Each year the Church invites us to bring the heart-aches of our lives, our own personal broken dreams and moments of sorrow and pain to the Risen Christ. During Holy Week we relive the final days of the Savior in order to reinforce our conviction that resurrection always follows death, that victory always crowns our failures. This is the vision that we celebrate on Easter Sunday: a way of life which continues to offer renewed vision and hope to the human family.
We believe that Jesus rose from the dead, never to die again. We believe that his resurrection brought about a whole new age. The past has been put aside. Now anything is possible for us, for we have been promised a share in this resurrection - in this new life. In the light of resurrection we can put aside the darkness of the past and change the way we think and act toward ourselves and others. This is the "Easter Faith" that we, as his disciples, profess.
But it is difficult to believe without fear and trepidation. The reality of the world around us sometimes makes it impossible to sift through the suffering, devastation and death that we experience every day. Easter faith is not based on stories or hearsay. The faith borne of resurrection is not necessarily one of tangible and physical reality. Easter faith springs from something deeper. Perhaps this is best exemplified by Mary Magdalene in the resurrection account we hear today.
Mary goes to the tomb "on the first day of the week... early in the morning." The tragic events of Jesus’ death were still fresh in her mind, and she just wants to be as close as possible to the Jesus she loved - and to do so as quickly as possible. So she goes to his tomb "while it was still dark." In John’s Gospel darkness suggests an absence of faith - not being able to see with clear vision. It’s the dawning of a new day, but for Mary and, later, the disciples, it is still dark.
When Mary arrives at the tomb and sees it empty, she comes to the logical conclusion: “They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we don’t know where they put him.” She rushes back to tell Peter and John of her discovery, who now race to the tomb themselves. Unlike the resurrection story in the Synoptic gospels, in John's account there are no heavenly messengers waiting there for them when they arrive, just an empty tomb with the burial cloths neatly folded in a separate place.
But today’s gospel is only half of the story. If we like mystery stories, neatly packaged with no loose ends, then we can’t help but be somewhat dissatisfied with the inconclusive account that we have today: the two disciples see the empty tomb, do not fully understand, and then return home. The story actually continues in the very next passage of the Gospel. Mary will remain, meet Jesus, think he is the gardener and then discover he is the risen Lord when he calls her name. It seems a little strange that these few additional verses were not included in today's reading.
But maybe that's the point.
Mary's faith was born of love, which opened her eyes to see and recognize the risen Lord. It was different for the others. It was still difficult for them to truly believe the stories they were hearing. It was still hard to bring themselves - as much as they wanted to - to believe that the Lord had truly risen, as He said He would. Even when they saw Him, they weren't sure...
What stirred the disciples to believe? Mary Magdalene got the message - she saw with the eyes of faith and believed. The beloved disciple got the message - he saw with the eyes of faith and he believed. Later, Peter, with the other disciples, will encounter the risen Christ themselves. Then they will come to understand the Scriptures about Jesus’ suffering and rising from the dead.
Maybe that is how we come to see the risen Christ. Without seeing him we believe Christ is alive and with us. We meet him when we worship with others who are witnesses to his life; we have our eyes opened to the risen Christ when the words of Scripture touch our hearts; we come to know him in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the cup. We also meet him where he has told us he can be found -- in the needy, outcast, stranger, imprisoned, exiled and abused.
Our belief in the Risen Christ lies within those who give of themselves in the service of others... as He commanded. Our proof is seen in the lives of those men and women who quietly and continuously work for human justice and peace... who are willing to lay down their lives for their brothers and sisters... who live their lives to the full, who embrace death with open arms, not as a final statement of courage, but as one of total self-giving into the new life of Christ.
Proof of the Risen Christ lies with us. We are the proof that Christ is alive and lives with us still. Like Mary Magdalene and the first disciples, we are His witnesses to all the nations.