Franciscan Friar Fr. Paul Gallagher reflects on the Gospel of John for Easter Sunday. Can you take some time now to talk with God honestly and openly about your situation, your feelings as you approach this Easter, and what you need God to teach/show you about the life that God desires to reveal to you?
The content is edited by Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity Sister Anne Marie Lom and Joe Thiel. The excerpts from the Sunday readings are prepared by Joe Thiel. To read or download the complete pdf with excerpts for your prayer, please click here Franciscan Gospel Reflection April 9 2023 Easter Sunday. Excerpts are from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. Used with permission. All rights reserved. No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. Photo: Holy Family Convent, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity Motherhouse, Resurrection window in St. Francis Chapel
Note: There are three possible Gospel readings for the celebration of Easter, Matthew 28:1-10 is usually read at the Easter Vigil Mass, John 20:1-9 is recommended for Masses in the early morning and Luke 24:13-35 is suggested for afternoon celebrations. The vigil Mass is usually when the new members of the community are baptized and welcomed to the Lord’s Table for the first time. It is a beautiful and faith-filled celebration. However, the majority of people typically attend one of the Masses on Easter Sunday morning. In addition, the Gospel from Luke will also be proclaimed on the Third week of Easter. Therefore, the focus here is on the text from John’s Gospel.
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the scripture that he had to rise from the dead.
This familiar Gospel may seem an unusual choice for Easter, because the Risen Lord is not encountered. Rather the text centers on the empty tomb and the first disciples’ encounter with the absence of Jesus. Belief in the resurrection for John’s community was not based on their first-hand experience of the risen Christ, but on the testimony and faith of the Christian community. Our faith journey also has its beginnings on the faith and testimony of those who have come before us.
John begins this text while it is still dark. Mary of Magdala, Peter, and the disciples are also in the dark about what has really taken place. When Mary discovers the empty tomb, she presumes that someone has taken the body. The possibility that Jesus has risen is not even a consideration. But by including that Mary had first believed that the body was stolen, John confronts those who suggested that the Christians’ belief in resurrection could more easily be explained if the fact was that someone had removed the body.
Throughout his Gospel John commonly uses a lack of understanding by those who encountered Jesus as a tool for Jesus to use further explanation and bring them to a deeper faith. Think of the account of the woman at the well, the man born blind, and even Martha and Mary. Mary’s lack of comprehension is not a problem because she has faith in Jesus; the understanding will continue to develop within her as it does within the early disciples.
The texts that will be used throughout the Easter season will highlight this development. Next Sunday the text will describe the disciples’ first encounter with the risen Lord in the upper room. In a few weeks the Gospel will describe the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.
- John does not say why Mary went to the tomb. Others suggest that she went to pray or to anoint the body of Jesus. Why do you think she went to the tomb? Would you go to the tomb? If so, why would you go?
- At the beginning of this Gospel John says that it was still dark. What do you think John meant by that simple statement?
- How is that statement also true for you?
- Why do you think John tells his community that Mary of Magdala went to the tomb first? (He could have easily not included that piece of information in the text.) What does it say to you?
- John states that when the other disciple arrived first, he waited until Peter arrived and entered the empty tomb. How does the experience of both Peter and the other disciple speak to you?
- How will your experience of Easter be different this year? How will it be like the experience of the dark, cold, empty tomb? How will your experience be like that of Mary who ventures out in the dark of night, or of Peter, or the beloved disciple?
- Is it possible that your experience will be some of all three?
- Out of which will you live?
- Can you take some time now to talk with God honestly and openly about your situation, your feelings as you approach this Easter, and what you need God to teach/show you about the life that God desires to reveal to you?