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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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To See More Than an Empty Tomb

The cast of characters and events in John 20:1-9 fuel our hope. They include Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter, and John. But notice who is absent in our reading; although it is a Gospel and therefore about Jesus, he is neither seen nor heard. All we have is the empty tomb and some surprised disciples. The story, of course, goes on; but, the Church in its wisdom feels that this passage alone would suffice on Easter morning at Mass. Why is that? Let us look at the story.

The first to reach the tomb and to make the discovery that the stone had been rolled away is Mary Magdalene. In the long history of the Church, venerable piety would link her to the prostitute whom Jesus reformed. Although modern exegesis would place this in some doubt; she, nonetheless, stands out as one of the so-called weaker sex, a woman who in that society often possessed a third class status behind oxen and other forms of property. To the eyes of many, she would be worth nothing and invisible. And yet, this Scripture and Luke (mentioning the women), places the female first at the tomb. Maybe this honor falls upon her to demonstrate how Christ has come to raise up the downtrodden and to grant all of us an equal dignity in the eyes of God? He comes for the poor, the oppressed, and the sinful. Mary Magdalene, maybe more so in that culture than our own, would come to highlight that mission. If as a child he could be worshiped by lowly shepherds then why could he not first appear to a woman who herself was lowly in the eyes of many?

In this version of the story, she is afraid and runs to Peter with the news. The second person to reach the tomb is called “the disciple Jesus loved” and we in our tradition have discerned this to be John. But, notice what he does. Although he has outrun Simon Peter, he hesitates at the entrance of the tomb and waits for him. John is nothing if he is not humble. He knows quite well whom Jesus has placed in charge of the disciples — it is Peter. Peter is the one who first recognizes Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. But, remember what has happened recently. He has denied Christ three times. Unlike John, he runs and hides himself. He would not even be present at the Cross. Now, he is at the tomb. He is slowly recovering from his betrayal. With Jesus gone to the Father, it would be Peter who would be the rock of Christ’s Church. In the tomb he sees the various wrappings, but we are not told whether he discerns more. We like Peter might also sometimes find ourselves in the paradox of both betraying Christ by our sins and yet searching earnestly for him. Where is he, we might ask?

After Peter looks into the tomb, John takes his turn. With John there is no mention of the various wrappings and artifacts which the human eye can see. No, it is John this time who sees deeper than the rest. With the same eyes which witnessed the Crucifixion and somehow did not totally abandon hope, he sees and believes. He sees with eyes of faith. It is no mere empty tomb for him. Something new has happened — something unheard of — something which only a madman or a man of faith might hold — a man has risen from the grave. Notice that I say this is something new. In similar stories as with the little girl or Lazarus, a person comes back to life; but it is more like resuscitation than resurrection. Jesus would never die again. Jesus is totally transformed. Everything he is becomes something new and wonderful — beyond suffering — beyond sickness — beyond death. Suddenly the quote from Jesus, that if his temple is destroyed it would be restored in three days, makes sense. He means his very own person.

Later on the Gospels would relate episodes where the risen Lord, who is man and yet also very much God, would appear to his followers. He would greet his friends from a beach. He would appear to them in the locked upper room. He would appear to a couple of followers along the road to Emmaus and be recognized in the breaking of bread, an incident which is intensely important for us who also seek Christ in his bread of life broken for us at the Eucharist. These other incidents are wonderful treasures in our heritage from God; but we must first take seriously the initial response of John and then later the other disciples. In our own personal stories we see little more than what we find in our Gospel about the empty tomb. Jesus does not regularly manifest himself in a sensible fashion in our homes. Even in our Church, the reality of the risen Christ can only be present in the sacraments which reveal him to our eyes of faith and yet veil him to our five physical senses.

However, we like the early Church, know in our hearts that Christ is indeed risen and that his Spirit is among us right at this moment. He promises that he would never abandon us, even unto the end of the world. In my fondness for history, I recall a passage from the great French general Napoleon after his final bid for power fails. He remarks that in his very own lifetime, his followers have forgotten him and that he is utterly deserted. And yet, Jesus who lives and dies a millennium and a half earlier still possesses disciples willing to surrender their lives for him. For Napoleon, in those last years of his life, this becomes evidence that the Spirit of the risen Christ is still alive among his disciples in the Church. This continues to be the case for us. Not only is the risen Christ made manifest in the seven sacraments and especially in the Eucharist; he is also revealed in his Mystical Body — ourselves.

We are given a share of that life. In baptism, we die with Christ (Good Friday) so that we might rise with him (Easter). We do not deserve this gift. But, in return for our faithfulness, it is offered all the same. Everyone who has ever died is still alive. All those who have believed in our Lord and were faithful now possess a happiness and life we could never even imagine. In the face of death, the resurrection is our one true consolation. Otherwise, we would be tempted to complete despair. Imagine, we will one day meet Christ face to face, and in him, everyone else who has believed, whom we have lost and loved — our friends — our parents — our brothers and sisters — even our enemies, whom we sometimes ironically miss more than certain friends — all those who have at least on some level of their life held Jesus as their treasure. Every year, starting on Holy Saturday, our Easter Candle burns tall and bright once again, a symbol that after we have burned ourselves up bringing Christ’s light to those in darkness and his warmth to those in the coldness of sin, that we like him will be restored and made new.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.