One morning several years ago, a friend and I rose at 4 o’clock in the morning and made our way in the darkness to Mussenden Temple – a small circular building dramatically perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean far below. We joined a group of Christians come to pray and await the rising sun of Easter morn. But it was not to be; dawn came slowly but the sun remained steadfastly hidden behind a lowering, grey and leaden sky. (Certainly, no sun dancing with joy that the Saviour has risen, as the legend says.)
Cold and disappointed, we repaired to the local Presbyterian Church hall where there was hot toast and boiled eggs for all. Then it happened! As together we cracked open our eggs, symbol of the tomb, the real meaning of Easter, the joy of the risen Lord, filled the room in which we were. Alleluia.
This incident came hack to me as I reflected on today’s Gospel. In the obscurity of the pre-dawn, Mary Magdalene, the one who best loved Jesus, shows up and discovers the open and empty tomb. Running off to Peter and the other disciple, she is the picture of bewildered, grieving love with only one concern: Where is the Lord? But her action sets something greater than herself off, as now Peter and the Beloved Disciple start running back the way Mary had come.
Next the Beloved Disciple, the one Jesus loved, arrives at the tomb, closely followed by Peter. Peter goes in first and sees the wrappings and – rolled up and put to one side – the cloth used to cover the face of Jesus. Only then does the Beloved Disciple enter. He encounters the exact same scene as Peter but, in his case, ‘he saw and believed’. Two disciples see; only one believes. Love gives the Beloved Disciple the eyes to read the sign of the calm, ordered departure of Jesus, and the mind to understand this. Earlier as they ran together toward the tomb, each was equally spiritually ignorant and lacking in understanding. Then they separated as the other disciple outran Peter and now the Beloved Disciple alone believes.
But what does he believe? He believes that Jesus has gone away, that he has ascended to the Father as he told the disciples in the Upper Room. But at this stage, neither Peter nor the Beloved Disciple ‘realized the meaning of Scripture, that Jesus should rise from the dead’. Belief in the Resurrection of Jesus was to come later in the day.
One can only marvel at the patience of God as each person in the story is accepted for where she/he in on their faith journey: Mary Magdalen who stood at the foot of the cross, now crazed with grief and shocked by the discovery of the empty tomb; Peter the acknowledged leader of the apostolic band, burdened by the memory of his denial of Jesus; the Beloved Disciple ever steadfast in his adherence to Jesus. We too, wherever we are in our relationship with God and others, can take heart from those wonderful words of Jesus spoken on the night before his crucifixion, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself”. With faith and joyful hope, we dare to approach the risen Lord, to join the mighty throng of those who have not seen yet believe. With confidence let us pray: Lord I believe, help my unbelief. Increase my faith and deepen my love, amen Alleluia.
Sr. Brighde Vallely OP