In Judaism, I am told, there is an adage: death ends a life, but it doesn’t end a relationship. Courageously and full of love, the women who came to the tomb where the body of Jesus lay testified to that saying. The gospels account for their presence by name: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph (Joses), Salome, Joanna and others.

Why did they come, knowing that a huge stone had been rolled into place to seal the tomb, only reinforcing the finality of Jesus’ death? Yet they had a job to finish. Jesus had died on a Friday at 3 p.m. The Sabbath had begun at sundown that day, so they were unable to complete the burial rites. They arrived early Sunday with their oils and spices, hoping to find someone to help them gain access. This seemed like an adventure in futility, but something else impelled them to venture the impossible. The certainty of death was absolute, but so was their love for Jesus. They were onto something else, though probably quite unaware: the love of Jesus for them was far from over. The relationship was about to explode into a new reality, shattering death itself.

The last thing they expected was to find the tomb empty, the stone already rolled away. Who would do such a thing? Their first reaction had to be, quite naturally, shock and horror, fear and sadness. Insult was now added to injury as their most logical conclusion might be that their Lord’s body had been desecrated, prey to grave robbers. But that wouldn’t make sense. It would hardly fit the pattern. Jesus was known not to be a man of material wealth, buried with rich ornaments. Guards had been placed at the tomb.

We may assume that the women were well acquainted with the sayings and actions of Jesus. They heard him say the Son of Man would be put to death and would rise three days later. Jesus had repeated this over and over again. No one seems to have taken him literally, though, or even made the connection that he was talking about himself.

The apostles were nowhere near the tomb that Sunday morning, any more than they had been by the cross, as the women had been. They feared the Romans and the Jewish authorities, both of whom would have tagged them by association. Their connection with Jesus seems to have been one of respect and admiration. They had come to trust him and his guidance. Perhaps some of them would say they were friends. But was it love? Was it even a real personal relationship? Although they had been with him three years, were they any closer than many baptized people today who try to follow the rules, but still see God as “the man upstairs?”

Consider Simon Peter, whom Jesus had called the “Rock” upon which he was to build his Church. Surely, Peter had confessed his belief in the messiahship of Jesus, for which Jesus blessed his boldness. It was not, however, an insight he had received due his own intelligence or human powers, but a revelation from the heavenly Father. It became a confirmation of Peter’s primacy. Yet, this special charism did not mean Peter himself was converted, for he quickly sought to dissuade Jesus from his mission, thinking he knew better. He had no understanding of its sacrificial nature. The cross would prove to be a serious stumbling block for him as most of the others. Remember the betrayals.

One key moment, as John recounts, is the incident at the Last Supper, when Jesus reveals not only his own role as suffering servant, but the need for his disciples to follow the way of the cross in their own lives. Repelled by Jesus’ assumption of the humbling and humiliating position of a slave, Peter first refuses to participate. He wants no part of this program — until Jesus confronts him with reality: if he refuses to allow Jesus to wash his feet, then he can have no part of him at all.

It may not have occurred to Peter until then how much he needed to be Jesus’ friend or that true friendship with Jesus would demand that he embrace the way of the cross. But was it love? Did Peter really love Jesus and did he realize how much Jesus loved him in offering him a share in his cross? Not until after his resurrection, when Jesus questioned Peter, “Do you love me?” — three times, paralleling Peter’s threefold denial — does it seem Peter was finally converted, convicted, that the entire life of Jesus, his passion, death and resurrection, was all about love. God’s love for us and our love for God.

This lesson for us is often missed, forgotten, as with Peter, especially if we see our faith as just a set of rules, moral codes, liturgical rituals and sweet stories for our children. So long as, like many contemporaries of Christ and others throughout the ages, we see Jesus only as a teacher, a prophet, a good man, a healer, a miracle worker — all of which are true — we do not know him, nor why he lived and died. Jesus himself never claimed any such titles, except to being who he was, God’s Son: “I and the Father are one,” the truth, which the powers of the world judged blasphemous. He died for being who he is: God’s love poured out on the world. If you want to know Jesus, ask him to help you love him. He wants you to know his heart, which burns with love for you and me, a love that does not end with suffering and death. This is why he rose. This is why we live.

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