“Up from a past that’s rooted in pain … I rise
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear … I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear … I rise
I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise…… I rise ………I rise.”
Today’s Gospel from John opens with: “On the first day of the week … while it was still dark.”
This description evokes admiration for Mary of Magdala as someone who could face the darkness and chaos. (In other gospel accounts we hear of other women also going to the tomb). Unlike the male disciples who had vanished – out of fear, perhaps – she was willing to confront the void. So, an important part of the Easter story, that does not get sufficient emphasis, is that a woman or – implicit in the other gospels – women, are the first witnesses to the Resurrection of the Lord.
Mary is confronted with the Mystery (sign) of the Empty Tomb and she goes to tell the other disciples:
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have laid him.”
When Peter and the other disciples follow Mary’s example and go to the tomb, the scene does not look like a grave robbery. Why would you steal a body and first remove the burial cloths and leave them there? John is pointing out that Jesus’ death was nothing like the death they understood. Rather it is the response of God to the injustice of those who wanted to silence Jesus and put an end to his project for a more just and compassionate world.
So, on this Easter Morning, after seeing all their hopes dashed, the disciples are confronted with this mystery and are thus invited to trust, and to open themselves to a hope that life was not what they thought it was after the Crucifixion. Jesus was not abandoned by God to death; and, interestingly, we are told that they believed even though they did not understand … this to me is really good news.
Easter is not only about what happened to Jesus; if it is to make any sense, it has to be about what happens to us, because we have come to know him, come to share his hope and vision, allowing ourselves to be transformed by his rising.
The poet Maya Angelou captures a sense of this in her poem “Still I Rise” as she speaks of the past injustice to an enslaved people. She talks about being able to overcome anything through a renewed sense of faith in self and hope. My prayer is that our celebration of Easter will fill us with greater self-confidence and hope, because we have encountered the Lord, who died and is Risen.