Easter Season 2013
Mary Magdalene and the empty tomb
It was fifteen minutes past three in the afternoon of the first day after the great Easter Sunday, i.e. Monday in the Octave of Easter. The telephone rang. The call was for me. “Is it a good time? Am I disturbing you?”, the voice was soft and sad. The day was cold and cloudy, although Easter light was still shining in our hearts.
“How are you? How was Easter? You sound sad! Where is your beloved husband? Oh, my sister, happy and holy Easter”, I said.
“What Easter, Father? My husband is inconsolably weeping and I too am in tears with him”, she said. “What is the matter?”, I asked. “Well, we are missing our beloved daughter…It is hard, very hard for my husband to accept the loss. It is too big a loss, although it happened almost four years ago, but for us, as if it happened just the other day…”. “You have been to Church, I hope?”, I asked. “Yes we went, but…”, was the answer.
I thought to myself, this is just one example among many for whom Easter time was not joyful. For some, Easter is a great day of joy, celebrations and meetings, while for some others it is one of the saddest days. Many questions crossed my mind. Is there a way to change sadness into joy, despair into hope, weeping into ecstasy? What came to my mind almost spontaneously was the passage from John 20: 1-18.
I went through it more than once. Although I know it almost by heart, reading it again very attentively I could see two very distinct parts, both of which not only throw much light on our life of suffering, disappointments, failures and helplessness, but also give some answers to them as well. I came to realize that to believe deeply in the Easter event is inevitable for us to experience deep joy. St. Paul could throw everything away “to know Christ, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life” (cf. Phil 3: 10-11).
Jesus’ burial was done in a hurry because “it was Friday and the Sabbath was about to begin” (cf. Lk 23: 54). There was a garden in the place where Jesus had been put to death, and there was a new tomb where no one had ever been buried. Jesus’ body was laid in such a hurry because of the imminence of the great Sabbath. Although done in a hurry, divine providence had arranged a new tomb for Jesus, for John says: “There was a garden in the place where Jesus had been put to death, and in it there was a new tomb where no one had ever been buried…They placed Jesus’ body there” (Jn 19: 41-42).
Jesus’ tomb represents the whole earth. The tomb welcomed the grain of wheat and a new triumphant life began, and in him all of humanity took a new dimension. Jesus’ prophetic words: “unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains a single grain, but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (cf. Jn 12: 24), now became a reality.
Mary Magdalene is unique. Her love for Jesus almost blinded her. Jesus had become her life and her joy, her everything. Human reason gives way to love, and she wanted to remove the stone from the entrance of the tomb, as Jesus had already removed the stone from the entrance of her heart. She wanted to anoint the body of Jesus, although she had already done it six days before the Passover: “Leave her alone. Let her keep what she has for the day of my burial” (Jn 12: 7).
Let us return to the passage of John 20: 1-18. Let us take the verses one to ten and see how John presents the episode of Magdalene’s going to the tomb.
First of all it was Sunday, the first day of creation. It was on that day God created light, separating it from darkness. Although it was Sunday, Mary Magdalene was still in the dark, as it was very early morning and Mary had not yet met the risen Lord, the light of the world. John simply says that there was no more stone at the entrance of the tomb. It was already out also from Mary Magdalene’s life. It is time for us all to remove the stone from the entrance of our hearts, so that the Lord of glory can come in and come out as he wishes, and we can be resurrected with him.
Mary Magdalene did the right thing. She went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and told them: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him” (Jn 20: 2).
Mary Magdalene, and everybody else for that matter, had not even imagined of a resurrection as the way it happened and as they later came to know and experience, and more so as they have become the first-hand witnesses of the greatest event of the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus. Time will pass, tides will come and go, wind will blow. Truth may be blurred, distorted, misused, misinterpreted. Attempts can be made to assassinate truth, but truth will stand unshaken, unharmed; truth cannot be killed or obliterated.
The truth of the resurrection of Jesus is the corner stone of our faith. Christianity, Christian faith is built on the paschal mystery of Christ. Our faith depends so much on how much we believe in the reality of the resurrection of Christ.
Mary Magdalene did not give up her search, although she did not follow her reason or there wasn’t any logic in her search. She stayed back, even though the pillars of the Church left. Her faith in Jesus and her love for him did not depend on the apostles. She did her duty. As she saw the empty tomb she ran to Peter and the apostles to inform them.
But her search for Jesus continued. “Mary stood crying outside the tomb. While she was still crying, she went over and looked in the tomb…”. Mary, are you OK? Didn’t you see the empty tomb? Didn’t Peter and John see it as well? Didn’t they ask you to go back with them? What made you to stay back and look again and again into the empty tomb? I admire your patience, your faith, your perseverance! If you were not rewarded by Jesus for your untiring search, you would have been considered to be crazy, mentally insane, stupid, irrational, sentimental. Perhaps you were all these and more. Jesus saw your heart’s desire; he saw your invincible love; he saw your blind faith.
But Jesus, your approach is very pedagogical. You made her see first two angels, dressed in white, sitting one at the head and the other at the feet where your body had been. Their question was interesting, namely: “Woman, why are you crying?” (Jn 20: 13). “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him” (Jn 20: 13). Mary Magdalene was still looking for the body of Jesus. She still did not have any idea that Jesus was no longer confined to a tomb, that he was risen from the tomb and alive in another form.
Jesus had told Mary and Martha just before raising Lazarus “I am the resurrection and the life…” (Jn 11: 25).
From Mary Magdalene’s example of her tireless search we come to understand that God sees our effort, our patience, our perseverance and rewards beyond our expectations. Here Jesus himself appeared to her at the end, called her by name. From the way Jesus called her, she understood that it has to be Jesus. Jesus’ tender way of calling us by name in the saddest moments of our life’s journey will open our eyes and will enable us to recognize him. With the apostle whom Jesus loved we too should say often: “It is the Lord” (Jn 21: 7).
In many situations of our earthly life, when our eyes are blinded by sorrow, or by fear, by disillusionment, by deception or even by betrayal… if we can say: “It is the Lord”, or like Magdalene we can exclaim: ”Rabbuni, Master” (Jn 20: 16), we can experience deep peace and inexplicable joy. But often we are discouraged by the many trials of life and fail to recognize not only Jesus’ inescapable presence and nearness, but his walking with us as he did with two of the disciples who were returning to their home disappointed.
How often we are tempted to do the same and so fail to see Jesus, as our eyes are blinded by sorrow for the tragic death of a dear one, or some serious and incurable illness, or a road accident that paralyzed the body and blocked our onward journey. It is here Mary Magdalene stands out as an example of persevering love, steadfast and faithful love. Her love did not finish with the sight of the empty tomb.
In the various sectors of our life, often enough we can be faced with the empty tomb experience. In our prayer life, in our spiritual life, in our community life, in our apostolate we may be challenged by negative and contrary results. The empty tomb experience is inevitable from our earthly life. The question is what we do when we face it. Here St. John presents Mary Magdalene as a shining and inspiring example of perseverance, which means not going back but going through severity, hardship, trials and darkness of life.
I cannot close this letter without expressing my sincere and heart-felt gratitude to one and all, first of all my own Brothers, the members of the Movement of the Lay Missionaries of Charity (LMC) of the world, our volunteers, benefactors and co-workers for your edifying examples of joy, of love, of whole-hearted free service to the least, the last and the lost ones. Your reward is great. All the time you give a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name (cf. Mt 10: 42), your bank account in heaven increases. You are going to be rewarded by the master a hundred times more and life eternal in the world to come.
To each and every one of you who have wished the Brothers and our poor in whatever way, including some of our M.C. Sisters, we ask God to bless you in abundance.
In return to your great generosity expressed in so many ways, we offer our unceasing prayers and humble sacrifices and above all we try our best to remain faithful to our vocation.
Happy and holy Easter season. Let us prepare ourselves during this period for the great feast of Pentecost.
This is all for now. Love and prayers.
God bless you.
Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala M.C.