By Msgr. Joseph Calise
Mauricio de Giovanni is an award-winning Neapolitan author whose books are becoming popular worldwide. His novels are set in a police station in 1930’s Naples. With many subplots, the main storyline is, of course, the solving of a mystery. De Giovanni has the remarkable ability to place a simple clue to the solution of the mystery in an early chapter and only refer to it tangentially until the mystery is solved and the importance of that seemingly minor detail is revealed. In celebration of Easter, today’s Gospel gives us a simple, easily overlooked detail that is the clue to a wonderful message of hope.
On the first day of the week, Mary goes to the tomb. She loved Jesus and wanted to make a visitation to His tomb while it was hoped that His spirit would still be there. When she arrives at the tomb, she finds things quite amiss —the stone has been rolled away, the burial cloths have been thrown to the side with the cloth that covered His head rolled up in a separate place, and, most distressing of all, the body is gone.
Her first reaction is to run to the apostles and tell them that the body is not there; someone has taken it. Although it is a logical first conclusion, it is not logical to think that a body robber would take the time to undress the body and roll up the head covering and place it to the side. The thief would have been more concerned with getting out of there quickly.
Hearing her story, Peter and John run to the tomb. In his youth and love for the Lord, John arrives first but waits for Peter, who is already the acknowledged leader. Upon entering the tomb, Peter sees everything just as Mary described it. Following him, John enters and not only sees but also believes.
As the Gospel tells us, they do not yet understand, but they believe — they believe that something extraordinary has happened, that this is not the work of a body thief but the continuation of the ministry of Jesus. The story is not over — He left them a clue.
When the master sat at a dinner table in the Hebrew tradition, there would be a servant boy assigned to meet his every need. He would set the table, serve the table and clear the table afterward. When the master finished his meal, he would stand up, clean himself off and throw his wadded napkin onto the table. Seeing the tossed napkin, the servant would know it was time to clean up.
If, however, the master was not finished eating but was planning to return to the table, he would fold the napkin neatly and place it by the side of his plate. The folded napkin would warn the servant to leave things as they were. It was the master’s way of saying, “I’m coming back.”
How carefully the Gospel account tells us that the cloth covering the head of Jesus was not with the burial cloths but in a separate place, rolled up. There is our clue, so easy to overlook. It was the folded napkin giving the message, “The Master will return.”
When we began Lent on Ash Wednesday, we already knew how it would end. We knew that after a countable number of days, we would arrive at today’s Easter celebration. But our message of hope does not end here; it begins here. As much as the rolled-up cloth promised the disciples that Jesus would return, so too, it reminds us that He will come again in glory.
It invites us to live in the light of the Resurrection by imitating the faith of Peter and the love of Mary and John so that we can be ready to greet Him when he comes. As we wish one another a Happy Easter, may we pray that our faith in the Resurrection will confirm our hope and inspire our love.
Readings for Easter Sunday: The Resurrection of the Lord
Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Psalms 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Colossians 3:1-4 or I Cor 5:6b-8
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.