This morning’s Gospel reading is John 20:1–9 (for Easter morning Mass):
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 head, 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.
Today’s Gospel from John gives us, as John usually does, the most personal narrative on Jesus’ resurrection. John makes clear in this that he himself was witness to these events, and provides much more detail than the other three Gospels about the opening of the tomb. In Matthew and in Mark, the sequence is shortened and neither mention a visit to the tomb by anyone other than the two Marys. Luke mentions that Peter went to the tomb, but says nothing of anyone else. Only John, who puts himself (in the third person as usual) with Peter gives us the more detailed account of how the tomb was found empty.
In this, John provides a first-person witness to the empty tomb, and the events that followed it. Matthew and Mark report Jesus’ commission to the apostles to convert the world; Luke gives us the beautiful story of Emmaus. But it is from John that we get the story of Thomas, who doubted until he saw the risen Christ himself and put his fingers into Jesus’s wounds. John tells us of Jesus’ grant of authority to the apostles to forgive sins. Through John, we learn of Peter’s redemption after his denials during the Passion, and Jesus’ command for Peter to become the shepherd of the church.
John is the closest witness to Christ’s resurrection that we have in the Gospels, but he’s hardly the only close witness that existed. The apostles all became first-person witnesses to Christ, either having witnessed His risen body, or in Paul’s case, bearing witness to the vision of Christ he received on the road to Damascus. Luke wrote the Acts of the Apostles as an account of their witness to the people of Jerusalem and the known world over the decades that followed Christ’s resurrection.
In our first reading from Acts 10 this morning, Peter stresses that their entire mission is to bear witness to the risen Christ so that all may believe in salvation:
Peter proceeded to speak and said: “You know what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Peter says this to Cornelius, a Roman centurion who had been moved by the Lord to seek Peter out. With Cornelius’ baptism, the Holy Spirit descends on Gentiles for the first time; prior to that, the apostolic evangelization had focused on Judea and Samaria among the Israelites.
That was not without controversy at the time. Peter was later criticized by some of the brethren in the church at Jerusalem for eating with and preaching to the uncircumcised, but Peter explained that his vision from the Lord had showed him that salvation was meant for the whole world, and that it would be accomplished through their witness. “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ,” Peter explains later in Acts 11, “who was I that I could withstand God?”
For two thousand years, that has been our mission as Christians — to bear witness to the Gospel, the salvation of the Lord. Through our baptism, we all inherit the Resurrection, as well as a prophetic role in proclaiming Jesus as Lord. As we celebrate our own salvation through Christ’s grace, we should also ask ourselves how we are witnessing to salvation.
Do we seek to divide communities and withhold it as a secret for just those who are most akin to us? Do we witness with our mouths while ignoring our own actions? Are we more concerned with being right than being welcoming? As someone who often finds himself on the wrong side of those questions, our Easter readings gives me a reminder of the selflessness of the apostles as well as of Christ in sharing the Good News, and the immeasurable value of the simplicity of witness, and a renewal of purpose and faith.
May we all find renewal on this most blessed week of our Christian faith, and may all of our readers have a happy and blessed Easter, surrounded in love from family and friends.
The front page image is “The Risen Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen,” by Rembrandt, 1638. Currently on display at Buckingham Palace. Via Wikimedia Commons.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.