Father Donald Senior, CP

Detecting Jesus’ Resurrection

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

March 27: Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; 1 Cor 5:6b-8; Jn 20:1-9

Afew years ago I gave a Holy Week retreat at the motherhouse of the St. Joseph sisters of Orange, California. On Easter morning we celebrated Mass outdoors in the warmth of the California sun. The Gospel reading for that day was the same as we will hear this Easter — John’s account of the discovery of the empty tomb. Mary Magdalene, who plays such an important role in John’s Gospel, comes to visit the tomb of her beloved Jesus early in the morning, only to find the stone removed from the entrance and the tomb itself empty.

Distraught, she runs to tell Peter and the Beloved Disciple (the one who is close to Jesus in John’s Gospel but who is not named). She assumes that someone has taken Jesus’ body from the tomb. (On Tuesday of Easter week we will hear the beautiful account of Mary’s second visit to the tomb when her sadness is turned into ecstasy as she encounters the Risen Jesus.)

The two disciples run to the tomb to see for themselves (note that the Beloved Disciple runs faster than Peter but waits for Peter to catch up before entering the tomb). The tomb is indeed empty but the disciples note a curious fact: the burial cloths that had enshrouded Jesus are still there and the cloth that had covered his face is neatly rolled up. The disciples leave, perplexed.

After the Mass in California where this same Gospel story was proclaimed, a woman approached me. She was a psychiatric social worker who tended to prisoners at a local jail, most of them young drug offenders. She told me she was struck by the detail about the burial cloths neatly rolled up in Jesus’ tomb.

Some of her clients entered jail in deep despair, she said, their lives shattered. But over time some of them began to turn their lives around and how she noticed was they began to tie their shoes, comb their hair and fold up their blankets. She observed that their failures — their crucifixion, if you like — were public but signs of their “resurrection” were more hidden and subtle.

Hearing the Gospel, she said, “I realized that was true of Jesus as well: his crucifixion was in full view of the public, but the signs of his resurrection were more subtle and tested his disciples’ faith.”

I have never forgotten her insight, and her words came back to me as I reflected on the readings for this Easter Sunday. An empty tomb, neatly folded burial cloths, mysterious appearances to startled disciples — these are the signs of resurrection in the Gospels. Yet these are signs of extraordinary new life, both for the crucified Jesus who has triumphed over death and for those disciples of his whose confusion, fear and deep sadness are transformed into bold new life.

This is the testimony of all the other beautiful readings for this Sunday. The first reading is Peter’s speech to the Roman Centurion Cornelius — the first Gentile convert according to the Acts of the Apostles. Peter, who on the eve of Jesus’ death denied he even knew Jesus, now is convinced that God “has commissioned us to preach to the people.”

In the second reading, Paul urges his Corinthian Christians to “clear out the old yeast” and become “a fresh batch of dough.” “Celebrate the feast … with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

That is surely the message for us today. We truly believe that despite our many visible failings and sins we, too, through the gift of God’s great mercy, can be healed, forgiven, transformed.


  • scripture