Easter Sunday (C) (Morning Mass)
Investigating the Scene
Investigating the Scene
Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20:1-9
Dear sisters and brothers, do any of you watch CSI? You know what CSI stands for right? Crime Scene Investigation. As you know, this TV series is about how a team of crime scene investigators goes about catching the bad guys. Each episode has its own story. But, if you watch the series enough, you will know that every episode shares important similarities with all the others. The CSIs usually follow the same process. There are at least three steps.
The first step involves locating the crime scene. Sometimes, this requires nothing more than responding to a 911 call. But, at other times, the team has to put in more effort. A body may have been dumped someplace, for example. And the team needs to find the location of the murder, because that’s where much of the evidence will be found, evidence that will be crucial for uncovering the truth of what actually happened, and for catching the murderer.
Once the scene has been found, the yellow police tape goes up around it, and the team gets to work. It’s quite amazing, isn’t it, the kind of evidence that the team uncovers? Usually, to the untrained eye, the scene says nothing, except that a crime has been committed. But then, the CSIs will use many different techniques and tools to reveal what cannot be seen with the naked eye. They have special powders for lifting fingerprints, for example, chemical solutions for revealing bloodstains -- even after they have been cleaned up -- and colored lights to reveal bodily fluids and gunshot residue. Gradually, the scene is made to reveal its secrets. The truth of what actually happened is uncovered. But that’s not the end of the story. The third and final step involves one or more of the CSIs going to court to present the evidence that they have gathered. And, if all goes well, with the help of their testimony, the bad guys are made to pay for their misdeeds. Crimes are transformed into a conviction.
Locating the scene, studying the evidence, and giving testimony. These are the three key steps for the work of crime scene investigation, three important stages for arriving at the truth. And, strange as it may seem, on Easter Sunday – the first day in a season that lasts for fifty days – our Mass readings also propose to us three similar steps for entering into the great mystery, the marvelous experience, of Easter.
Consider how the story begins in the gospel. It opens with Mary of Magdala stumbling upon what she takes to be the scene of a crime. Coming to Jesus’ tomb, she finds the stone rolled away, and she immediately thinks the worse. They have taken the Lord from the tomb… For Mary, the empty tomb would, of course, be only the latest in a whole series of crime scenes. For before being buried in the tomb, her beloved Jesus had been unjustly condemned, first before the Jewish Sanhedrin, and then in the Roman Praetorium. He had been savagely scourged at the pillar, cruelly mistreated on the road, and then shamefully crucified on Calvary. But, for Mary of Magdala, the tomb is the scene of greatest importance, for it is here that she last saw her Lord. This is the place where she laid him to rest, and with him, all of her hopes and dreams. If Mary is to have an experience of the mystery of the Resurrection, if she is to enter into the joy of Easter, the tomb is the place to begin.
But locating the scene is only the first step. And, at this point, Mary is still looking at the tomb with untrained eyes. She is not yet gathering evidence like a CSI. She is still unable to penetrate the mystery. But at least she is at the scene. The other disciples are not even there yet. It is only when Mary runs off to call them that Peter and the beloved disciple come to investigate. And together they begin to uncover the truth. They begin to enter into the mystery. Not satisfied with remaining outside, they go into the tomb, and begin to see the evidence in a different light. Beyond the moved stone and the empty space, they notice also the burial cloths that had been used to wrap Jesus. Would grave robbers have bothered to remove them from the body? They notice also the cloth that had been used to cover Jesus’ head. It’s been neatly rolled up. Would criminals have bothered to do that?
The gospel tells us that, at this point, the disciples still do not understand the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. But they are learning. Gradually, they are coming to see things with new eyes. They are learning to do what the second reading advises us to do: to think of what is above, not of what is on earth. Not that they are to try to escape from the earth, but they need to look at earthly things with hearts set on things above. And, before long, the risen Lord will appear to them to help them. He will teach them to analyze the evidence like true CSIs. He will show them how his experience fulfills the Scriptures. He will convince them that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and then enter into his glory (cf. Luke 24:26). He will revive their hopes and renew their strength, so that they can move on to the next stage of the Easter process.
This is the step that we find Peter taking in the first reading. Fearlessly, and with great conviction, Peter testifies to the truth. He presents all the evidence of the Jesus-story. He includes everything he knows. He doesn’t leave out even the terrible suffering of the One who was crucified. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, he says. And, according to the Scriptures, God’s curse rests on him who hangs on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:23). But, above all, Peter proclaims the newness of life that is the gift of the Risen Christ to all who would believe in him. And here’s where we find a significant difference between CSI the TV series and the Easter story. The TV CSIs can only hope to change a crime into a conviction. The followers of Christ, however, can expect a far more marvelous transformation, nothing less than from guilt to forgiveness, from pain to joy, from despair to hope, from death to life. For this is the mystery of Easter, the gift of the Crucified and Risen Christ, the same gift that each of us is called, by our baptism, to share.
But in order to arrive at this destination, in order to experience this marvelous transformation, each and all of us must be willing to take the first step. We must first locate the scene of the crime, that place where our hopes and dreams are buried, that location where we might have laid the Lord to rest behind a cold heavy stone. For some of us, this might be a painful memory. For others, it might be a difficult situation that is still ongoing. Whatever it may be, this is where we need to go to experience the Resurrection. This is where Easter begins for us.
Sisters and brothers, as we commence these fifty joyous days of the Easter Season, is there a crime scene that we need to investigate today?