John 20:1-9
Embrace the Risen Christ
by Rev. Jack Peterson

Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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John wrote to show that Christ was
the Messiah, the Divine Son of God.

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.  So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put him."  So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.  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, 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, and he saw and believed.  For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

Today, Christians around the globe celebrate the truth that Jesus Christ is risen from the tomb.  We rejoice that God the Father confirmed every promise of new life that He made to us in His Son.  Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and as victor over sin and death, became the unique source of new life for all who believe in Him.  We marvel anew that love triumphs over hatred and selfishness.

It helps to note that the central event of human history gets a remarkably slow start.  In today's Gospel, which is taken from John, Mary Magdalene and Peter are slow to believe.  This seems strange at first.  Mary Magdalene was one of Jesus' closest supporters and collaborators during His public ministry.  She was likely present for one of the times that He alluded to and spoke about His upcoming death and resurrection.  The Lord expelled seven demons from her, so she must have trusted in His great power.  She had been faithful during His passion and did not fail to remain by His side through the darkest moment of His life.  Yet, when she sees the empty tomb, she assumes that someone had taken His body.

I propose two reasons for the surprisingly slow response of the Twelve Apostles and disciples.

First, the painful events of Good Friday are weighing heavily on Mary Magdalene's heart.  She is so caught up in the pain of having watched her Lord and Savior suffer His passion; plus, she is also enveloped in the experience of losing the One who had given her new life.  Consequently, she is unable to grasp the good news of the empty tomb that is staring her in the face.  Mary Magdalene is, in fact, so distracted that she even mistakes Jesus for the gardener.  It is not until Jesus speaks her name that she sees and believes.

I think that this happens to us plenty as modern-day followers of Christ.

I think we get so overwhelmed by the suffering that we endure sometimes, that we are unable to see the risen Christ in our lives, to experience the new life that God wishes to give us.  We easily let the daily trials and tribulation of life keep us overwhelmed so that we are unable to see, experience and be transformed by the risen Christ present in our midst.

Second, the Scriptures suggest that for Jesus' disciples, belief in the Resurrection required a new level of faith that was dependent upon an experience of the risen Lord.  Mary Magdalene is clearly an example.  So is the apostle Thomas, who refused to believe the other 10 apostles who told him that they had seen the Lord alive until he had an encounter with the risen Lord.

Their faith in the Lord, as strong as it was until then, was incomplete.  The Lord's apostles and disciples needed to embrace the fullness of Christ, which included the truth that He had to rise from the dead in order to conquer our greatest enemies, sin and death.  As important as His life, suffering and death were, their full meaning could only be grasped in light of the mystery of the empty tomb and the truth that Jesus truly rose from the dead.

One way to experience the risen Lord today is in the lives of Jesus' faithful followers.  As a member of Youth Apostles, I have the privilege of serving mostly among young people.  My faith in Jesus is renewed and strengthened by watching God work in amazing ways in the lives of students.  When young people have an authentic encounter with Jesus, He lights up their lives.  They begin to desire prayer, find comfort and refuge in the Eucharist, spontaneously bear witness to Him on campus, seek life-giving fellowship with other believers, and develop a heart for serving their neighbor.  This year, three seniors from Marymount University in Arlington will be going off to give a year or more of their lives in service to their neighbor in need.  Their lives bear witness to the risen Christ.  Their service proclaims that Love triumphs over hatred and selfishness.  Jesus Christ is risen today.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

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