Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

The Resurrection occurs “in the morning of the first day of the week” (Jn 20:1).

St, Thomas Aquinas recalls that creation began on “the first day,” “God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day” (Gen 1:5).

Thomas reflects that the “first day” is significant because, the Evangelists are “referring to a mystery, for this day of the resurrection was the beginning of a new creation” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, 2471).

Psalm 104 looked forward to the renewal of creation: “When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth” (Ps 104:30). Paul speaks of the “new creation” in Christ: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal 6:15).

Mary Magdalene was the first to come to the tomb. Thomas comments, “As soon as the Sabbath was over, on the first day of the week, before daylight, she [Mary Magdalene] came to the tomb, incited by her exceedingly great love” (Commentary on John, 2473). Augustine said that this was because, “she was more ardent and more devoted to Christ.”

Mary Magdalene’s love is related to her experience of forgiveness: “We read that ‘Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much’ (Lk 7:47). And for this reason the Evangelist mentions her by name. This is also the reason why the Lord appeared to her first, ‘He appeared first to Mary Magdalene’ (Mk 16:9)” (Commentary on John, 2472).

Thomas recalls the words of the Song of Songs that the flashes of love “are flashes of fire” (Song 8:6).

Thomas reports: “Because of Mary’s exceeding love she could not delay telling what she had seen to the disciples, ‘so she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved’” (Commentary on John, 2476).

Thomas reflects: “One who hears the words of God should tell it to others without delay: ‘Let him who hears say, ‘Come’ (Rev 22:17). Mary came to those who were the more important, and who loved Christ more ardently, so that they might either look for Jesus with her or share her sorrow” (Commentary on John, 2476).

Mary does not realize that Jesus has risen because she tells the disciples that someone has taken Jesus’ body. Thomas connects Mary’s lack of understanding with the words of the Gospel, “It was still dark” (Jn 20:1).

The Gospel tells us, “Peter then came out with the other disciple” (Jn 20:3).Thomas applies these words to ourselves: “Those who want to look into the mysteries of Christ have in a sense to come out from themselves and from their carnal way of living” (Commentary on John, 2477).

Thomas notes that “they both ran,” because they are those “who loved Christ more than the others” (Commentary on John, 2478). According to Thomas, the Beloved Disciple, who arrived first, may represent the Jewish people, to whom Christ came first. Peter may represent the Gentiles who came later.

Thomas comments, “These two people were both running over the course of this world: the Jews using the written law, the Gentiles using the law of nature. Or, they were both running by their natural desire for happiness and for a knowledge of the truth, which all men desire to know by their very nature” (Commentary on John, 2480).The Gentiles came to knowledge of God more slowly than the Jewish people.

The Beloved Disciple, representing the Jewish people, “was the first to look upon the mysteries of Christ, and the promise was first made to the Jews” (Commentary on John, 2480). Paul writes: “They are the Israelites, and to them belong the … promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ” (Rom 9:4).

Thomas comments: “The fact that they ran together was a sign of their passionate devotion. John arrived first because he was a younger man than Peter. But considering the mystical sense, Peter follows John because the Gentiles who were converted to Christ were not joined to another church different from the church of the Jews, but were grafted on to the already existing olive tree and church” (Commentary on John, 2481).

Thomas offers another explanation: “In the mystical sense, these two disciples stand for two kinds of people: John represents those who are devoted to the contemplation of truth, and Peter stands for those whose main interest is to carry out the commandments” (Commentary on John, 2487).

Although Thomas usually defers to those in the contemplative life, in this case he recognizes the value of the active life:

Now it very often happens that contemplatives, because they are docile, are the first to become acquainted with a knowledge of the mysteries of Christ ‑ but they do not enter, for sometimes there is knowledge, but little or no love follows. While those in the active life, because of their continuing fervor and earnestness, even though they are slower to understand, enter into them more quickly, so that those who are later to arrive, are the first to penetrate the divine mysteries: ‘So the last will be first, and the first last’ (Mt 20:16) (Commentary on John, 2487).

The Gospel says that the Beloved Disciple saw and believed. It might indicate that he believed that Christ had risen. However, Augustine thought that it only meant that he believed what Mary Magdalene had said because the passage continues, “They did not understand the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead” (Jn 20:9).

Thomas offers another interpretation from John Chrysostom who thought that the Beloved Disciple realized that Jesus had risen: “He saw the linen cloths so folded and arranged which would not have been the case if the body had been furtively snatched away; and believed, with a true faith that Christ had risen from the dead” (Commentary on John, 2489).

Some may think that the disciples expected Jesus to rise since previously He said that He would. Thomas responds: “We should say that in keeping with the way they heard His parables, they failed here also to understand many things which He had said plainly, thinking that He meant something else” (Commentary on John, 2488).

Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.

References to Thomas Commentary on the Gospel of John may be found in the translation by Fr. James A. Weisheipl, O.P. and Fabian R. Larcher, O.P., published by St. Bede’s Publications.

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