Acts 10:34a,37-43; Ps 118:1-2,16-17,22-23; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9+,10-18.
Whom are you looking for?
What does Easter mean to you? There are many symbols of the season around us—candy Easter eggs on sale at CVS, special dinners with family. The word Easter has a common origin with the German "Ostern," the season of the rising sun, the spring that brings new life. But what do these eggs and sunlight symbolism mean for us? Of course, they represent the resurrection of Jesus.
But what can that mean? In asking this, we are not that different from the disciples of Jesus on the first Easter morning. The gospel tells us that they "did not know" what to make of the events that first Easter morning. After Jesus crucifixion, when the Sabbath is over, Mary Magdalene rushes to the tomb where he was hurriedly buried. The stone has been rolled way. Deeply perplexed, she dashes to Peter and the other disciples, telling them that someone has stolen Jesus's body and "We don't know where they put him." Peter and the beloved disciple rush to the tomb and find it empty. Peter doesn't know what to think. For the gospel tells us he "did not yet understand the Scripture." Mary Magdalene approaches the tomb again and a man she thinks is the gardener asks her why she is weeping. "Because they have taken away my Lord and I don't know where they laid him." Words of ignorance are used over and over in these accounts: "We don't know, they did not understand, I don't know."
Maybe we can come to know better what Easter means if, like the disciples, we admit we don't really understand. Mary Magdalene acknowledged she did not know what was going on. How could she know? The one in whom she had placed all her hope had just been put to death? She had seen him heal the sick and forgive the guilty. His love—for the wounded, for the despairing, and for her—had drawn her to follow him throughout Galilee and Judea. She had been transformed by his words of peace and good news for the poor. But now he was gone. She had been there at Calvary. She had seen how it ended.
In this state of profound loss, the risen Jesus approaches Mary Magdalene. Perhaps her grief makes it impossible for her to recognize him. He says to her: "Whom are you looking for?" This question is identical to Jesus first words in John's gospel, when he says to two of the Baptist's disciples: "What are you looking for?" (Jn 1:38). Jesus repeats the same question twice to the soldiers brought by Judas to arrest him in Gethsemane: "Whom are you looking for?"
Mary Magdalene can only answer by saying: "I am looking for my Lord"—for the one who had begun to fulfill my longings for healing, for freedom, my deepest hope for love. As she puts her need into words, the risen Jesus turns to her and speaks her name: "Mary." The risen Jesus does not preach a sermon to her about the doctrine of the resurrection or about morality. He speaks in the most intimate way he can: Mary! This is what she has been looking for: once again to hear the voice of the one who had given her hope and love and the beginning of joy. The one whose love had led him even to the cross. His voice now tells her: Mary--your hopes are not in vain; your love is not disappointed; my love for you is stronger than death. Her response is equally intimate: "Rabbouni, dear teacher."
Are we able to say what we are looking for as Magdalene was? Her awareness of her deep need was the occasion for her coming to know the presence of the risen Jesus. We, too, are looking for freedom from death and for hope in life and love that endures. Most of us have experienced loss—the death of a parent or close friend, or spouse. Perhaps we ourselves are facing illness or the breakdown of a relationship. And as we read the papers about the killing in Iraq Sudan, or the anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, it sometimes seems almost impossible to understand how to sustain hope. Can we acknowledge that we don't understand? If we are asked what we are looking for, are we able to put our longings for joyful love and peace into words? Let us try to. For if we do, Easter tells us that the risen Jesus will speak our own names as he did to Magdalene. And hearing our own names spoken by the risen Christ is hearing God say to us—in person—you are mine. I will carry you beyond loss and death to the fullness of the life that you most deeply seek. That is what we are looking for. That is what the risen Jesus brings us. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
David Hollenbach, S.J.
St. Ignatius Church
April 11, 2004