The Resurrection of Our Lord
(Acts 10:34, 37-43; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9)
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 that is both reassuring and admirable.
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 serving 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, 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. Only then did John himself enter the tomb.
That order of precedence is important because some – over-enthusiastic disciples of John, less holy than their master -- have tried to use the following words of the Gospel to the detriment of Peter and the exaltation of John:
Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.
They have picked up 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 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 (especially since John might well have had family connections with the Temple authorities), whereas Peter, a robust Galilean, was well known to have a sword which he had already, very shortly before, used in an attempt to defend Jesus. As a result, the fully adult and manifestly strong, capable, and patently committed Peter was under far greater danger being 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 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 -- with mystic sensitivities and propensities -- might see and appreciate much in that separately-positioned cloth that could impress him and stir him to deeply ponder 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 in order to appreciate how all these might fit together into one whole, absolutely 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 for the first time by Mother Church through Peter: with the Resurrection of Jesus as the absolutely essential centre-piece, but also serving as the ‘sine-qua-non’ piece fitting into and binding together a wonderfully coherent mosaic of divine truth, embracing past, present, and future, and giving a most sublime expression to God’s goodness, love, wisdom, and mercy for sinful mankind throughout all ages.
John, the mystic, the contemplative, learnt and revealed 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, not to directly try to imitate or grasp for oneself, but -- most humbly and gratefully -- to admire, delight in, and hopefully -- of God’s great goodness and gift – thereby to absorb something of the Spirit of Jesus.
For the whole picture, however, in all its majestic embrace of mankind’s needs and possibilities under the Providence of God’s infinite wisdom, goodness and truth, then 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 God-given 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.