Monday in the Octave of Easter
How would you react if you saw Jesus, face-to-face? It is well worth considering for we will, one day, have such an encounter.
Today’s Gospel tells us that two Mary’s ran “fearful yet overjoyed” from the tomb and encountered Jesus on the way. Curiously they embraced His feet, perhaps not our own reaction of choice. Yet it speaks to the deep love these women must have had, a love inseparably intertwined with their faith in Him as Lord. We might recall, for example, the woman (perhaps one of these women?) who in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 7:38-50) anointed His feet with her tears. He said of her, “…her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love.” Indeed in John’s Gospel, the woman who anoints His feet with oil is named Mary. (John 12:3)
Imagine the love that must have overcome them both when they saw Him alive on the road! Perhaps they embraced His feet because they could not stand! In any case it seems that the depth of their sorrow was overfilled with the abundance of their joy.
This encounter with the Lord is contrasted by the response of the very first witnesses of the Resurrection: the guards. Tradition has it that they were Roman, since it was Pilate that permitted the tomb to have guards (Mt. 27:65). Yet the original Greek text could also be taken to mean that he merely told them to use their own Jewish guards, which in one way makes more sense, given that the guards in today’s Gospel go to the chief priests rather than Pilate to tell what happened at the tomb. If they were Roman guards, perhaps they were so spiritually shaken they felt the need to go to the ones who might be able to explain what had happened. In any event, it was they who first saw the death of Death. And what is their response? To hide the Truth.
Granted, they were soldiers and were following orders. But they saw what none of the followers of Christ saw; the women saw the empty tomb and the risen Lord and ran joyfully to spread the news, and the soldiers saw a very dead man burst from a stone tomb and were content to say nothing.
What is our own heart’s response to news of the Resurrection, we who have seen neither the tomb nor Jesus as He was seen on that first Easter? The soldiers’ story is much easier to believe, a story that is still around today. How often are we told that the Resurrection is impossible? There are even Christian writers who claim it is but a metaphor, or that it was merely a spiritual event. Who, then, do we believe: the witnesses, saints, and martyrs since that day, or the “soldiers” of our time who tell us we are mistaken? To believe without seeing requires the same humility and love that caused the women to embrace the feet of Christ, the feet that trekked to Hell and back for us all.