Gospel Reflection for Sunday the 4th of April 2021
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Every Gospel story has its own powerful message. This Gospel has a power and a beauty that is really compelling. It is a Gospel about absence. Jesus is nowhere to be seen. The centre of our Christian faith is the person of Jesus. His absence in the text manages to be both a disturbance and a consolation. Accustomed as we are to reading quickly it is a slow reading of the text that reveals treasures that can be easily overlooked. This is a text that speaks to a quiet heart.
The scene is set with Mary Magdalene walking to the tomb in the dark. It is a striking image. Mary is on a mission to keep vigil in the dark. Would it not have been safer to travel in daylight? On finding the stone moved away she runs back to the others. She expresses her first thoughts which are that the body of Jesus has been stolen. Perhaps that is not such an outlandish thought. If Jesus had been speaking about rising on the third day perhaps it would have been the intention of the Romans to publicly exhibit the dead body of Jesus on the fourth day after His death. It would certainly be a way of killing rumours of resurrection. The Romans were good at killing bodies. Perhaps they were almost at skilled at killing new religious movements?
So the scene has moved to Mary telling her news to Peter and the other disciple. She carries with her a tale of the unexpected. What are they to make of it? Rather than debate the issue they set off running to see for themselves. There is a beauty in the urgency of the journey. The truth is there to be discovered if they would only seek it out. Arriving at the tomb we discover two separate reactions. The other disciple reaches the tomb first but does not go in. He stays at a distance looking inside. It is Peter who runs in, brave Peter who leads the way. There is absence and presence. There is the absence of a body but the presence of burial cloths. What does it all mean? There is a truism that states that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Still what was it about the cloths that led the disciples to belief? Was it the neatness of the scene that prompted belief? Was it just a sense that this was the way that Jesus would leave a room? Was there a way of folding a cloth that made perfect sense to them that the person who did the folding was Jesus? To know a person is to know their ways, their quirks, their mannerisms, their idiosyncrasies. Perhaps there was a small clue that the disciples would understand but that others would overlook. An empty tomb is not evidence of resurrection in itself. There is something else going on in that tomb. That is the intimacy of the scene, a realisation that things are different now. The disciples see and they believe. They have faith.
Two thousand years after that fateful day we tell the story of the resurrection of Jesus. Everyone in the story has a different reaction to the absence of Jesus and we can see ourselves in the different characters. Like Mary Magdalene we have our fears. Like the other disciple we have our hesitations. Like Peter we have our courage. But so much more than those things we have something even more precious to hold onto. We have our quiet and insistent hope that Jesus has truly risen from the dead. In the Gospel Jesus never appears, never speaks or indeed is not even spoken about. The silence of Jesus in this Gospel is an invitation to listen to Him in the everyday moments of our lives. It is also an invitation to see that the resurrection story begins in the dark. Mary Magdalene risks the dangers of travelling at night to be with Jesus. Resurrection does not wait for the light. Resurrection is the Light, the Light our world needs now more than ever.
– Father Paddy Moran CSSp