You can always tell what is in a person’s heart by the way he or she reacts to unexpected news. It was easy for King Solomon to settle a dispute between two women by the way each of them reacted when he suggested that a baby be cut in half (1 Kings 3:16-28).
It was easy for Jesus to tell which of the Pharisees supported him and which suspected him by the way they reacted to his miracles and his teachings.
Similarly, we can see how much the apostle John loved Jesus by the way he reacted to the surprising news from Mary Magdalene. Once he heard that Jesus’ body was missing, he got up and ran to the tomb. He ignored the danger of being arrested as Jesus had been. His love was too strong; he just had to find out what happened to Jesus.
In this article, we want to take a look at John’s Easter Sunday story. And to do this, we’ll divide his story into three “acts.” Moving from act to act, we’ll see John’s faith deepening and maturing, to the point that it becomes a full and joy-filled resurrection faith—the very same faith that Jesus wants to give all of us.
Act One: An Open, Seeking Heart. John was in hiding with the rest of Jesus’ followers when Mary Magdalene came and told them what she had seen: the stone was rolled away. The tomb was empty. The burial cloths were folded and placed neatly to the side. Most of the disciples rejected Mary’s words, calling them “nonsense” (Luke 24:11). But John and Peter reacted differently. They thought that maybe, just maybe, something wonderful had happened. Their faith may have been weakened when Jesus died, but Mary’s news inspired them to investigate for themselves. So they left the others and ran to the tomb.
So act one tells us that the testimony of other people can be powerful enough to energize our faith. John was inspired by Mary’s description of the empty tomb. Her words moved him to act, and as we will see, he was greatly rewarded for it.
Every day, indeed throughout the day, the Holy Spirit is talking to us: about God’s love, about his holiness and power, about how he wants us to treat the people around us. These words come to us through our prayer, through Scripture, through our circumstances, and even through the words of other people. If we act like the other disciples, we may end up missing out on these messages. But if we follow Peter and John’s example and investigate any message that we think may be coming from the Lord, we’ll find new blessings. This is what resurrection faith is about. It’s about always being alert to the guidance that our God wants to give us.
Act Two: Logic and Faith. When John entered the tomb, “he saw and believed” (John 20:8). This was a decisive moment. He saw the evidence. He turned it over in his mind. He combined it with everything else Jesus had said and done. And the result was an increase of faith. In act one, we see how Mary’s testimony moved John to wonder if Jesus had risen from the dead. Now we can see how valuable reason and reflection are in strengthening and building up our faith.
Reason is a precious gift from God. We use it all the time to draw conclusions about the world around us. In the same way, when reason is enlightened by grace, it can help us draw conclusions about God and his work in the world. When John entered the tomb, he made faith-filled conclusions based on what he saw. He took in all the evidence—the burial cloth, the empty tomb, Mary’s story, his own memories of Jesus—and combined it with the faith he already had. This led him to interpret things differently than Mary Magdalene had done. When he saw the linens neatly folded in two separate piles, he reasoned that a thief who would steal a dead body would probably not bother to unwind the linens. What’s more, a thief wouldn’t want to get himself bloodied up in the process. So by ruling out a thief and ruling in Jesus’ prior miracles, John concluded that something miraculous had happened.
Act two tells us that reason can help us grow in our faith. It tells us that reason and faith are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they belong together. For instance, logic alone would never come to the conclusion that a wafer of unleavened bread can become the body of Christ. But when coupled with a faith that recalls miracles like the multiplication of the loaves, our logic can be raised up to see this as a very real possibility.
Think, too, about the way the apostles gave up their former lives so that they could follow Jesus of Nazareth. Logic alone would tell us that it is unreasonable for people to leave their families and their jobs to embrace a life of wandering, hardship, and persecution. But if we recall that these disciples had seen Jesus preach and heal, it makes more sense. If we recall that they saw the way he died—humble and innocent—and that they saw him risen from the dead, we come closer to the conclusion that it is a noble thing to follow Jesus so completely. Keeping all these facts about Jesus in the forefront of our minds can help us conclude—logically—that it really is worth following him all the way to heaven.
In short, Jesus is asking us to reason in faith. We reason in faith when we take the truths of Scripture, the teachings of the Church, and the inner stirrings of our hearts and apply them to the events of our days. It involves taking the time to reflect prayerfully so that we can hear God’s voice and sense his presence during our days. We reason in faith when we get into the habit of asking questions like, “What does God want to teach me in this Scripture passage from Mass? What did he just show me through that conversation with my friend? What words was he whispering to my heart as I took my morning walk?”
Act Three: Moving to Resurrection Faith. After exploring the empty tomb, Peter and John returned to the other disciples. Despite all they had seen in the tomb, the Gospel tells us that these two still “did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9). Something miraculous may have happened there. But they still didn’t grasp the whole picture.
Then Jesus appeared to them that evening. He showed them his hands and his side, and all the disciples were filled with joy. Twice Jesus said, “Peace be with you” (John 20:19-21). He knew that his disciples had suffered through a traumatic experience. He knew that their faith was shaken. He knew how much they needed his comfort and strength.
How moving that encounter must have been! How reassuring! Everything they suffered and everything they sacrificed was worth it. Jesus really had risen. John’s faith, as well as the faith of all the disciples, was raised to a whole new level. They came to resurrection faith. Just as Jesus told Mary Magdalene, he told the others that he was going to leave them to be with his Father. Then he breathed on them and gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they could continue his work in the world.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus has breathed the Holy Spirit into us as well. He has offered us the gift of his peace, and he has called us to do his work in our own day and time. Through the gift of his Holy Spirit, our eyes can be opened to see that Jesus is the risen Lord. And through this same Holy Spirit, we can experience God’s love, his peace, and his wisdom. We can have resurrection faith—faith that fills us with confidence and moves us out into the world as his witnesses.
Stages of Faith. John had faith before he went to the tomb. But it wasn’t yet resurrection faith. We could say he went from “maybe” faith (“Maybe Mary Magdalene’s words are true.”) to a faith based on evidence (“I see the empty tomb, and I believe that something happened.”) to a full faith based on his own encounter with the risen Lord (“I have seen Jesus, and I believe that he has been raised from the dead!”).
In one sense, this movement to resurrection faith is the reason why John wrote his Gospel. At the very beginning, he tells us, “We saw his glory” (John 1:14). And near the end, he tells us something even more specific: “Jesus did many other signs . . . that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
May we all come to deep, lasting, resurrection faith in Jesus, our Messiah and Lord.