While he lives we live and while we live he lives.
On this day we make great claims for Christ, and for ourselves. On this day, each year, the Church is given the opportunity to renew itself. The narrative that renews us is the narrative of an empty tomb. The gospel passage we are presented with on this day is that of absence. Jesus is gone. We are not acyually presented with the passages that talk of his appearances – these will come later. Today we hear of his absence. The tomb is empty. And with his absence the hearts of those who witness the empty tomb beat faster. They grasp that with his absence death too has disappeared. Death cannot hold him. Death cannot defeat him. Paul will be quoted 2000 years later – death where is your sting?
The women are the first witness to the resurrection – something that is too often overlooked. As the men in the church later seem to order, document and catechise, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Mary of Magdala was the first witnesses to the empty tomb. She ran and told the other disciples. For this act of evengelisation alone, Pope Francis has declared her the Apostle to the Apostles. She need no more than ‘nothing’ to believe.
Peter and John ran to the tomb and bent down and saw the cloths but nothing else, they went in, they saw and they believed. They along with the women became the first witnesses and the ones to make the leap of faith and believe. He is risen. Everything he was, taught and witnessed to made sense in this moment. His parables of forgiveness, his uncompromising love of God and neighbour, his talk of the kingdom of God, all hit home now. He is risen. Love reigns. Death is conquered. Perhaps this is the fullness of the history of God at work in humanity!
We celebrate Easter Sunday in the midst of a global pandemic where thousands of people have lost life. The interesting thing is that during a pandemic we realise how precious is the gift of life. People are willing to do extraordinary things to protect and save lives. We are willing to effectively lock down our country, our borders, our freedoms, and our homes to stop the spread of a potentially deadly virus. We are, if you like, prepared to enter into the tomb in order to find life. Others are going out into the field and assisting the sick, the infected and indeed the dying. These take risks to save the precious human life of each and every person. This is the time for us to really give thanks for the gift of life and to commit to doing all we can for the protection and promotion of the sanctity and value of every life – young and fragile, old and vulnerable, black or white, gay or straight, global north or global south. This is the day of life. And it is the day that we claim that Jesus Christ carried the flame of life, even beyond the grave. He is the living witness that God’s love cannot be held even by death.
And therefore Christians will claim that “This is the day the Lord has made.” For the empty tomb gives hope to all who have lost hope. This is the day particularly for those who are suffering, facing death, hurting, feeling alone, being persecuted. The Lord has left the empty tomb and it is into those lives and places of darkness that he walks. He walks by raising a body of his own each Easter. You and I are the body of Christ! We are called to take the flame of faith and follow him into the shadows and bring his light. We are the witnesses to the world that death will not reign. That is why we feed ourselves on his stories of love, compassion, justice, hope, and the empty tomb. While he lives we live and while we live he lives. We along with Mary of Magdala, Peter, and John at the tomb make the leap of faith. We put our faith in the truth of their experience, we believe what they have passed on, we grow in understanding of what it might mean in our lives. Our hearts burn within us when we listen to the Scriptures, our passion for justice and peace grow when we listen to his words, our spirits soar when we share in the Eucharistic food with others who proclaim the same faith – and when we face the darkness we do it with courage and conviction that death will not be the last word.