What a gift it is to be here with you. What a blessing to be able to gather together on this Easter morning. Holy Thursday and Good Friday were such beautiful and moving moments of prayer. They now reach their culmination in the cries of Christians throughout the world singing “Alleluia. He is risen.” Death, sin and darkness are defeated.
Or are they?
If you watch the numbers and follow what’s trending, it would seem just the opposite.
The number of people who say they believe in God continues to fall. The number of people regularly attending Sunday Mass or a church of one kind or another, is decreasing.
Though the response to the Parkland school shootings seems to be gaining momentum, so many children and parents are fearful of when it will happen next, not “if it might” but that it “will.”
Domestic violence continues to increase. Drug addiction and use of opioids are at epidemic proportions.
The numbers of refugees fleeing violence in the Central Africa Republic, Syria, Yemen, Southern Sudan, Columbia, Venezuela and our inner cities are swelling with no relief in sight.
Maybe it would be more truthful and realistic this Easter morning to focus on the one word that is repeated over and over in the Gospel. St. John uses it seven times in nine verses.
What is the word? “Tomb.”
Tomb – a place to bury dead people; a place, a hole in the ground or a small cave where dead people are put, gotten out of the way, out of our sight. Not pretty.
The tomb is a place of death, of finality, of corruption. It is a place that reminds us of pain and loss and of our own mortality. You and I, all of us, will die. Our existence will come to an end. My ALS daily reminds me as I get weaker and weaker.
Yet, there is something different about the tomb in the Gospel this morning. Though a large stone was placed at its entrance to keep out the wild dogs and animals, Mary Magdalene finds it removed. This place of rest for the dead, beaten and crucified body of Jesus is now violated.
To her horror, Jesus’ body is gone. Taken. Stolen. Why? Why would anyone do that?
She runs back to tell the apostles, sharing her shock and disbelief.
Peter and John, the beloved disciple who was entrusted with caring for Jesus’ heart-broken mother, Mary, run to the tomb, to that place of death, now also a place desecration.
But they do not see desecration and disruption but rather order and something very odd. The cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was neatly rolled up and in a separate place from the other clean linen cloths that had wrapped his body.
What was going on?
Verse 8 says it all: “The other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed.”
“He saw and believed.” The resurrection of Jesus changed everything, not just for Peter and John, but for all of human history.
For most of us, it is difficult to imagine that absolute shock and disbelief of resurrection. No one had ever until then or has ever since, risen from the dead to live forever.
There was simply no context for this concept, for this reality.
In the next 50 days, from Easter until Pentecost, holy Mother Church will share with us the unfolding of belief and the encounters with the risen Jesus in our weekday and Sunday readings at Mass.
Over and over again, proof will be placed before us that Jesus rose from the dead as he said he would and that we, as disciples of his are meant to share in his promised gift of everlasting life.
Yet so many have seen and do not believe. They’ve been baptized but are not disciples. They don’t follow Jesus and live as he has taught.
There are many others who have never seen, who have not heard to true story of the Jesus Christ and his Church, and therefore are unable to believe, to come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Today, this Easter Sunday, we are commissioned like Mary, Peter, John and rest of the disciples, to share this good news, to “be” this Good News to others who “sit in darkness and the shadow of death,” as scripture says.
We are about to renew our baptismal promises, to reject sin and all of Satan’s empty works and promises and to stake our lives on the revelation of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.
Our world needs our witness. Our families, friends, neighbors, co-workers and classmates need our witness to the empty tomb, to the Truth of Jesus Christ.
Our world needs us, whether they recognize it or not, to proclaim the truth that the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his call to follow him is not simply some “April Fools” joke.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Let us live this truth daily.