Inside the Tomb of Jesus – Church of the Holy Sepulchre Jerusalem
Gospel – John 20:1-9
On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead.
Reflection by Br. Peter Bray, FSC
Mary returns from the tomb and tells the apostles that the stone has been rolled away from the tomb and that Jesus’ body is not there. Peter and John are confused and concerned about what has happened to Jesus’ body and they run to the tomb. They want to know what is going on. John gets there first but waits for Peter. This is the John who lies at Jesus’ side at the Last Supper and is close to Jesus when he dies. It is interesting that John in the end “believed” as a result of seeing the cloth that covered Jesus’ head but was rolled up in a separate place. This belief was not some set of doctrines, some intellectual understanding. Rather it was an awareness that something special had happened. There is a sense of John relaxing into a security of deeply knowing God’s goodness towards him. He saw and believed! However, it was an empty tomb that he saw, there was no revelation of Jesus. Yet in that absence he believed, trusting in the midst of his confusion and real lack of understanding, that God’s hand was at work here. John saw the signs and believed.
Out of the confusion and lack of understanding comes faith. John is aware that he is loved by Jesus and he in his turn loves Jesus, and out of this awareness, he has eyes to see. It is this openness that leads him to recognize Jesus because of the little sign of the towel being rolled up and set aside by itself. John’s love enabled him to see while Peter still remained confused and bewildered.
As we reflect on the ordinariness of our own lives, our love for Jesus can lead us to see him in the other people with whom we engage, in the ordinary events that make up our lives, in the small voice within calling us to live life more fully. Seeing such signs and believing that God is speaking to us through them, reminds us that resurrection can be part of our everyday life. There are things happening each day that can bring us new life and make a difference in our lives and those with whom we engage if only we are attentive to them. In the midst of heartache and confusion, the resurrection of Jesus can give us new life, as it did John. After all, Jesus said the reason he came was to enable us to live life to the full.
I came to Bethlehem at the end of 2008 to be Vice Chancellor (President) of Bethlehem University. I have had the great blessing of working with and for some amazing people. My position has provided me with numerous opportunities to be inspired and enriched. One of my favourite memories is getting to know and work with Mira, a student from Hebron who became an ambassador for Bethlehem University in her second year. As an ambassador, she had the chance to speak with many visitors who came to the University. In doing that she became aware that as students engaged with visitors and listened to them, it was possible that there could be a change in the mindsets of both visitors and ambassadors about a variety of things. As she reflected on those experiences she began to wonder if students engaged with one another and really listened to each other then maybe their mindset might change about different things they don’t really have the chance to talk about. So, she and another student started a group called “Books not Walls” to provide such an opportunity. I found it very encouraging and inspiring to see her develop this group. She had them read some agreed-upon book and then come together. The point of this gathering was not for individuals to argue about aspects of the book, but rather to understand why the other person thought the way they did about a character, situation, or some aspect of the book. The focus was on getting students to really listen to one another and understand what the other students were saying. This was very liberating for the students to have someone really listen to them. In the midst of all the challenges Mira faced in coming from Hebron to Bethlehem, I was inspired by her willingness to take a step to help other students find a way to listen and support one another.
Another favourite memory is talking to Almataz about his attitude towards his education. He was one of our students from Al Walaja, a village near Bethlehem. His family home was demolished by the Israeli military and then over time his family and family friends rebuilt it. I was speaking to him shortly after his home had been demolished by the Israeli military for the second time. He said to me: “They have taken my home, they have taken my land, they have taken my freedom, but they cannot take my education!” It is that resilience, determination, and courage that I find so inspiring. Many, if not most, of the people I speak to outside of Palestine really, have little idea of what our students have to endure, so such stories touch them and many of these people become advocates for the students.
Questions for Reflection
- Look back on some of the highs and lows of your own life. What can you identify as giving you a new vigor, a new awareness of beauty, and an encouragement to be creative? What is God saying to you through these incidents?
- When you reflect on your life and what takes up most of your time and energy, what conclusions do you draw about the priorities you have?
- Think of a time when your confusion or depression lifted and you became aware of a new way to imagine a way ahead. How do you see God’s hand at work in that experience?
- What is it that you are doing to enrich your life and the lives of people around you?
- What signs have there been in your life that, like St. John’s seeing the towel rolled up and set aside, have shown you something of God’s love for you and a call to a deeper awareness of where your life might go?
- How comfortable are you with not having answers, of living with the ambiguity of just having signs, like St. John, and trusting in God’s incredible love for you?
- To what extent are you willing to trust an unknown future to a known God?