The Lord is risen! He is risen indeed! For whom did he rise? He lived, died and rises for his first disciples, for us, generations of disciples later, he died and rises for Pontius Pilate, for Caiaphas, for the nameless soldiers who scourged him and who drove the nails through his hands and feet; he rises for all of us, for all of us who make up this messy, sinful humanity.
He rises for Peter, Peter who denied that he knew him, Peter who now proclaims: ‘I, and those with me, can witness to everything he did’. He rises for Mary Magdalen who upon seeing the stone rolled away runs in fear. ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb.’ She runs from the tomb not with a message of hope, but of further loss. Indignity heaped upon indignity; first they killed him then they stole his cold body. He rises for Mary.
We can think the first disciples changed as soon as they saw him, but the Scriptures tell that Thomas was not the only one who doubted. ‘It is a ghost’ they cried, they could not believe their eyes, they were afraid, they hesitated. He rose for them. And despite all their struggles, their hesitancy, their unbelief, he, the Resurrection and the Life, stayed with them, to tell them the story anew and lead them to Easter faith. John’s Gospel tells us, after the Resurrection appearances and Thomas’ profession of faith, Peter goes back to fishing. Jesus rose for him. Peter’s bold proclamation of the Good News in today’s first reading takes place after Pentecost.
The Resurrection did not changed the disciples into supermen and women; they seemed to remain in many respects the same people. He comes not to reward the perfect, but to console the weak with faith, hope and love. The Lord walked with them the journey to Easter faith, to belief in him. What changed for them is that they, with all their weaknesses, came to believe in him as their Lord and God; it changed their experience of the world and of their own weakness. Whatever happened, they knew the Lord was with them.
What about us? He died and rose for us. We too struggle. As we prayed at one of the stations at Good Friday: Evil alone never doubts. Trees that sink their roots in the ground, wither, if watered by evil, but you have set our roots in heaven, and our branches on earth, to know and follow you.
The fourth Gospel offers us the beloved disciple today as example of discipleship. The disciple who loved, who loves Jesus, enters the tomb and sees the cloths all rolled up and tidied and he believes. Today the Risen Lord calls us to believe in him, to love him. The Lord is Risen to be with us; with the eyes of love and faith we see him. Ask him for the eyes of faith and love. And after that there will be the next step; there will always be the next step – there is no dead end with Jesus. Loved by Jesus and loving him like the beloved disciple we shall be able to see emptiness and absence not as failure and loss, as Mary Magdalen first did, but as mysterious evidence of the divine power at work in Jesus Christ to bring life out of death. Death has no power over him anymore; in union with him we rise. And one day through death we shall rise with Christ and join in the thanksgiving of him who lives for all eternity.