Seeing By Love
Easter Sunday once more finds us in a changed world. As we did last year, when we celebrated Holy Week in empty churches, with the people either watching the liturgies, or praying along at home, we still celebrate in the midst of a pandemic, with a year of upheaval behind us and uncertainty ahead. Though, thanks be to God, we have the freedom to celebrate more publicly this year, the reminders of our difficult situation certainly haven’t receded very far. Perhaps we still wonder at how to receive and experience the joy of Easter. How do we have access to the triumph of Jesus when the world around us seems very much stuck in the suffering of Good Friday?
The Gospel passage the church provides for Easter morning gives us a beginning to an answer. It tells us who is most likely to learn the good news of the Lord’s resurrection, who is likely to understand first that He has triumphed over all things, and has now begun, even in our suffering world, the final glory of heaven’s life.
St. Augustine, in commenting on this passage, points out that in John’s Gospel, only Mary Magdalene, Peter, and John are named among those who witness the evidence of Christ’s rising on Easter morning. Other will see and believe later, but only these three see the truth at first. What sets these three apart from everyone else present among Jesus’ grieving followers? Augustine tells us that it is love that distinguishes them. Mary is at the tomb as early as the Jewish law would allow, immediately after the end of the Sabbath, because love draws her to be as close as possible to her master’s tomb, thus she sees. Peter and John, upon hearing this, run with all their might, because love calls them to hope, thus they come to the tomb. Peter enters with abandon, John enters with quiet consideration, because love of their Lord and friend draws them into the empty tomb, thus they see. Mary, Peter, and John witness the first signs of the resurrection because they love Christ more than anyone.
The ancient axiom teaches us that “where love is, there is the eye.” Love confers a special sort of vision that allows us to see our beloved ones from afar, to see them in greater detail, to look out for them when they are not pre-sent. We tend to see that which we love more clearly than anything, since desire etches the image on our hearts. Thus those who love Christ most among those first Christians were uniquely able to see the signs of hope He left. Indeed, Mary Magdalene would, moved by love, remain by the tomb long enough to see Christ Himself, alive and glorious.
This same truth applies also for us. If we wish to see Christ, to see His glory and presence, to see the signs of His victory already planted around us, we must love Him. We must desire to see Him for His own sake. His face must be the image etched on our souls by holy desire. If we seek the signs of hope as an end in themselves, we may miss them, since we are then really looking for ourselves. But if we set the sights of our souls on Christ and Christ only, then love will carry us where fear cannot. Then we will indeed be among those who know the mighty joy of the Easter feasts, discerning, even among all the wild things of this world, the serene and perfect face of our heart’s Beloved.