Our celebration of the solemn Easter Vigil, before this empty tomb, introduces us to the greatest mystery of our faith, a mystery that we experience in the various moments of this vigil: the Liturgy of Light, the Liturgy of the Word, the Baptismal Liturgy and the Eucharistic Liturgy. During this celebration, the Church proclaims the good news of the Resurrection, particularly through the Gospel text we have just heard.
This year we meditate on the evangelist Luke’s account of the Resurrection. It is typical of Luke to speak of the women who followed Jesus during his ministry. It was they who remained faithful to their Master until the end. When he speaks of the burial of Jesus, Luke says: "The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment." (Lk 23:55-56).
Luke is very clear about the courage of these women. He makes them the first qualified witnesses to the event of the Resurrection. It was they, in fact, who were physically present not only during the Passion and crucifixion, but up to the very moment of burial, so that they could examine in detail the hastily manner in which Jesus had been buried. Then they returned to their homes, not only to mourn their beloved Master, but also to prepare the ointments for embalming after the end of the Sabbath. This is a gesture of care and attention, of love, that even death could not stop.
It is those same women, on the first day of the week, who discover the violation of the Tomb. Luke insists on their very human attitude; they are confused and disturbed at the sight of the open Tomb, and even more terrified at the sight of the two men who announce to them the event of the Resurrection. Despite their fear, however, these courageous women return to tell the eleven and the other disciples what they have just experienced. But they are not believed. The men, "did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense" (Lk 24:11), to the point that Peter personally goes to verify the fact with the authority that belongs to him.
Luke mentions these women by name: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary mother of James. He insists that it was to them, as concrete persons with a name and a mission, that the joyful news of the Resurrection was first announced. Without the courage of these women, without that gratuitous love of theirs that made them capable of seeing and believing what was humanly impossible, the disciples would have been caged in by their fears. In fact, it was only the women who ventured out "on the first day of the week, very early in the morning" (Lk 24:1); it was they who set in motion the proclamation of the Resurrection, leading the apostles out of the Cenacle and, from there, on throughout the world.
The idea of the Church gathered in the Cenacle is appealing. The Cenacle is certainly a symbol of the communion of faith. There the Lord instituted the Eucharist and the priestly ministry; there He gave us the commandment to love and serve one another; there He appeared to the Apostles and Thomas to strengthen their faith. It was also there that Mary, the Apostles and the disciples waited in a spirit of prayer for the coming of the Spirit, at Pentecost. But the Upper Room is also the place from which the Church must go out to seek the risen Christ; to venture out into the world and, in it, try to understand the hidden meaning of the signs of Christ's presence. These signs are eloquent but mysterious. They are the sign of a stone rolled away from the entrance to the Tomb, the sign of an empty and apparently violated Sepulchre, the sign of an enigmatic but joyful message: "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" (Lk 24:5).
We too, perhaps, are tempted to seek Jesus "among the dead." We are tempted to cry out to the Master and to beg Him to put an end to the culture of death and destruction, to hatred, to wars, to ethnic conflicts, to the uprooting of entire civilizations and to the plight of millions of displaced immigrants. In the face of this reality, the joy of Easter seems far away. Yet, Christ is the living God! He is a reality we can touch, not a generic, ethical foundation of politically correct values. Since Easter, the Risen Christ has been present and at work in the world, and where the living and ecclesial faith of the disciples welcomes him, a new world truly begins, even amidst the contradictions of the present. We are truly "seekers of life and hope": people who search, knowing that, hidden but true, a river of living water flows in the heart of the world. Like the women of the Gospel, like Peter and John, we must once again learn to seek it.
Christ is the hope of those who seek Him with faith and courage. He is the hope of those who do not remain locked in their own security, but venture out to find Him in this troubled world. This is the road that the Church is called to take. This is the road we are called to take together, as a community of faith.
The Church grows and is nourished by the active participation of each one of us. After Peter went to the tomb to verify what the women had said, "he went away, wondering what had happened" (Lk 24:12). Peter ran to the tomb, confused and skeptical about what the women had told him. Just like the men around him, he paid no credit to their testimony. But he came back changed. He had to admit that the Master surprised him, even astounded him, with the gift of His silent and living presence. He had to recognize that Jesus was no longer "among the dead", that is, among those who no longer await God's surprises.
Let us be amazed by the surprises that God has planned for us. This is the true joy of Easter. Even in the midst of suffering and hatred, even in the midst of so many events that we cannot control, even in the face of the signs of death that surround us, the God of the Lord Jesus Christ is alive. He will not let death prevail – as we will sing tomorrow morning in the joyful sequence, "Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando", “Death and life fought in a wondrous battle”. What was the result? "Dux vitæ mortuus regnat vivus", “The prince of life, dead, reigns immortal”.
May our Church, where the joyful news of Easter was first announced, be a beacon of hope for God's people along the path of the Gospel. Let us be the first to walk together, like the women on Easter Sunday morning, and the first to run to spread the good news of hope in the Resurrection, together on the same road, proclaiming to the world the reason for our hope in the One who is truly risen!
† Pierbattista Pizzaballa
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem