The discovery of an empty tomb is the Gospel record of the historical event of Jesus’ resurrection. No witnesses saw Jesus rising from the dead. But what they did see was Jesus’ agonizing passion, his ignominious death on the cross and the empty tomb.
So how did the disciples come to believe that God raised Jesus from the dead? And how is an artist to depict this central mystery of Christian faith and the high point of the church’s liturgical year -- Jesus’ victory over sin and death in his glorious resurrection?
In a masterpiece painting titled, “Two Disciples at the Tomb,” the American painter Henry Ossawa Tanner captures the dramatic moment described in our Easter Sunday Gospel. The poignant image invites us to enter into the Easter mystery with the same confident joy, uplifting hope and deep faith of Mary of Magdala, Peter and John.
The Gospel notes that Peter and John ran to Jesus’ tomb. Before them, Mary of Magdala ran to Peter and John to announce the empty tomb. Why do these Gospel figures run at this critical moment?
Their eager haste evokes the deep longing of humanity for freedom from sin and despair that follows in the path of sin. After their harrowing experience of Jesus’ condemnation, passion and death on the cross, the disciples huddle in fear and abandonment.
Mary’s witness offers a first glimmer of hope. She who is called, by St. Thomas Aquinas and others, the “apostle to the apostles,” brings hope to the disciples who will in turn bring hope through their witness to Jesus’ resurrection.
Tanner captures the moment when Peter and John stand before the empty tomb in awe and wonder that leads to certain faith in Jesus’ resurrection. A warm golden light radiates from the dark tomb onto their astonished faces.
As they are bathed in the divine light of God’s power, so are we on this Easter day. Their awe-filled gaze at the empty tomb is our amazed gaze.
Like them, we see with the eyes of faith that God is reconciling each of us to friendship with him by raising his son from the dead. God’s loving desire to give us new divine life is the miracle of Easter morning.
Human beings can forgive and receive forgiveness from one another. Only God can forgive the sins of all humanity, over all times and all places. This is the good news of Easter meant to radiate into every aspect of life.
Bathed in the radiant light of the Resurrection, we are given new life and reconciled to God. Sin no longer has the last word on life. So I sing aloud the Easter praise, Alleluia! Jesus’ resurrection is the pattern of new divine life I am invited to live every day, as I pray, “speak to me, Lord.”