Jewish tradition tells of a rabbi who gathered his students together very early in the morning while it was still dark, and asked them this question: ‘How can you tell when the night has ended and the day has begun?’ One student answered: ‘Maybe it’s when you see an animal and you can distinguish if it’s a sheep or a dog.’ ‘No,’ the rabbi said. A second student answered: ‘Maybe it’s when you are looking at a tree in the distance and you can tell whether it’s a fig tree or a peach tree.’ ‘No,’ said the rabbi. After a few more guesses the students demanded the answer. The rabbi replied: ‘It’s when you look on the face of any woman or man and see that she is your sister and he is your brother. If you cannot do this, no matter what time it is, it is still night.’
In St John’s account, the Easter story begins very early in the morning of the first day of the week while it is ‘still dark’. In one of his letters, the same writer insists that ‘the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining’. But this is strictly on one condition, which he spells out clearly: ‘Whoever loves his brothers and sisters,’ John says, ‘lives in the light.’ On the other hand, ‘whoever prefers to hate . . . is in the darkness.’ (1 Jn 2:8-11).
Sadly, two thousand years later and there is still a lot of darkness around. The recent events in Brussels are a stark reminder of this – as if we needed reminding. Nevertheless, darkness is not just a modern phenomenon. In the wake of Good Friday, the disciples struggled with an unbelievable darkness. Jesus, their mentor, their guide, the one on whom they had pinned their hopes, was brutally put to death on a cross. Although Jesus predicted such things would happen the disciples could never make sense of it and now, without the hindsight that we enjoy, they were utterly lost and forsaken. They had come face to face with the dark side of human nature and witnessed first hand the capacity of human beings to hate, hurt and harm one in unimaginable ways. Luke sums it up so well: ‘darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon’, that ‘the sun’s light failed’’, and that ‘the curtain of the temple was torn in two’ (Lk 23:24).
It’s not surprising then that the disciples struggled with the good news of Easter. The resurrection stories all begin with confusion, with searching around the tomb, struggling with belief and unbelief. For hearts so filled with fear and despair, the Good News of Easter Sunday must have sounded like a sick joke. But slowly it began to dawn on them that despite the darkness of Good Friday, the full light of Easter Sunday was for real. Yes, Jesus, the humble and crucified one, is risen. The powers of darkness have been vanished. Christ is the light that endures forever. The words of the Easter Vigil liturgy express the same truth in a very appealing way: ‘The power of this holy [Easter] night,’ it proclaims, ‘dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy. It casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.’ Our celebration of Easter reminds us that the darkness of evil and hatred will never have the last say. For the resurrection of Jesus proclaims the ultimate triumph of light over darkness and goodness over evil, both in us and in our world.
Today we are faced with the same challenge of those early Easter disciples, namely, how to take hold of the Good News of Easter in our lives. A closer look at the Gospel may shed light on our efforts. At a general audience in 1989 St John Paul draws attention to the amount of running in today’s Gospel. Mary Magdalene runs. Peter runs, and John outruns Peter. These are not people so plunged into despair that they won’t move a muscle. On the contrary they are prompted by a love so compelling that they will run at the least hint of good news. Love is the driving force in their lives.
The Pope goes on to say that: If I wish to experience Christ and the power of his resurrection, I need to have a sense of urgency in my relationship with the Lord. I must strive to meet him and give myself to him in my here and now. I can’t wait for the “ideal” moment. If I don’t give myself to Christ now, under the present conditions, there is no reason to think I ever will. John, Peter and Mary Magdalene will eventually have an unshakeable conviction in the Resurrection, and become messengers of the Resurrection. But they first need to see the empty tomb and pick up the wrappings. They would also need to see and touch the risen Christ. All this would cause wonderment, reflection, and eventually a growing realisation that would induce faith. God works in the same way in my life. First, there are the lived experiences of my life: people I meet, circumstances I face, events that occur … Then my wonderment and reflection on what it all means: then the slow dawning of faith. “It is clearly evident that Christ’s resurrection is the greatest Event in the history of salvation, and indeed, we can say in the history of humanity, since it gives definitive meaning to the world. The whole world revolves around the Cross, but only in the resurrection does the Cross reach its full significance of a salvific Event. (Saint John Paul II, General Audience, March 1, 1989).
When I entered the seminary a book by Dom Eugene Boylan called, This Tremendous Lover, was placed in my hands. I find that title fascinating. Jesus is the greatest lover that ever existed. His love was the driving force in his life, enabling him to go to huge lengths so as to reach out to you and to me. In the passage just quoted, the Pope makes it very clear that it’s a two-way process; we too must reach out to Jesus as well as Jesus reaching out to us. If I want to experience the Risen Christ, then I must seek him with all my heart, running to him like Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. Hopefully it is in this running to Jesus that a new bright day will dawn when each of us can look on the face of any woman or man and see that she is our sister and he is our brother.
Sunday, 27 March 2016