Faith, hope and forgiveness

The Lord has risen from the dead, alleluia! The Gospel for the Mass today does not give us a spectacular description of the Lord’s glorious resurrection but, rather, an ambiguous sign of it.

Apr 16, 2022

        Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Archbishop Emeritus John Ha

Easter Sunday of the Lord’s Resurrection (C)
Readings: Acts of the Apostles 10:34a, 37-43;
Colossians 3:1-4; Gospel: John 20:1-9

The Lord has risen from the dead, alleluia! The Gospel for the Mass today does not give us a spectacular description of the Lord’s glorious resurrection but, rather, an ambiguous sign of it. The tomb in which the crucified Lord was buried was empty, except for the linen cloths used to wrap His body. The empty tomb meant different things to the different disciples of Jesus who saw it.

Mary saw the empty tomb and thought, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb.” Her concern was, “Where have they put Him?” She had expected to see the dead body of the Lord in the tomb. That expectation of hers closed her mind to any experience or any explanation of the empty tomb other than a natural one: somebody had removed the Lord’s body. Her natural response was to run to Simon Peter, the head of the Apostles and the disciple Jesus loved, to report the matter to them.

Upon hearing Mary’s story, these two disciples lost no time to run to the tomb. Presumably, they intended to see and assess the situation for themselves. When they entered the tomb, they found the situation exactly as reported.

The Gospel does not say anything about Simon Peter’s reaction. This leaves us to wonder what he made of his discovery. Was Mary right in thinking that the body had been removed? Or was there something else? Of the disciple Jesus loved, the Gospel says, “He saw and he believed.” For sure, he “saw” what Mary and Peter did. But, what did he believe? The concluding verse of the Gospel clarifies it: “Till this moment, they had failed to understand the teaching of the Scripture, that He must rise from the dead.” Jesus’ beloved disciple believed that the Lord had risen from the dead. To him, the empty tomb was a sign of the Lord’s resurrection. It verified “the teaching of the scripture” and kindled his faith.

From these different reactions of the Lord’s disciples when they found His tomb empty, we can trace a common journey of faith in Christ. From a natural viewpoint manifested by Mary, there is a movement towards a questioning or perhaps even puzzled mind. With the aid of the Scriptures, the journey continues through the experience of signs until it arrives at faith in the risen Lord, as Mary later found when He called her by name.

With faith, believers are able to see further signs of the presence of the risen Lord in their lives and even when they encounter tragic events. As a result, tragic events, when accepted, are accepted in faith and contribute to its deepening.

A striking case took place in November 2015. An Abu Sayyaf group kidnapped a Sarawakian Catholic, Bernard Then, in Sandakan, Sabah. They brought him to Jolo Island (Philippines) and beheaded him there not long after. In very clear terms, John, Bernard’s father, forgave the kidnappers and beheader(s). He prayed that Bernard’s “sacrificial” death would be a lesson for all to respect the sanctity of life, for authorities to beef up security and peace in the nation and the region, and for the perpetrators to lay down their arms and give up their violence.

Like the empty tomb of Jesus, Bernard’s beheading could have triggered different reactions: from John’s forgiveness to all-out revenge, even if it meant bloodshed. John’s response averted all the others. It came from his Christian faith in the Lord’s death and resurrection. His faith led his Christian heart to forgive as the Lord forgave. For him, the “empty tomb” was the emptiness he experienced from his son’s tragic death, as his life seemed to have come to nought. However, his faith in the Lord’s resurrection gave him hope: that the risen Lord would raise his son to life. But he had another hope, this time having to do with the son’s captors and murderers: experiencing his forgiveness, they might be led to the faith that the Lord was there calling them to repentance and to His light, and respond positively.

John’s faith and forgiveness came from his own encounter with the risen Lord in his life experiences, inspired by the “teaching of the Scriptures”. There have been many other cases, though not so tragic, of such unequivocal expressions of the Christian faith rooted in the word of God in the Scriptures. A common pastoral experience of this comes from funeral Masses. It is not rare that entire families have been drawn back to their Christian faith after their encounter with the Word of God at the funerals of their departed loved ones. More than a few nonChristians too have asked for instruction and baptism after experiencing Catholic funerals.

Those who are ready to open their hearts and minds to the Scriptures are in a similar position to see signs of the Lord’s presence in their lives, even in the midst of ambiguities and sufferings. In the course of this experience, their faith in the Lord deepens and they are led to see that there is only one goal in life that matters: to rise to eternal life with the Lord on the last day. Pursuing this goal leads to the joy of Easter: the joy that comes from the Risen Lord.

A happy Easter

(Most Reverend John Ha is Archbishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese of Kuching)

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