John’s account of the empty tomb differs greatly from the earlier traditions. It is clear that for the earliest Church, Resurrection faith was grounded, not on the discovery of the empty tomb but in the post-Resurrection appearances of the glorified Christ to his disciples. John’s Gospel, though, following a later tradition, given it was composed approximately 60 years after the death and Resurrection of Jesus, allows the “other disciple” to come to faith in the Resurrection, through the sight of the empty tomb, without an angelic proclamation or an appearance by the Lord, as in the other Gospels.
In the earlier tradition, Peter had seen but had not yet come to faith, while Mary Magdalene had seen the stone rolled away but concluded that the body had been removed by human hands. The empty tomb, in the later tradition of John’s Gospel, functions as a “sign.” But a sign can be ambiguous. It leaves open two, real possibilities: either the body was somehow removed, or Jesus has been raised from the dead.
Here, then, we must distinguish a sign from a proof. In today’s account, the arrangement of the burial cloths was not proof for Peter that Jesus had been raised from the dead; whereas the “other disciple” came
to faith because he freely perceived the significance of the sign. Remember, in the Gospel of John, a sign is more than a miracle. It reveals the true identity of Jesus, especially his divinity which was couched in his humanity. John has one goal in mind as he sets out to pen his Gospel, that those who hear the proclamation of Jesus’ victory over sin and death may come to believe, as did the “other disciple.” Furthermore, through his use of signs, John wants the Christian to acknowledge that Jesus is more than a man. He is more than an ethical example. Jesus Christ was, is and always will be the Son of God. He alone is the longawaited Messiah, who would usher in a new heaven and a new earth. He alone would trample upon death, putting the devil at bay, and thereby squelch the eternal grip of sin. Through his selfoblation on the altar of the Cross, the Lord Jesus atones for our sins and makes expiation for our transgressions. Through the redemptive act, which includes his passion, death and resurrection, Jesus also reconciles the world to God the Father in a Communion lost by Original Sin.
The Crucifixion was the radical calling into question of the validity of that act by Jesus’ contemporaries. The Resurrection, in turn, is God’s vindication of the validity of his only
Son’s true identity and his redemptive mission. In the account of the empty tomb, which is the sign of the Resurrection par excellence, God has set his seal on all that Jesus had said and done in his earthly ministry.
For John the Evangelist, a proof coerces. Only a sign can produce the free decision of faith. It is the hope of the human author of the Fourth Gospel, that we, like the “other disciple,” like Christians before us, will always choose to assent to what has been revealed: Jesus crucified has risen from the dead in glory. In our joy, then, it is the hope of this priest that we may greet one another with the two words which sum up this assent of faith and, for that matter, this entire column: “Happy Easter” Fr. Comandini is managing editor of “The Catholic Spirit.”