Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Empty Tomb

Imagine on a Sunday morning going to visit the grave of a loved one and finding the tombstone gone and a hole in the ground where the coffin once lay. At first, you would feel confused and wonder whether you had gone to the wrong grave. Then you would feel outraged. How dare anyone tamper with your loved one’s final resting place! When the anger subsided, grief would overcome you. You would feel as if you had lost your loved one all over again. Finally you would call your family and friends. They would all rush over to find out for themselves what happened.

This gives us some idea of how Mary Magdalene, Peter and John were feeling on that first Easter Sunday morning. Upon seeing his tomb empty, their first assumption was that someone had stolen Jesus’ body. They felt confused, sad and afraid. After all they had been through, what could possibly happen next?

We know what happens next. Jesus will appear to His disciples showing that He is alive. Their confusion would be transformed into wonder, their grief into joy and their fear into faith. The resurrection does not bring new life only to Jesus, but also to those who believe in Him. They are transformed into new women and men.

The same is true for us. The new life of Jesus’ resurrection is a reality in our own lives. So many of us lived with constant confusion, grief and fear. The direction of our lives was a mystery to us. We lived from day to day not knowing and often not caring about the purpose of our existence. We knew something was missing, but could not put our finger on what that something was.

As it turned out, the “something” that was missing from our lives was really “somebody”. It was Jesus. By the grace of God, at some point or over time, we became keenly aware of God’s presence in our lives and of His unconditional love for us. The faith we received at baptism and which was taught to us throughout our childhood began to make sense. The hope of everlasting life with God in Heaven gave us new meaning and purpose. We exchanged our fear and confusion for faith. The resurrection of Jesus became a reality for us.

Not only has the resurrection changed us personally, it has transformed the whole world. It would take us all week to detail how the course of history has been changed by the resurrection of Jesus.  We would have to talk about the apostles who spread the good news throughout the earth. We would have to tell the story of countless followers of Jesus who began the hospital system by caring for the sick, elderly and homeless. It would be women and men of faith who would work tirelessly to educate the young and so make the Catholic Church the largest private provider of education in the world. Inspired by the resurrection, Christians would seek out the lonely, the lost and the poor to provide for their needs making the Church the largest charitable institution in the world. Billions of people throughout history have had their lives changed for the better because of the love and care shown to them by those who call themselves followers of Christ. The resurrection of Jesus has changed the world and saved it in more ways than any one of us can begin to fathom.

But God’s work is still only just beginning. Our world is still under the dark spell of confusion, grief and fear. Though Jesus has already conquered sin and death, the truth of His victory has not reached every human heart. That is where we must step in. It is up to us to carry the message of Jesus resurrection to those in despair. It is our task now to be witnesses of His victory to those who are locked in self-destructive patterns of sin. How will others come to know if we do not tell them? Most importantly, how will they know the beauty of a life lived for Christ if we are not living that way ourselves?

Many of us do not share our faith with others because of fear. We are afraid what people will think of us. We do not want to be made fun of. Or we are afraid of offending our friends. The early followers of Jesus had those same fears and doubts. But the resurrection of Jesus changed all that. By the power of the Spirit, they were emboldened to proclaim to everyone that Jesus was alive. Of course, they were made fun of and many were even killed, but they kept on proclaiming the truth because it was just too wonderful to keep to themselves.

When Jesus appears to the disciples after His resurrection, His words to them are “Do not be afraid”. The Risen Jesus speaks the same words to us here today. “Do not be afraid.” God is with us. The Spirit we have received at our baptism and confirmation is a Spirit of boldness and conviction. He will give us the opportunity to witness to Jesus, He will give us words that can change minds and hearts and He will give us the patience and courage to deal with those who reject and ridicule us. Faith in the Risen Lord conquers all fear.

Jesus is truly risen from the dead. He now lives forever, and He offers us the hope of everlasting life. The resurrection becomes real in our lives when we exchange fear, grief and confusion for faith, joy and conviction. Having experienced the Risen Lord through faith, we are now sent out to be His witnesses. We do not fear because God is with us. A hurting world is longing to hear this message. In the power of the Holy Spirit, we cannot fail.

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