by Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
The disciples who came to the tomb on Easter discovered it empty and also encountered the appearance of angels. They did not immediately encounter the Risen Lord, but when they did encounter Him, many of them did not recognize Him because He seemed so ordinary. This is true in all the four Gospels. The most astonishing account is that of the Gospel of Saint Matthew in which an angel descended from heaven amidst a thunder blast and rolled away the stone to announce the Resurrection to the grieving women who arrived. The scene of the Resurrection in all of the Gospels is the same: an empty tomb, angels announcing its emptiness to those who first approach, and Jesus later appearing in an unrecognizable ordinary form.
The visit of Peter and John to the tomb is recounted in the Gospel of Saint John, immediately after the first visitation of Mary of Magdala to the tomb which she found empty. She ran to tell the disciples who rushed to see the site described by Mary. They returned home, but Mary stayed at the tomb weeping as she looked into it to find two angels in white sitting at the head and foot of where the body of Jesus had reposed. They asked her why she was weeping. Her response was that they took Jesus, and she did not know where He was. She then turned around and saw Jesus, whom she thought was the gardener. They began a small dialogue, and it is only when Jesus called Mary by name that she joyfully recognized Him. He then sent her to announce the Good News of His Resurrection to the disciples.
An empty tomb, the announcement of the Resurrection by dazzling angels, and an inability to recognize Christ due to His unremarkable appearance, are the key outward signs that mark the Resurrection. These are not fascinating diversions but part of the very meaning of the mission of Jesus Christ which was brought to its fulfillment in the Resurrection. Why did Jesus not appear in dazzling robes of glory at the tomb? Why did the angels make the announcement in place of the Lord? Why was He not recognized and when He was, as in the case of Mary of Magdala, seen as a fairly common person. Through these interventions, the Lord identifies even more with humanity and brings His humanity, through His risen body, into the very heart of the Trinity. We are all raised with Christ in a manner beyond human comprehension and this rising helps us to appreciate even more the descent of Christ among us. This descent is so well expressed in the words of Saint Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians as proclaimed on Ash Wednesday, “For our sake God made Him to be sin who did not know sin, so that in Him we might become the very holiness of God,” (2 Cor 5:21).
Jesus, in His Resurrection, reminds us of the new life we have and are to have with Him. He reminds us of the dignity we possess, created in His image and likeness, and of the abundance of life we now have through our redemption. Nothing stands in the way of God’s love for us and Christ, both in His divine and human nature, is the seal of this love which is ratified in His Cross and Resurrection. Whatever we face in life, the joys, and sorrows, are faced with Christ. He is always there with us even when we do not recognize Him and permit the tombs that we face to overshadow His Presence.
The overwhelming incomprehensibility of Christ’s descent for us is so well expressed in the Easter Exsultet proclaimed by the Church throughout the world at the Easter candle during the beginning of the Easter Vigil: “Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld. Our birth would have been no gain, had we not been redeemed. O wonder of your humble care for us! O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your Son! O truly necessary sin of Adam destroyed completely by the Death of Christ. O happy fault that earns so great and glorious a Redeemer.” Christ’s Resurrection, in the words of the same Exsultet, “dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to the mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.” After His Resurrection, Christ makes abundantly clear that He did not come to be among the mighty but among the lost and sinners. Hence, there is no display of grandeur at His Resurrection, but only a deeper identification with humanity. He leaves the glory to the angels. We are raised to a new life and ultimately to eternal life.
A few weeks ago, Pope Francis consecrated all humanity to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. She is the one who understood the true meaning of the Resurrection even before it occurred. Through her, flesh and blood were given to the Son of God. She was God’s perfect creature and a perfect human person. As she felt the pain and agony beneath the Cross, she was the only one who believed that the Resurrection would take place. After the Resurrection, it was Mary who held the apostles together. She dismissed their fears and doubts until the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost at which she was the first to be present. Mary handed onto them what she treasured in her heart. That is why Mary’s role supersedes the role of even Peter in the Church as she is the first to share in the fullness of the Resurrection through her Assumption, body and soul, into heaven. As Saint John Paul II reminded us, it was to her that the Lord appeared after His Resurrection, but the appearance went beyond the bonds of human experience just as did the Resurrection itself. Mary did not have to see to believe.
Pope Francis expressed that from Mary, “We learn interior silence, the gaze of the heart, the loving faith to follow Jesus on the way of the Cross which leads to the joyful light of the Resurrection.“ As we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ, as we encounter the signs of His Resurrection through the empty tomb, the words of angels and the lack of comprehension of His presence on behalf of His disciples, may we realize more fully, like Mary, how He descended to become one of us and raised us up into the very life of the Trinity. This is our faith, this is our hope, and this is the source of our love.
May God bless you and all of your families: May we thank God, that He made Christ to be sin, so that in Him, we might become the very holiness of God!
A Blessed Easter!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
April 15, 2022