Some of the men went to verify. Well, the tomb was empty all right, but they didn't see him. It's all over! And then the explosion of joy, when they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
Speaking to the apostles after the Last Supper, just before going to his agony in the garden, Jesus foretold, "You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy . . . . You have sorrow now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you." (Jo. 16,20-22).
We can easily imagine that sorrow of the apostles when they saw their master, whom they admired and loved, sincerely, put to a cruel death as a vulgar criminal.
All their cherished dreams of a restoration of the kingdom of Israel, of which they would be heroes, were dashed to pieces. They were afraid for their own lives and stayed inside, behind locked doors, for fear of the Jews (Jo. 20,19).
Saint Luke has left us a description of the feelings of two of the disciples (Lk. 24,13-24). All their hopes shattered, they were going back home to Emmaus, sadly discussing the death of Jesus.
To the stranger who has joined them, they explain: "Jesus of Nazareth was a prophet, mighty in work and word before God and all the people. Our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be sentenced to death and crucified him. We were hoping that it was he who should redeem Israel."
They were hoping; they hope no more; it's already the third day since he died. Oh! yes, some women went to the tomb, before daylight, and found it empty. They said they had seen angels who said he was alive — but you know women!
Some of the men went to verify. Well, the tomb was empty all right, but they didn't see him. It's all over!
And then the explosion of joy, when they recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread.
They must return right away and tell the others in Jerusalem. Do you see them running in their haste to bring the good news? And they find the disciples excited: "the Lord has risen indeed and has appeared to Simon" (Lk. 24,34).
To add to the excitement and the joy, behold, while they are talking about these apparitions, Jesus stands among them.
At first they are panic-stricken; they think it's a ghost. All kinds of ideas come to their mind. Jesus reassures them, shows them the wounds of his hands and feet (Lk. 24,39), of his side (Jo. 20,20); invites them to see and to touch: "A spirit does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have" (Lk. 24,39).
It is too good to be true; their surprise and their joy are so great, that their mind cannot grasp the fact. To convince them that everything is very real, Jesus asks them: "Have you something here to eat?" and he eats in their presence and gives them what remains.
After receiving his instructions and the power to forgive sins, the disciples remained alone. I doubt they were able to sleep that night!
I imagine Peter and John telling how they ran to the tomb, when Mary Magdalene told them it was empty. They had found it empty in fact, with the shroud lying on the shelf undisturbed, and the handkerchief rolled, as it had been tied around the head of Jesus.
Did they pick them up, or did Joseph of Arimathea, the owner of the tomb?
Then Peter would tell again how he had seen the Lord. They surely had heard about the apparition of Jesus to Mary Magdalen and how she had at first mistaken him for the gardener, and also about the message he had entrusted to her (Jo. 20,11-18). And the two disciples from Emmaus would repeat all that Jesus had explained to them and how he had interpreted the Scriptures, showing how they referred to him (Lk. 24,27).
James also, the "brother" of the Lord, to whom Jesus had appeared (I Cor. 15,8) — according to one of the apocryphal gospels on the very day of the resurrection — would be there telling how he could never believe in Jesus (Jo. 7,5) and even thought he was mad (Mk. 3,21) and how by his death he had brought such shame on all the family. Now all his incredulity had been swept away and replace by a wonderful joy.
When you have seen the joy of a convert who has just found the faith — especially if it was after a long night of doubts — you can imagine something of the apostles' joy on that first Easter day.
They were just coming out of the total darkness, which had filled their souls for two long days and nights, into such a wonderful light.
True, Jesus had upbraided them for their lack of faith, for not believing those who had seen him after he was risen (Mk.16,14), but this was blotted out by the joy of seeing him again and hearing his voice.
Their faith was still very impure: they will still be asking about the restoration of Israel (Acts 1, 6); but they are not thinking about it today. Their joy is pure joy; they cannot think about anything else but that "the Lord is risen indeed."
This joy nobody would be able to take away from them; it would remain with them forever, for nothing now would be able to shake their faith in the resurrection of Jesus. They would be able to say with Saint John: "What we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and our hands have handled... we announce to you" (I Jo.1,1-3).
At Easter we share in the joy of the apostles: the resurrection of Jesus is the pledge of our own.
Fr. Leonard M. Puech, O.F.M. "The Joy of Easter." In Spiritual Guidance (Vancouver, B.C.: Vancouver Foundation of Art, Justice and Liberty, 1983), 240-244.
Republished with permission of the Vancouver Foundation of Art, Justice and Liberty.
The late Fr. Leonard M. Puech wrote a popular column for the B.C. Catholic from 1976 to 1982. Those columns were compiled and published by the Vancouver Foundation of Art, Justice, and Liberty as the book Spiritual Guidance in 1983. The VFAJL is interested in reprinting Spiritual Guidance. Anyone who would like to contribute to this worthy cause please write: Dr. Margherita Oberti, 1170 Eyremount Drive, West Vancouver, B.C. V7S 2C5.Copyright © 1983 Fr. Leonard M. Puech
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