other disciple’ (John) being younger than Peter was quicker to the tomb into which he glanced; but, out of respect for Peter, he did not enter until Peter himself had arrived and gone first -- as head of the nascent Church – into the tomb of the Lord and Master Who had purposely chosen him for that role. John then entered after Peter.
That order of precedence is important because some have tried to use the following words of the Gospel account to the detriment of Peter:
Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.
Some have picked up, carpingly, on the fact that John is reported to have both ‘seen and believed’, whereas of Peter it is only said that ‘he saw’. This ‘enhancing of John’ at Peter’s expense is shown in other ways by those who would say that John showed the greater courage at Jesus’ trial by going into the High Priest’s house while Peter remained, fearfully, outside; and, of course, John, alone of the Apostles, stood by Jesus’ cross on Calvary with Mary. None of this special pleading, however, in any way detracts from Peter or disturbs the faithful who remember that John was still a young man who could lean on Jesus’ breast at the Supper, someone whom the Temple guards or Roman soldiers would not in any way have regarded as a possible threat, whereas Peter was well known to have a sword which he had already, not long ago, used in an attempt to defend Jesus. As a result, the fully adult and manifestly strong and capable Peter was under far greater threat at the trial and thereafter than John.
When Simon Peter arrived, 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, he saw and believed.
There, I believe, we have further evidence of the difference between Peter and John, between the humanly, fully mature, man, and the gentle youth John. John ... the great mystic among the Apostles, and the future author of the supremely spiritual Gospel ... was ‘youthfully’ (not, however, wrongly) impressed by the atmosphere of the tomb and what he saw there: the cloth that had been used -- out of respect for the deceased -- to prevent the bottom jaw from sagging, was carefully rolled up in it’s own place separate from the other cloths; and it is not outlandish to guess that a young person like John, one with mystic inclinations, might see and appreciate much in that separately-positioned cloth, much that would impress him and stir him to deeply consider and further contemplate the ‘never-to-be-silenced’ aspect of Jesus’ Good News.
Peter, on the other hand, as head of the Church, and already graced for that supremely responsible role, carefully weighed up what he found in the tomb and what he did not find there. He then went away and recalled what Jesus had said and done since he had known Him, and what the Jewish Scriptures had foretold about the coming Messiah. Again and again he went over all these considerations together with what he had seen in the empty tomb, he prayed and prayed -- ever so much – in order to appreciate how all these might fit together into the one whole, and essential, truth about Jesus.
Thanks to our second reading today we have the result of Peter’s thinking, for there he proclaims the Gospel, the Good News about Jesus, in the name of the Church and at the ‘command of God’:
(Cornelius said) All of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say. (Acts 10:33)
Peter then went on to give his summary of the Good News about Jesus in these few and precise words:
He went about doing good and healing those oppressed by the devil; they put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree; THIS MAN GOD RAISED ON THE THIRD DAY; God granted that He be visible to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with Him after HE ROSE FROM THE DEAD; He commissioned us to preach and testify that He is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead; to Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him will receive forgiveness through His name.
There, People of God, you can see and appreciate the wonder of Jesus pictured and officially proclaimed by Mother Church through Peter: with the Resurrection of Jesus as the centre-piece, the absolutely essential centre-piece indeed, but nevertheless, a piece that fits into and binds together an even more wonderful and coherent mosaic of divine truth giving most sublime expression to divine goodness, love, wisdom, and mercy for the whole of sinful mankind through all the ages.
John, the mystic, the contemplative, learnt and revealed most beautiful and intimate truths of the relationship of sublime love between Jesus and His Father; truths in which one can immerse oneself: not to proudly investigate and criticise, imitate, or grasp for oneself, but, most humbly and gratefully to admire, and hopefully -- of God’s great goodness and gift – thereby to absorb something of the Spirit.
But for the whole picture, in all its majestic embrace of mankind’s needs and possibilities under the Providence of God’s infinite wisdom, goodness and truth ... look to Peter and the proclamation of Mother Church, passed down to us and interpreted, today, by Paul the most providential link between the wisdom of the Old and the revelation of the New Testaments and our own guide -- as Doctor of the Nations -- to the Church’s doctrinal fullness of truth, and the inspired and inspiring channel of her heavenly spirituality:
Brothers and sisters, if then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with Him in glory.