Gospel reflection for April 9, 2023, Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of the Lord
Father Koch: Jesus has power over life and death
While in many aspects of the life and ministry of Jesus the four evangelists seem to disagree at times on the small details, allowing for different memories and the possible confusion of timelines in the oral traditions, they are much more clear on the events on Easter Sunday. Of course, even there each evangelist focuses on specific details more than on others. This makes sense, and really helps us to understand the events and how they impacted each of the disciples in different ways.
Each Easter we hear the account of the Resurrection first from the eyes of John the evangelist. As we proclaimed his Passion account on Good Friday, we now read his memory of the events of that morning.
Mary Magdalene arrived first at the tomb even before the break of dawn. The stone is rolled away and she presumes that someone has stolen his body. It is and interesting conclusion, and it is hard to imagine why she would think that. According to the rumors afoot at the time if anyone had stolen his body it would have been the closest disciples of Jesus and, presumably, she would know something about it.
That Peter and the other disciple – likely John himself – take off in haste for the tomb to see for themselves what had happened. Peter rushes into the tomb and finds that indeed it has been disturbed. However, this disturbance happened, not from the outside, but from the inside out.
In his explanation of the events at the tomb on Easter morning, John places a curious emphasis on the small details about the burial cloths of Jesus. As this Gospel has no wasted words or insignificant details, it is worth considering why he makes this point.
The burial clothes of Jesus have been discarded as though the one who was wearing them suddenly shed them and left them where they fell.
This stands in contrast to what we heard on the Fifth Sunday of Lent regarding the appearance of Lazarus as he emerged from the tomb. There he was bound hand and foot with his head covered with a hood.
The evangelist tells us that as he peered into the tomb – for he does not follow Peter in, only bending down and looking into the tomb – that he “saw and believed.”
From his vantage point he saw the same emptiness that Peter saw yet he also saw what Peter may have missed – those burial cloths.
For this disciple that was enough. He knew why the tomb was empty, and he confirmed that in his way of seeing by the presence and appearance of the burial cloths.
Had grave robbers, for any reason, decided to take the body of Jesus, there would have been no reason to strip the body of the cloths that were covering it. That not only would be a waste of time it would not have given them any advantage in carrying his corpse. No, it is clear that the person who was shrouded in these cloths is the one who shed them.
John wants the reader of the Gospel to understand well not only what happened, but its significance as well.
It is now clear to John and to the reader that Jesus emerges from the tomb unhindered, under his own power, leaving the burial cloths behind.
Jesus has been teaching his disciples and those who listen to him either out of curiosity or hostility that he has come to bring life – not this life – but eternal life. Throughout the Gospel According to John virtually every encounter with Jesus that he records draws some attention to eternal life.
Jesus even told his disciples” “I am the way, the truth and the life.”
Now Jesus fulfills what he has taught – his Resurrection from the dead is not only the affirmation and completion of his teaching, it is his greatest sign: Jesus is the very embodiment of life itself.
In emphasizing the appearance of the burial cloths – and as contrasted to the emergence of Lazarus from the tomb, John clues us in to the power of Jesus over death and the finality of his Resurrection.
John is also telling us that through our faith in the resurrection, and sharing in the promise he has offered us, that each one of us shall also emerge from the tomb, untethered and untied, into the eternal life that Jesus has won for us.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.