God’s ways are not our own. In a surprising divine choice, two of the first witnesses of the Resurrection are those who, from a superficial point of view, seem least qualified.
Peter, for all his self-assurance that he would give even his life for Christ (Matthew 26:35), had denied even knowing his Master and Friend in the hour of Christ’s great abandonment. Peter’s denial of Christ is one of the only events recounted in all four of the Gospels. Clearly, it was never meant to be forgotten. This ongoing remembrance of so disgraceful a fall was not to shame Peter, but to highlight the power of grace and mercy to transform even the weakest among us.
Jesus had said to Peter, “I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). At the time, Peter surely didn’t understand what kind of “turning back” he would undergo. Even though he denied his Lord three times, we know that he did turn back to Christ. Today’s Gospel shows Peter running to the tomb after having heard that the body of Jesus was not there. In the first reading, we see the fruits of the Resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Peter who was now fully turned back, strengthening his brothers and sisters.
As Peter proclaims to the crowd in Jerusalem the triumph of Christ over death, he testifies “that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). Peter had himself experienced this profound grace of the Resurrection, for the death of sin, sorrow and shame for having denied the Lord had no more power over him. Indeed, everything could be forgiven through the power of Jesus’ name.
Perhaps even more unlikely a witness was Mary Magdalene, whose testimony brought Peter and John to the tomb. Already during Jesus’ life, she had experienced the reality proclaimed in today’s Psalm, “his mercy endures forever” (118:1). Though oppressed by seven devils, she had undergone her own spiritual resurrection through the loving power of Jesus.
Mary Magdalene’s experience of death and rebirth impelled her to go to the tomb; she refused to believe that death could hold the Lord of her life and of her heart in the grave. He had loved her even when she seemed beyond hope — and so she continued to love him even when he seemed beyond her grasp. Mary’s witnessing to the Risen Lord confirmed what everything in her being must have told her: Love cannot be defeated, even by death.
We, too, may seem unlikely witnesses to the greatest news ever told, and yet by our baptism, we can say with St. Paul, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4). This is the victory we celebrate every Sunday — and in an extraordinary way on Easter Sunday. Life has triumphed over death because love has triumphed over sin. We are called to open ourselves to receive this hope and this grace. Christ is risen! Even if we, like Peter and Mary Magdalene, once tasted the death of sin, now we are transformed by grace. Now we are saved by Love.
Dominican Sister Mary Madeline Todd is a member of the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia Congregation in Nashville, Tennessee.
She is assistant professor of theology at Aquinas College in Nashville and also serves through retreats, public speaking and writing.