A couple of Sundays ago, we heard from John's Gospel the story about the raising of Lazarus from the tomb. If you remember in that story, Lazarus was the brother of two sisters whom Jesus loved, Martha and Mary. Jesus had delayed in coming, and Lazarus had died. Martha challenged him, "If you had been here, my brother would not have died." Jesus said, "He will rise again." Martha said, "I know, at the end of time." But then Jesus said, "No, I am the resurrection and the life. I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die."
Now that's an astounding statement. Martha, at the time, was kind of taken aback and obviously really couldn't understand what Jesus meant. Who had ever risen from the dead? No one in all of history. Then Jesus said to Martha, "Do you believe this?" Martha gave the only answer she could, "Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God." She couldn't understand the resurrection, but she did know Jesus, and she had come to understand that Jesus was the Son of God, God living in a human body, Son of God, but also son of Mary, a human like us in every way except sin. So Martha placed all her trust in Jesus, whom she had come to know so well.
Even in today's Gospel, as we hear what happened on that Easter Sunday morning, we realize those first disciples were totally confused. In fact, when you look at the other accounts of the resurrection in the other Gospels, there are all kinds of contradictions and misstatements and confusion. No one knew really what had happened. It would take a long time for them to gradually come to understand that yes, in fact, a human, someone like us had gone through death and rose to new life.
That's a truth that we want to try to fix deeply in our minds and in our hearts today — that Jesus has overcome suffering and death and violence and killing and all the terrible things that go on in our world through sin. Jesus has overcome all of that and offered us the opportunity to transform our lives by following Jesus and bringing the glory of the resurrection into our everyday life and into our world. How will that happen? In fact, if you go on just a little bit further in today's Gospel, you find that John takes up the story of Mary Magdalene again. She had been the first one to come to the tomb and run to Peter and the other disciple.
John tells us: "Mary stood weeping outside the tomb and as she wept, she bent down to look inside. She saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, and the other at the feet. They said, 'Woman, why are you weeping?' She answered, 'Because they have taken my Lord. I don't know where they have put him.' Then as she said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not recognize him. Jesus said to her, 'Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?'
Mary thought that he was the gardener and answered him, 'Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him; I will go and remove him.' Then Jesus said to her, 'Mary.' She turned and said to him, 'Rabboni,' (which means "Master"). Then Jesus said, 'Mary, go to my brothers and sisters and say to them, 'I am ascending to my God, who is your Father, who is your God.' So Mary Magdalene went and announced to all the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord, and this is what he told me.'"
You see what was beginning to happen. Jesus made himself present in the life of Mary Magdalene in a very powerful way. Because Jesus is alive and is in our midst, if we spend quiet time and reflect and enter into a spirit of prayer and reflection and contemplation, we too can experience Jesus present in our lives because Jesus is with us at every moment. But it's up to us to try to become alert to that presence, to experience it as Mary did. But then also as Mary did, to begin to spread the good news, to live in such a way that people will know that Jesus has come, that he's been put to death, but that he rose again, and that he showed us a way to new life.
The most important message I think of today's Gospel is obviously, first of all, that Jesus is alive, but then also that he has called you and me — everyone of us to be witnesses to that resurrection, to do as St. Paul says in the second lesson: to revere the things that are from above, to try to follow the way of Jesus which is the way of the reign of God, the way of peace, forgiveness and love, to turn away from violence and hatred and evil, to be so filled with the experience of Jesus in our lives that by the way we live, we begin to say to other people, "Jesus is alive. He has shown us the way to the fullness of life."
We are struggling to follow that way and we pray, all of us, that every person everywhere will begin to understand that only the way of Jesus is that way through death to new life. So if we live and begin to proclaim by our lives that Jesus is alive, we can carry on the work that Jesus gave to Mary Magdalene, to the other disciples; we can transform our world into the reign of God. Obviously, today on Easter we rejoice and we give thanks to God for what Jesus has done for us. But I hope we also leave this church with a determination to be like Mary of Magdala, and to proclaim by our lives the good news that Jesus has brought to us, that through suffering, death, we can come to a new life and make the reign of God happen in our world.
[Homily given at St. Philomena parish, Detroit, Michigan, April 16, 2017. The transcripts of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]