"If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain…your faith is futile and you are still in your sins…If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied" (1 Cor 15:14,17, 19).
In the reading from John’s Gospel for this Easter Sunday we are told that Mary Magdalene "came to the tomb early, while it was still dark…" (Jn. 20:1). We know from Luke’s Gospel that other women were with her: "Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women…" (24:10).
These women loved the Lord so much that they come to the tomb while it was still dark, probably in what the Romans considered the fourth watch of the night, which was anywhere between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m. When they arrived, Jesus was already risen and the tomb was empty. We almost get the impression that Jesus could not even wait for sunrise to come forth from the tomb. It is easy to imagine Mary Magdalene recalling Jesus’ words, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (Jn 8:12). Though the sun was not yet up, the Son did indeed rise as he said he would.
The enormous stone, large enough that the women couldn’t move it, was already rolled away when they arrived. So, Mary goes to Peter and the beloved disciple, John. Out of concern that someone has, in fact, stolen the body of Jesus, she says, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him" (Jn 20:2).
Peter and John run to the tomb. John, who is younger, arrives first but does not go in. This is more than a courteous action on John’s part. He knows that Jesus himself gave Peter a special authority and place in the Kingdom of God (cf. Mt 16:16-19).
"Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself" (Jn 20:6-7)
As the Navarre Bible notes, "Some of the words contained in the account need further explanation, so terse is the translation…‘lying there’ seems to indicate that the clothes were flattened, deflated, as if they were emptied when the body of Jesus rose and disappeared – as if it had come out of the clothes and bandages without their being unrolled, passing right through them (just as later he entered the Cenacle [upper room] when the doors were shut)" (240). Jesus seems to have passed through the linen as light passes through glass.
The Navarre Bible continues, "From these details concerning the empty tomb one deduces that Jesus’ body must have risen in a heavenly manner, that is, in a way which transcended the laws of nature. It was not only a matter of the body being reanimated as happened, for example, in the case of Lazarus, who had to be unbound before he could walk (cf. Jn 11:44)" (240).
Additionally, the details given in the Gospel narrative prove the notion that Jesus’ body was stolen to be untrue. Why? Grave robbers did not steal bodies. They stole things in the tomb that were worth money, such as the linen cloths which were usually costly. Jesus’ linen burial shroud was probably expensive because he was buried by Joseph of Arimathea, who was a rich man (cf. Mt 27:57a). Also, even if thieves were to steal a body from a tomb, it is unlikely that they would have left the cloths behind. It is easier to carry and hide a body wrapped in a giant sheet than one unclothed. Matthew’s Gospel also states that guards were posted at the tomb, and we know that they did not fall asleep on the job (cf. 27:62-67; 28:11-15).
Of course, the resurrection cannot be exclusively proved by the existence of an empty tomb. However, we must note that the empty tomb and the garments did suffice for the beloved disciple who "saw and believed" (Jn 20:8).
For those who did not see and believe as John did, the various resurrection narratives provide additional proof of Jesus’s resurrection by going on to recount Jesus’ different appearances. In this Sunday’s reading from Acts, Peter says, "God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses…" (10:40-41).
For those of us who have been baptized, let us remember St. Paul’s words in the second reading for this Sunday: "If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory" (Col 3:1-4).
Brian writes a monthly column, “Veritatis Splendor,” for The Northern Cross of the Diocese of Duluth and his 33-part series on the sacraments for The Northern Cross have also been posted on Catholic News Agency's website, where he also authors a weekly column, “Road to Emmaus,” on the Sunday Readings, (which are translated into Romanian and posted on www.profamilia.ro).
Pizzalato is currently authoring the regular series, "Catechesis and Contemporary Culture," in The Sower, published by the Maryvale Institute. He is also author of the Philosophy of Religion course book for the B.A. in Philosophy and the Catholic Tradition at the Maryvale Institute.
Brian holds an M.A. in Theology and Christian Ministry with a Catechetics specialization and an M.A. in Philosophy from Franciscan University of Steubenville, OH. Brian currently pursuing an M.A. in Biblical Studies at the Augustine Institute in Denver, CO as well as being a Ph.D. candidate at the Maryvale Institute. Brian is married and has six children.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.