The Gospel for April 16th, 2107: “The Empty Tomb”
Reflection: Our Inability to Imagine the Workings Of Jesus’ Salvation
There are three gospel readings prepared for Easter Sunday. I choose to respond to John’s account at the tomb of Jesus because I am interested in its featuring of Mary Magdalene’s distress at finding the tomb empty. Her reaction is not to call to mind Jesus’ words that He must go before the disciples to the Father and to connect the empty tomb to the victory of Christ over death and sin. No. Despite Jesus’ efforts prepare His disciples that this is how the Messiah’s triumph would be achieved, Mary cannot imagine this in her limited human mind. Remember her faithfulness as she had followed Jesus to the cross and now returned to the tomb to remain close to her Savior. Nevertheless, when she finds the tomb empty, her panic and distress—not her joy—are evident. She says to Peter after racing to find him, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him” (2). Mary Magdalene is at one of those moments that is so common in our lives: we cannot understand how God could let this happen. We cannot imagine how this inexplicable turn of events could be God’s plan. Mary, to her credit, turns to Christian fellowship in this crisis. She turns to her Church where believers are gathered. She does not prematurely conclude as Nietzsche did that “God is dead.” However, the temptation must have been great for all of Jesus’ disciples at that moment to do just that. Where is the Messiah we believed in? He appears to have been defeated utterly. They are misreading the signs only because the workings of God’s will are beyond the limits of our human minds.
This interests me because I fear losing my faith. I fear being tricked by my mind and its ability through reason to conclude that all hope of our salvation is lost and God has abandoned us in moments I cannot understand. I see great horror and tragedy in the world; their logic and need I cannot fathom. In those moments I sometimes doubt God’s providence. I panic and distress similarly to Mary Magdalene at the tomb. Therefore I am comforted that Mary does abandon her faith and in patience finds the truth of Jesus’ love. Although not in this reading, Mary is soon visited by angels at the tomb, the site of her distress. They ask her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20: 13). As her failure to understand persists, she is then visited by Jesus himself who asks her the same question (John 20: 15). Finally, in the midst of her confusion, she recognizes Jesus and all is well.
So why was she weeping? Mary was weeping only because she could not imagine that Jesus would have to die on a criminal’s cross at the hands of non-believers and then rise from his tomb on the third day in order to save us. There is no cause for sorrow when we realize that this mystery is indeed God’s plan for salvation. And yet, her human mind failed to comprehend that as we all do in our most difficult trials. So I take heart in this story. I can forgive myself—as Jesus does—of my failure to rest on an unshakeable faith in seeming catastrophe. He helps my unbelief. Like Mary Magdalene, I will remember to wait out these moments of weeping, to be patient. Jesus is near; He is victorious over death and sin; we are saved; our hope for eternal life is justified. The truth of that eternal mystery is for the mind of God and not my own. St. Augustine said famously, “We are talking about God. What wonder is it that you do not understand? If you do understand, then it is not God.”
Our faith is known through our hearts, not our minds. Our minds are useful in God’s plan to communicate God’s love and glory to one another, but they are incapable of grasping the Creator’s divine inner workings. Our role in the theo-drama is not to direct—as Adam and Eve sought to do by eating from the tree of knowledge—but to act, trusting our director’s lead. We follow Jesus as sheep following a shepherd. No matter what storms or attacks may scatter the flock, He will always find us and bring us back into His loving fold. Every one of these occasions is a cause for joy and peace.
Happy Easter! Jesus lives!