My Dear Parishioners and Friends,
The parish office, our communications hub, is shut down. The office’s source of energy, Angelica Contreras, is at home, keeping herself, and us, safe. I don’t have the incredible facility she has in working with Publisher, the program from hell used by our bulletin company. So – we can’t get a bulletin out to you until she returns. Our cook, Marlon McPhail, is presently in quarantine in his home after a difficult two-week battle in the hospital. We’re so happy that he’s coming along well. We’re glad that Angelica is keeping safe.
However, there is someone who manages our website, Angela Boccia. She posted this reflection for me. Thanks Angela!
REFLECTION: Luke 20:19-29
We’ve just “celebrated” Easter. No one went to church. No one wore fantastical hats and walked up and down Fifth Avenue. Kids didn’t fight over chocolate bunny rabbits. Families didn’t gather for lunch. One of the brothers who lives here at St. Jean’s lamented, “I never in my life thought I’d experience an Easter like this.” So true! Whoever though we’d experience an Easter hiding behind closed doors, walking the streets wearing face masks and shunning the people around us.
Though we can’t gather safely, we do have a gospel passage we can privately ponder this Sunday after Easter – the account of Mary Magdalene at the tomb and Thomas’ disbelief. Strangely, the darkness we’re experiencing as individuals, as a city and as a world community, can assist our understanding of this resurrection passage.
The account from the Gospel of John is given in two parts. Part one takes place in the pre-dawn darkness very early Sunday, the morning of the resurrection. The Passover moon was setting. Mary Magdalene went to the garden tomb where Jesus had been laid to rest and discovered that the tomb was empty.
She ran back to the disciples who were in hiding in Jerusalem. Peter and John immediately ran back to the tomb with her. Peter looked inside and was puzzled. It was obvious that the body of Jesus hadn’t been stolen. All the wrappings that had been used to cover his body were neatly folded up and lying on the shelf where the body had been. What happed to his body? John too looked in, “and believed.” We’re not told what he believed. But there is a by-the-way comment in the account: “They still did not understand the scripture which said that he must rise from death.” Peter andJohn went back to the other disciples leaving Mary at the tomb.
Weeping and alone, Mary bent over to look into the tomb again. What was she thinking? What was she expecting to see? Did she think that she, Peter and John had somehow managed to not see his body?
But the tomb wasn’t empty when she looked in. There were “two angels there dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus hand been, one at the head and the other at the feet.” The strangest conversation followed. “Why are you weeping?” She answered them as if what she was seeing was perfectly normal, and their question quite reasonable. “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they have put him.”
Evidently that was the end of the conversation because Mary stood up and turned away from the tomb. Through her tears she saw a man standing near her. He asked her the same question as the angels. “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it that you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener she accused him of taking the body. “If you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.” The most important moment of her entire life then took place. He spoke her name, “Mary.” He spoke it with such tenderness and understanding that it reached into her soul. It touched her heart with light and fire. She was overcome with love. She recognized him! Tears still streaming down her face and her throat tight with emotion she managed to speak one word, “Master.”
She had fallen to her knees and was holding on to him. He told her not to cling to him and gave her a mission. “Go and find the brothers and tell them: I am ascending to my Father, and your Father, to my God and your God.” It seems strange that Mary would have immediately left him to return to the disciples. But she did.
Mary related his message. The group spent the entire day thinking about what she said, discussing it with one another. What did John, who had looked into the tomb “and believed,” have to share with the others? What else did Mary share with them?
We shift to part two of the account which takes place at sunset that same Sunday. The disciples are still in hiding. Earlier that morning, when Mary had told them that she had seen Jesus and related his message to them, Thomas wasn’t with the group at that time. A long day of discussion and confused emotions was coming to a close. As the sun was setting fear began to take hold of the group.
Suddenly Jesus was with them. Each one immediately recognized him. He was vibrant and strong…but…wounded. The crucifixion had left its mark on him. His hands and feet were pierced, and his side bore the wound of the soldier’s lance. He immediately greeted them with Shalom. Then he did to them what he had done to Mary; he sent them on a mission. “As the Father sent me so I am sending you.” Then he went up to each of them, breathing his Spirit into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit. For those whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; for those whose sins you retain, they are retained.” He vanished as quickly as he had appeared.
Late that night Thomas returned to the group. We’re not told where he was or what he was doing. It suffices to know that he was outside where it was dark. As soon as he entered there was mayhem as they all began shouting that they had seen the Lord. Thomas, shocked by their madness, quieted them down by dramatically declaring to them, “Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands, and can put my fingers into the holes that the nails made in his hands, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe!” An unsettled silence blanketed the room. The scene ends.
The account then brings us to the same room the following Sunday. The entire group was there, including Thomas. Again, Jesus was suddenly standing with them. Again, he greeted the group with a simple “Shalom.” He then turned to Thomas. “Put your finger here; look, here are my hands. Give me your hand. Put it into my side. Doubt no longer but believe.” Awestruck, Thomas then made a profession of faith. “My Lord and my God.” With that, John’s account of the resurrection ends.
There are five characters who carry the teaching in this two-part resurrection account: Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, the group of disciples and Thomas. Each one’s experience of Jesus was different, but each one saw Jesus while it was dark. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb in the predawn darkness as did Peter and John. Jesus appeared twice to the group in the evening. Thomas left the darkness of the night to join the gathered disciples. What does the darkness have to do with these five?
In the Gospel of John, darkness is that energy which is in constant conflict with the divine energy, symbolized by light. In his prologue to the Gospel he announces this theme so clearly. “All that came to be had life in him, and that light was the light of the human race, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not overpower.”
Mary Magdalene fell into the darkness that’s spawned by despair. Jesus was her Rabboni, her Master. She revered him. He had driven seven devils out of her. She loved him. His unjust and gruesome death blinded her. She no longer saw the light.
Peter, carrying the heavy burden of his denials, was lost in the darkness of betrayal. How could he have abandoned him? How could he ever forgive himself?
The disciples were huddled together in the darkness of fear. What was going to happen next? The religious leaders had Jesus crucified. Would they be next?
Thomas was treading water in a dark sea of doubt. Was this whole thing a joke? Jesus’ teachings seemed so liberating. His love and kindness were remarkable. He spoke of a new world, the kingdom of God. He was promised a place in that kingdom. But all his hopes and dreams were shattered now! Jesus was dead.
I left John for last because his place in this group of five is very different. He’s the image of the Church, young and filled with energy. He breaks away from the grip of darkness as soon as he looks into the empty tomb. He sees – he believes! Jesus is the light. Jesus blesses the Church through his words to Thomas. “You believe because you can see me, Thomas. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
For many people, even many Christians, Easter Sunday marks an event.It’s the day Jesus rose from the dead. True, but is that all that Easter is?
Easter is the day the stone is rolled from the tomb. Easter is the day the Church, all 2 billion of us, take another look into the empty tomb. What do we see? What do we feel?
Some of us may stoop down to look in but, just like Mary Magdalene, are blinded by personal despair. We would be happy to see only the dead body of Jesus – but we don’t even see that.
Maybe some of us look in and, like Peter, are seized by the shame of our betrayals, our faults and failings, our sins. We wonder if God will ever forgive us. We wonder if we can ever forgive ourselves.
Perhaps we’re gripped by the fear of death like the disciples in Jerusalem. We’re haunted by the terrible question: is there really life after death?
Or like Thomas, we may wonder how anyone can believe in resurrection.
To “see and believe,” as John did, demands that we confront the darkness around us and within us. As I was writing this sentence a close friend of mine who is originally from Ecuador texted me that his sister had died last night, a victim of the corona virus. Ten days ago, he lost his mother. Three days ago, he lost his brother. The three of them lived in Ecuador. In ten days my friend lost his entire family. He couldn’t be with them. He couldn’t speak to them. He couldn’t tell them he loved them.
Today, this Sunday after Easter, April 19, 2020, we chant in unison, “I never in my life thought I‘d experience an Easter like this.” Yes, Easter isn’t the Easter Parade and chocolate bunny rabbits. Today, Easter is that moment the crucified Lord stretches out his wounded hand to my friend and to everyone weeping in the darkness. Easter is the risen Christ offering shalom to us even as we tremble with fear. Easter is that moment just before the sunrise when we look into the empty tomb and whisper, “My Lord and my God.”