Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early… and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved… and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first… but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb… Then the other disciple also went in, and he saw and believed. (John 20:1-8)
Military eyes peer constantly from the tower that rises above Duncan Village, a black township outside East London, South Africa. Jam-Jam talked to us about the freedom struggle as he ushered us through the rows of overcrowded homes lacking running water and electricity.
Before long a large, armored casspir appeared in the horizon and made its way toward us. Eight members of the South African Defense Forces, pointing rifles, jumped out and surrounded us, escorting us to an interrogation room in the military tower. A soldier told us we were being detained, pending arrival of a member of the “Special Branch,” South Africa’s security police.
I kept my eyes on Jam-Jam. Though his demeanor had become immediately subdued, a glint of courageous pride remained in his eyes.
After our interrogation, the security police officer turned to Jam-Jam, shaking his finger and declaring stern warnings. Jam-Jam had just been released from ten months in detention, where he had been kept in a cold cell, fed cornmeal infested with worms, and tortured. The officer ended with a threat that he would be back in detention before long if he didn’t give up his “subversive activities.”
Jam-Jam’s only response was to reach calmly into his back pocket. He removed his pocket New Testament, put it up to the officer’s face, and said simply, “I am a Christian.” A brief moment of silence descended as the arrogance of evil met the quiet power of the gospel.
I imagine that if I were one of the disciples in John’s account of the resurrection, I would have been “the other disciple.” On hearing Mary’s news, I would have taken off running. But when I got to the tomb, like him, I probably would have paused, peered in that empty tomb, and hesitated. I would have stopped, our of doubt or fear–perhaps afraid to be disappointed again if it turned out to be a hoax; or more frightening, having to face the power of the truth.
This “other disciple” needed the evidence; he “saw and believed.” Jam-Jam would have charged ahead like Peter, already believing, knowing in his bones the power of what had taken place behind that stone now rolled away.
All over the world, Christians like Jam-Jam are leading us to the empty tomb. Facing overwhelming evil, they claim the power of the resurrection and boldly put it into evil’s face. They know that the victory over death has been won.
Most of them see sparse evidence of the reign of God around them, living in the brutality of racism, poverty, and violence. But they have taken to heart a definition of faith that describes their truth; they “believe in spite of the evidence, and then watch the evidence change.”
These Christians encourage us to join with them in building a more just and peaceful world. They have known crucifixion, and they are witnesses to the resurrection. And they invite us again this Easter to claim the power that can transform the world.
This reflection was written by Joyce Hollyday. Hollyday is an author and pastor. The reflection is from Desert Sojourn: Lent 1991, published by Pax Christi USA.