What brings Mary of Magdala to Jesus’ tomb on the first day of the week? It can only be love. We visit the graves of those we loved. Mary loved Jesus dearly in life, and after watching him die, she goes to his tomb to mourn for him.
But Mary doesn’t find what she expected. The stone has been moved – perhaps Jesus’ body has been taken. The tomb is empty. The linen cloths that wrapped Jesus’ dead body have been cast aside. The truth dawns gradually on Mary, and on Peter and the beloved disciple. They see the empty tomb, and slowly they begin to believe. The prophecies have been fulfilled. He is risen.
The Gospel stories reflect the wonder that Jesus’ disciples must have experienced at his Resurrection. God had done something that they could not have expected or imagined. They had seen their Lord die on the cross, but now the tomb was empty. Death was defeated. Such a mysterious truth took time to dawn in their minds and hearts.
In a normal year, the Church’s liturgy helps us to share in the experience of the disciples. After forty days of penance in Lent, we enter into the drama of Holy Week, and encounter the risen Christ with joy on Easter Sunday. This year, because of necessary precautions against the spread of the Covid-19 virus, we have not been able to celebrate the Holy Week liturgies together in our churches. Instead, we have been asked to unite in prayer, with one another and with the Church across the world; to celebrate in spirit, though we cannot be physically present.
This strange and frightening time will test our faith. We may feel afraid, for ourselves and for those we love. The Church’s funeral rite includes this prayer over the grave:
Lord Jesus Christ,
by your own three days in the tomb,
you hallowed the graves of all who believe in you
and so made the grave a sign of hope
that promises resurrection even as it claims our mortal bodies.
The Good News of Easter is a timeless truth. The Lord is risen, and we are his witnesses.