Easter Vigil – Year C
Luke 24: 1-12
To make room for hope
“Peter ran to the tomb” (Lk 24:12). What thoughts crossed Peter’s mind and stirred his heart as he ran to the tomb? The Gospel tells us that the eleven, including Peter, had not believed the testimony of the women, their Easter proclamation. Quite the contrary, “these words seemed to them an idle tale” (v. 11). Thus there was doubt in Peter’s heart, together with many other worries: sadness at the death of the beloved Master and disillusionment for having denied him three times during his Passion.
There is, however, something which signals a change in him: after listening to the women and refusing to believe them, “Peter rose” (v. 12). He did not remain sedentary, in thought; he did not stay at home as the others did. He did not succumb to the sombre atmosphere of those days, nor was he overwhelmed by his doubts. He was not consumed by remorse, fear or the continuous gossip that leads nowhere. He was looking for Jesus, not himself. He preferred the path of encounter and trust. And so, he got up, just as he was, and ran towards the tomb from where he would return “amazed” (v. 12). This marked the beginning of Peter’s resurrection, the resurrection of his heart. Without giving in to sadness or darkness, he made room for hope: he allowed the light of God to enter into his heart, without smothering it.
The women too, who had gone out early in the morning to perform a work of mercy, taking the perfumed ointments to the tomb, had the same experience. They were “frightened and bowed their faces”, and yet they were deeply affected by the words of the angel: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” (v. 5).
We, like Peter and the women, cannot discover life by being sad, bereft of hope. Let us not stay imprisoned within ourselves, but let us break open our sealed tombs to the Lord – each of us knows what they are – so that he may enter and grant us life. Let us give him the stones of our rancour and the boulders of our past, those heavy burdens of our weaknesses and falls. Christ wants to come and take us by the hand to bring us out of our anguish. This is the first stone to be moved aside this night: the lack of hope which imprisons us within ourselves. May the Lord free us from this trap, from being Christians without hope, who live as if the Lord were not risen, as if our problems were the centre of our lives.
We see and will continue to see problems both within and without. They will always be there. But tonight it is important to shed the light of the Risen Lord upon our problems, and in a certain sense, to “evangelize” them. To evangelize our problems. Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and control us; we must cry out to them: the Lord “is not here, but has risen!” (v. 6). He is our greatest joy; he is always at our side and will never let us down.
This is the foundation of our hope, which is not mere optimism, nor a psychological attitude or desire to be courageous. Christian hope is a gift that God gives us if we come out of ourselves and open our hearts to him. This hope does not disappoint us because the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5). The Paraclete does not make everything look appealing. He does not remove evil with a magic wand. But he pours into us the vitality of life, which is not the absence of problems, but the certainty of being loved and always forgiven by Christ, who for us has conquered sin, conquered death and conquered fear. Today is the celebration of our hope, the celebration of this truth: nothing and no one will ever be able to separate us from his love (cf. Rom 8:39).
The Lord is alive and wants to be sought among the living. After having found him, each person is sent out by him to announce the Easter message, to awaken and resurrect hope in hearts burdened by sadness, in those who struggle to find meaning in life. There is so necessary today. However, we must not proclaim ourselves. Rather, as joyful servants of hope, we must announce the Risen One by our lives and by our love; otherwise we will be only an international organization full of followers and good rules, yet incapable of offering the hope for which the world longs.
How can we strengthen our hope? The liturgy of this night offers some guidance. It teaches us to remember the works of God. The readings describe God’s faithfulness, the history of his love towards us. The living word of God is able to involve us in this history of love, nourishing our hope and renewing our joy. The Gospel also reminds us of this: in order to kindle hope in the hearts of the women, the angel tells them: “Remember what [Jesus] told you” (v. 6). Remember the words of Jesus, remember all that he has done in our lives. Let us not forget his words and his works, otherwise we will lose hope and become “hopeless” Christians. Let us instead remember the Lord, his goodness and his life-giving words which have touched us. Let us remember them and make them ours, to be sentinels of the morning who know how to help others see the signs of the Risen Lord.
Dear brothers and sisters, Christ is risen! And we have the possibility of opening our hearts and receiving his gift of hope. Let us open our hearts to hope and go forth. May the memory of his works and his words be the bright star which directs our steps in the ways of faith towards that Easter that will have no end
Easter Sunday (year C)
Gospel reflection – John 20: 1-9
“Now, on the first day after the Sabbath, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark…” (v. 1). In these first words of the Gospel of Easter day one can perceive, almost breathe the signs of death’s victory. On earth it’s all silence, immobility, quietness. A woman, alone and frightened, moves in the darkness of the night. Death seems to dominate unchallenged and silence and darkness celebrate the triumph. Power, the principle of force, discrimination, injustice and the yeast of cunning seem to have definitely the better over the forces of life.
Let’s see what happens when Mary sees the empty tomb: the scene changes as if by magic. Caught by a sudden thrill, all the characters are shaken from their slumber and taken to move quickly. “Mary of Magdala runs to Simon Peter… who rushes out with the other disciple…. They run together, but the other disciple, outruns him…” (vv. 2-4). Taking everyone by surprise, the day after the Sabbath, life explodes in all its force. God intervened and opened the tomb, but Mary of Magdala does not know it. She thinks that the corpse was stolen. And it’s a natural and spontaneous reaction. It is the first thought that crosses the mind of anyone running into an empty tomb.
One can stop at this first finding or continue searching for meaning of what one observes. In the face of death one can resign, cry or open the heart to the light from above.
The Magdalene exits the scene momentarily as if passing the baton, in the race toward the faith, to the two other disciples. One is well-known, Peter, the other has no name. It is generally said that it is the Evangelist John. But this identification took place much later, about a hundred years after the Apostle had died. It may be that it was him, the disciples that Jesus loved. However, in the Gospel of John, this figure certainly has a symbolic character and that should be understood.
This unnamed disciple is always connected in some way to Peter:
– He enters the scene next to Andrew. One day the two see Jesus passing by. They ask him where he lives. They follow and stay with him all night. What about Peter? He enters because the nameless disciple reaches Jesus before him (Jn 1:35-40).
– This disciple is no longer spoken about until the last supper when Jesus declares that among the twelve there is also a traitor. Who finds him out? Who can recognize who is on the side of Jesus and who instead is against him? It’s not Peter but the unnamed disciple who reclines his head on the breast of the Lord (Jn 13:23-26).
– During the passion, Peter stops and rejects the Master. The unnamed disciple has the courage to follow him into the house of the high priest and is close to Jesus during the process (Jn 18:15-27).
– Peter is not on Calvary. He escaped. The disciple whom Jesus loves is instead with the Master. He is at the foot of the cross with His mother (Jn 19:25-27).
– Then comes today’s passage in which Peter is again beaten both in the material race and in the spiritual one—as we shall see shortly (Jn 20:3-10).
– On the sea of Tiberias, it is still this disciple who recognizes the risen Christ in the man on the shore. Peter realizes it only later (Jn 21:7).
– Finally, when he is invited by Jesus to follow him, Peter does not have the courage to do it alone. He feels the need to have at his side “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (Jn 21:20-25).
Who is he then? Why has he no name?
He represents the authentic disciple, the one who just meets Jesus and does not hesitate. He immediately follows him and wants to know him. He even forgets to sleep just to be with him. Do you know him enough to immediately know who are his friends and enemies? He follows him also when it is necessary to offer his life. He has no name because everyone is invited to insert one’s own name.
We see this pair of disciples run to the tomb. The unnamed disciple arrives first, bends, sees the linen cloths lying there, but does not enter. Simon Peter also arrives, enters and sees the linen cloths lying flat, and the napkin that was placed on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.
Nothing miraculous! There is no appearance of angels; everywhere the signs of death are seen. Perhaps the two disciples have an intuition, the one formulated by John Chrysostom: “Whoever had taken the body, would not have stripped it before nor would have taken the trouble to remove and roll the napkin and leave it in a place by itself.” His body has therefore not been stolen.
Peter stops, astonished and amazed. He observes but cannot go further. His thoughts are locked before the evidence of death. The unnamed disciple instead takes a step forward: he sees and begins to believe (v. 8). It is the climax moment of his journey of faith in the risen Lord. In front of the signs of death (the grave, the bandages, the shroud…), he begins to perceive the victory of life.
The following annotation unites the two disciples: “Scripture clearly said that Jesus must rise from the dead, but they had not yet understood that” (v. 9). It seems illogical, at least as regards the disciple without a name. But, at this point, the evangelist John is not compiling a cold chronicle of events, but is pointing to the Christians of his community the route through which one comes to faith. It starts from the signs—those documented by the Gospels (Jn 20:30-31). However, they remain mysterious and incomprehensible unless one is guided by the word of God contained in the Holy Scriptures. These are those that open the mind and the heart and give the interior light that reveals the Risen One. The true disciple does not need further testing; he does not need the verification that Thomas will require.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Whoever does not believe considers the free gift of life an absurdity, madness, because behind this gift one only sees the signs of death. In the light of Easter instead, the authentic disciple “begins to understand” that the life given for the brothers introduces one in the bliss of God.
The concluding verse of the episode: The two disciples “went back home again” (v. 10). It almost gives the impression that everything returns as before. But it is not so. The two have known Jesus; they have witnessed the same facts and saw the same signs. Resuming the daily life, one continues discouraged and disappointed, and the other is guided by a new light and supported by a new hope.
Italian missionary and biblical scholar