John 20:1-9
It Was Still Dark
 by Rev. Joseph M. Rampino
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.

While Easter Sunday brings images of light and renewed life, Christ in golden glory, the pure sunshine of a spring morning, innumerable flowers and songs of great joy, the Gospel reading for this highest feast sets a rather different scene.

Rather than finding unbounded happiness, we find Mary Magdalene about as distressed as a person can be, coming to the tomb of her Lord. The Gospel tells us, poignantly, “It was still dark,” (Jn 20:1). The Easter sun has not yet risen, and in the gloom that has carried over from Good Friday, Mary sees the empty tomb not as a sign of hope and victory, but as a sign that the worst has happened. Not only has Jesus been betrayed and murdered, now his body has been stolen. We can almost hear the tears in her voice as she says to Peter and John, “They have taken the Lord … and we don’t know where they put him” (Jn 20: 2).

But in fact — though it is dark, and though the friends of Jesus do not yet understand — the victory has already been won. The Lord is only gone because he is risen. He has disappeared because he is on the move. Eventually he will show himself to the disciples, so that they can share in the victory he has already won, but for now, they must find a way to hope and to trust that despite appearances, the Lord is in command. They will indeed see him, and recognize that he is the master over death, the victor over sin, the king of the eternal realm. The darkness of the first Easter morning will give way to the light that gives the disciples heroic courage for witness — even though at the moment, the sign of victory looks for all the world like a sign of defeat.

Our experience of Easter, and of the joy of the resurrection, can follow this same pattern. We are used to the logic of the world, the logic of original sin, the logic of impermanence and imperfection, the logic of death after every life; but we are not used to the logic of Easter. We have a more constant experience of the law of nature than of the law of resurrection. Looking at the painful and evil things of the world, we can wonder where the victory is that Christ is supposed to have won, and it can seem very much like it is still dark. But the light shines, even if we cannot see it. Christ lives and moves, unconquered and invincible, even if we cannot yet perceive him. Just as he eventually showed himself to Mary Magdalene, he will show himself to us when it is time. Then our hope will become certainty, our faith, sight and our love will finally hold what it has always sought. There may be a tension now between the ever-present reality of Good Friday and the new and unfamiliar truth of Easter Sunday, but Christ has risen indeed, and the tension will only resolve in the direction of life.

We must, during this season of Easter, take instruction from the Lord, along with the other disciples, and learn this new reality of mighty joy, even in the midst of the world’s sorrow. We must have the courage to follow the living Lord into a new life, leaving the death of sin behind, and clothing ourselves in the manners of the kingdom of heaven, which stands newly opened for us. For that life, the life that cannot die, is our true life from now on.