As If It Really Happened
by Rev. Matthew H. Zuberbueller
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.
The Resurrection is about new life. The historical moment of Jesus’ Resurrection changed the world. At the time it happened, few people knew about it, and fewer understood it. It was God’s plan to allow the power of His victory over the grave to spread to many people, not in a dazzling way, but in the quiet way of reaching one person at a time. Although we may not always recognize it or even welcome it, this way of sharing His victory does occur in our lives. Maybe we are more hopeful than we realize.
The reality of death and dying confronts us daily. The actual loss of a dear one reminds us all too clearly of the pain and loss death brings. Consider this realistic description of the pain of loss: “It is like something is wrong that cannot be fixed.” Indeed. We find the absence of our loved one to be too much. Yet we cannot change it. But believers in the Lord Jesus also have a deeper conviction. Believers who feel deeply the loss of a loved one also find consolation in their belief that they can and should be able to be with their loved one(s) again. We believe that death should not last forever. We have hope. We have a firm confidence that His victory was won for us too.
In John 20:1-9, Jesus does not appear. It is a description of the discovery of the empty tomb by Mary of Magdala, then by Peter and John. Peter and John had heard Jesus say that He would be made to suffer and die and that He would be raised up again. We know that this was in their minds even if they did not understand what it meant. Mary of Magdala probably had heard this prediction, too (or had heard about it). John 20:9 says “… they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” Knowing that the Scriptures they heard and prayed matched an actual teaching of Jesus, we can be sure that these followers of Jesus had at least tried to imagine what this mysterious teaching might mean, what it might “look like.”
The hope they placed in Jesus before His death was not a hope based on the fullness of His saving victory. This is due to the fact that He had not yet accomplished that victory, and therefore they could not have experienced how it would come about. When Jesus died, the apostles and disciples were saddened and confused. They were overwhelmed, and the hope in His predicted Resurrection seems to have been far from their minds. It was, though, still in their minds. He had said it, after all. It meant something. Mary of Magdala went in the cool early hours of the morning to the place where He was buried. She was loyal and dedicated; to be where He was seemed important to her. When she found the tomb empty, she immediately went to tell the apostles. In those moments she surely was confused. Did she begin to think about the prediction He had made? Did a hopefulness of the kind that seems too good to be true begin to well up within her? When John and Peter came running (one famously faster than the other), were their minds full of outrage with the idea of His tomb being desecrated, His body stolen? Or was there within them some mixture of the most unbelievable believable mystery they hoped to be true actually being true? The carefully folded burial cloth seemed odd for thieves to do. John put together the facts before him with the hope deep within him and came to the conclusion that it was, in fact, all true. Their Jesus had been raised. He was alive again — unbelievable except for the fact that it was now believable. Peter came around quickly to accept this fundamental Christian reality. Jesus conquered death so that we might live forever. In other words, Alleluia.
As Christians, we are supposed to live with the power of the Resurrection constantly transforming our lives. The confusion we see in the first followers of Jesus gave way to firm belief. We should not live as if Jesus never came back from the dead. To quote Pope Benedict XVI about the Resurrection: “Can there really only ever be what there has always been?” (Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. 2). Things are different now. We can be less hopeless by accepting the hope deep down within us. Jesus gave us the reason for it, and that reason is still true.
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