John 20:1-9, Easter Sunday
I grew up hearing many superstitions about Good Friday, all from my maternal lola. I will always remember her two most bizarre warnings. First: “Huwag kayong maglalaro sa labas ng bahay at kukunin kayo ng mga Hudyo.” I asked mom what a hudyo was. She said, “Sila ang pumatay kay Hesus!” I had watched black-and-white tv shows about the passion. So, I thought hudyo were the spear-toting, helmet-wearing, shield-protected soldiers who captured Jesus. Mali. Romans pala ‘yon. Incidentally, we weren’t spared on ordinary days either when lola would say, “Huwag kayong magulo! Sige, kukunin kayo ng Muslim!” Funny how our elders were (a) so kidnap-averse, and (b) so racist! Anyway, her second warning on Good Friday: “Huwagkayong lalabas ng bahay. ‘Pag kayo’y naligaw, hindi kayo matatagpuan hanggang Easter Sunday.” We would be lost to the world because Jesus was dead. We would be found, if at all, only during the Resurrection.
I don’t know if it occurred to lola that Jesus himself was“lost” at first in the Resurrection. In today’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene and the cowardly apostles found him absent from where people had left him. Where was that? Well, shut away by heavy rock in a tomb where his body supposedly lay mummified, bound snugly in strips of cloth that went round and round the whole length of his dead body. Practically speaking, Jesus couldn’t have unwound himself from that human suman they made out of him. At best, he could’ve stood up and hopped around—remember the Lazarus story, when Lazarus made it to the tomb’s opening as Jesus called him out? That was all he could have done, all swaddled like that. He’d have needed other hands to “untie him and let him go,” like he requested people to do to Lazarus, remember? Okay, let’s say Jesus managed to unbundle himself. Still, he couldn’t have singlehandedly pushedopen that rock that practically shut him in. Mary Magdalene and the two cowardly apostles were also thinking practically. In fact, in all the Gospels, the Lord’s missing body did not strike his friends as a sign of the Resurrection, but a sign of theft, practically. They knew Jesus was dead. So, his missing body must’ve been stolen. But unbeknownst to all his friends, and to all the world for that matter, there was barely anything “practical” about the 1stEaster Sunday of our lives. The tomb was empty…but only because it burst with the miraculous action of God; the tremendous, unfathomable, and irrevocable action of God: raising up his Son from the dead. Because God would allow nothing and no one to keep his Son away, not especially from people he loved. But see, all that was “lost” on people Jesus loved, like Magdalene and the apostles. The Resurrection was “lost” on them until Jesus appeared to Magdalene, asking, “Why are you crying?”
While we walked in a procession one Good Friday, mom said, “See that cross? Whenever you sin, you make that cross heavier and heavier until Jesus has to carry it on Good Friday.”Now that I’m older, I know Jesus will never bear another cross again, let alone be nailed to one. The Lord is risen forever and no nail, no shroud, no tomb will ever suppress him, stop him, or subdue him.
But isn’t it also true, sisters and brothers, that you and I, many of us, unwittingly, we still have a “mummified” image of Jesus, wound up in tight strips of cloth and shut behind a stone lockedfrom outside? I mean, let’s face it. We often harbor and promote images of Jesus that are far from life-giving; images that terrorize rather than inspire, for example, images that deaden rather than enliven. “Jesus will get angry,” we continue to tell children. “Jesus will not bless you anymore when you don’t go to mass on Sunday,” we continue to tell our teen-agers. “Jesus is merciful now. But after that, he will be just,” we say as though divine justice begins where divine mercy ends. “Jesus hates gays and lesbians,” “Jesus will punish the separated and the divorced,” “Jesus will save only Catholics,” “Unbaptized babies will never see God…,” “nor will people who commit suicide.” And we have these “jewels” like, “If your son is a priest, your salvation is assured,” (ano kami, gate-pass?) “Put upon yourself some sacrifice that stings, & you will earn God’s mercy and forgiveness.” “Kukunin kayo ng mga Hudyo,” etc. In all this, dear sisters and brothers, the Resurrection is “lost.” It’s been stolen from us. And the thief? Our own mummified, static, and lightless images of Jesus, the supposedly Risen Son of God.
Nevertheless, the dark, empty tomb tells the Good News; again, empty only because divine action and divine freedom burst it empty! “I cannot be bound!” Jesus seems to whisper from within, and insistently. “I cannot be bound because I cannot be kept away from you. I understand that many of your scary misrepresentations of me are well-intended. I know that you only want people to keep coming to me. You want to preserve your faith, and your children’s. You want to keep your religion going, keep it alive, because it has kept you going and kept you alive all these years. So, thank you…but…I need to make you understand: I am the Lord of Life! I am life-giving, not deadening. I inspire, not deflate. I love to comfort, not dishearten. If you remember, I heal for a living and die for it. I don’t threaten and punish to keep myself alive and relevant. To fascinate and engage is my modus operandi, because that’s what keeps relationships fresh, gladsome, and hope-filled—not fear. For look at the people who have terrorized and alienated on my behalf. Their faith is scary but grown old. No. I am the Lord of Life. If there’s one place you will never find me, it’s a tomb that you lock from outside.”
Dear sisters and brothers, I think it will take a while before many of us, Catholics, finally see Jesus from the vantage point of the Resurrection. We’re more accustomed to seeing our faith from Lord’s Passion and Death. Our image of a good Christian is one who beats his breast at the foot of the cross, and runs home weeping over his sinfulness. Nothing wrong with that. But if I may, how about we begin imagining our faith from the very event that serves as its foundation, without which our faith would’ve never been born—from the Resurrection of Christ, from Jesus as Risen Lord. Maybe then, my lola’s superstition will come true: we will finally found anew when Easter Sunday comes around, because the Resurrection, once lost on us, will find us.