In 2005, I visited the Holy Land. Of all the places we planned to visit, I was looking forward to visiting the tomb of Jesus the most. Surely this would be one of the pinnacles of my Christian life to visit the empty tomb. When the day came, we approached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, walking the Via Dolorsa, stopping at significant places along the way. I was trying very hard to concentrate, to pray, to walk the way of the cross with Jesus, but it was an ordinary Tuesday with people going about their business as usual, shopkeepers trying to make a living, plying us with postcards, snacks, and whatever else they had to sell. It was also an ordinary Tuesday for the Orthodox priest who kept people in line and who ushered us into the tomb, four at a time, before scooting us out for the next group of waiting pilgrims.
I wish I could say that it had been one of the pinnacles of my Christian life, but seeing the empty tomb is not the greatest witness of the resurrection to me. On the evening of Easter Sunday, the text tells us that Jesus appeared to the other disciples and showed them his hands and his side. Likewise, when the others tell Thomas that they have seen the Lord, Thomas says he needs to see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put his finger in the mark of the nails and put his hand in Jesus’ side.
Notice that when Mary Magdalene tells the other disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” the text doesn’t tell us anything about her mentioning Jesus’ wounds. Later that evening, they have locked themselves in a room in fear, and Jesus appears to them. They see Jesus for themselves and see his wounds, but they tell Thomas, “we have seen the Lord,” and again there is no mention that they told Thomas of Jesus’ wounds.
Perhaps that is what is missing. Perhaps that is what is necessary for faith. The resurrection of Easter has not erased the cross of Good Friday. Perhaps beyond the glorious announcement of “I have seen the Lord,” they needed to know that the horrors of Good Friday were real.
I have been inside the empty tomb, but I have grown to have faith in the resurrection through the witness of others, of those who profess the resurrection but do not deny the reality of Good Friday. I need the whole of the paschal mystery.
We go through so many challenges in life and sometimes think we are going to be crushed beyond any hope. No one is exempt from these painful experiences. Once we have gone through a few of them, we might be able to remember God’s faithfulness and sustenance in our past experiences, but then something new happens that is perhaps is beyond what we have experienced and it becomes difficult to hold onto faith in the resurrection. In this, we need the witness of one another, people who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and who can say, “I have seen the Lord. He is risen.”
When I was on the precipice of something I knew would crush me to the ground, I told a dear Benedictine friend of mine, “I don’t think I can bear it.” In her great wisdom and experience of more than 70 years of religious life and more than 90 years of life, this Sister said with calm assurance, “In my experience, there has never been anything that God has not seen me through.” And she was right. In a manner of speaking, she bore the wounds of having endured much suffering in her own life and was able to testify to the resurrection, able to say, “I have seen the Lord.” I don’t think I would have believed her if I could not see the marks of the wounds she bore from life’s suffering. Perhaps that is what the disciples needed as well, a body risen from the dead, but still bearing evidence of death. In my own times of suffering, when others tell me that things will get better, that God will see me through, I can only lean on their assurances when I know they have suffered and have persevered, when they still bear the wounds of what they have endured and can say, “I have seen the Lord.”
Last Sunday, we heard the narration of the resurrection of Jesus, and today we have the disciples testifying to the resurrection. Apart from the glories of Easter Sunday and its celebration, in the ordinary days of Christian life we need the testimony of one another. On the days that the world has not stopped to collectively celebrate the resurrection, on the ordinary Tuesdays when it is business as usual, we need one another to attest to the resurrection in light of the reality of the cross.
In this Easter season, we rejoice not only because Jesus is risen from the dead, but because Jesus shows us that the chains of death have indeed been destroyed. And he who has been raised will raise us up as well. In the marks visible in his hands and side, we know Jesus has walked the way of suffering and death ahead of us and is risen. And with Thomas we proclaim, “My Lord and my God.”
Jenny DeVivo, Ph.D.
Jenny DeVivo, Ph.D.
Jenny DeVivo, OblSB, PhD is a biblical scholar who received her PhD in New Testament and Early Christianity from Loyola University Chicago. She spent 10 years teaching biblical studies and other courses in theology in various Catholic universities. Currently, she serves as the Executive Director of Mission and Heritage at her alma mater, Saint Xavier University in Chicago. She is also a spiritual director, trained in the Spiritual Guidance Training Program at the Siena Center, in Racine, WI. Jenny is a Benedictine Oblate with St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, MN. Her theology, ministry, and spirituality have been shaped deeply by various religious communities, particularly, in order of appearance, the Sisters of Mercy, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and the Benedictines.
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