[Excerpted from the March/April 2018 issue of Emmanuel. Brother John R. Barker, OFM, is a Franciscan friar of the Province of Saint John the Baptist (Cincinnati, Ohio) and Assistant Professor of Old Testament Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.]
Although the gospel reading for the Easter Vigil has the disciples encountering the risen Christ, the reading for the Mass of Easter Day has them still wondering what has happened. Mary of Magdala arrives only to discover that the tomb has been disturbed and that the Lord is no longer in it. She assumes he has been taken away. Simon Peter and “the other disciples” also encounter the empty tomb, and although the unnamed disciple (and author of John’s Gospel) “saw and believed,” we are told of all of them that “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”
There is the reality, which they see before them, and there is the comprehension of the reality, which takes a little longer. It will only be when they actually encounter the risen Lord that they will begin ― begin, mind you ― to comprehend what has happened, what God has done in Christ. As the Gospel readings in the next couple of weeks will remind us, it took time and patience for understanding to come.
The same is true for us who have walked the Lenten journey and have arrived at the empty tomb. Perhaps some of us can say we have encountered the risen Lord and have come to believe. But for some of us, perhaps, the smell of the tomb still lingers.