It was very early on the first day of the week and still dark, when Mary of Magdala came to the tomb. She saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb and came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb’ she said ‘and we don’t know where they have put him.’
So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.
John’s account of the resurrection highlights the differing reactions of those who were close to him. His reference to the fact that it is “still dark“, symbolises that they do not yet understand that Jesus, the true light of the world (cf: John 1:4; 8:12; 9:5) has risen from death and the darkness of the tomb.
The distress felt by Mary Magdalene at the death and burial of Jesus became confusion and alarm with the discovery of the empty tomb. Mary’s immediate sense is that the body of Jesus has been taken by robbers ‘they have taken the Lord out of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him.’
Peter and John possibly anticipated a tomb in disarray, given that it they had been led to believe that it had been robbers. They discovered however that the burial cloths had been removed, even the head covering left rolled neatly to the side. Thieves would have had little regard for carefully removing the burial shroud. Although the Gospel does not state the reaction of Peter, the younger disciple John ‘saw and believed’.
The discovery of the empty tomb was a turning point for the disciples in their understanding of the true identity of Jesus. Until this moment ‘they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.‘
For Christians today the empty tomb is not a source of confusion but rather the source of our joy and our hope of eternal life, for as St Paul remarked ‘without the resurrection our faith is meaningless’ (1 Cor 15:14). In rising again Jesus conquered death, not only for himself but for all those who believe in him. Symbolic of Easter Sunday, and the Easter Season, is the Paschal candle and the frequent reiteration of Alleluia, the chant of joy and victory at Christ’s redemption of humanity. The words of St Augustine remind us ‘we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.’ In this Easter Season, despite our current isolation in our homes, may we rejoice in the resurrection and strive to live in the light of Christ as we proclaim ‘Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.’