Monday, April 1, 2013

The Empty Tomb Gives Us the Fullness of Life!

Homily for Easter Sunday, 2013

Imagine for a moment if the tomb had not been empty.  Imagine if when Mary Magdalene entered the garden on the morning after the Sabbath, she had found the Lord’s crucified body where they had left it and gently covered it with spices and perfumed oils and then rolled back the stone and departed.

We wouldn't be talking about any of these obscure men and women from 1st century Palestine today, would we?  They would not even be on the radar.  They would have faded away in the dust bin of human history – Peter, John, Mary, Martha, the other disciples – their names would be unknown to us.  And so most of us would have different names: maybe Julius, or Iris, or Evan, or Nike.  Maybe our names would sound like car names.  And we would not have any awareness of the Jewish faith either, since it has only been handed on to us through the Church.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob – these would be obscure figures to us, certainly more obscure than the great names of the Egyptian, Syrian, Celtic, or Mayan peoples.

As we looked back over the last two thousand years, we would still see hundreds of years of violent wars, intense rivalries, plagues, atrocities.  We would probably study the lives of the great and powerful men and women who shaped their times, the Caesars and Napoleons, the George Washingtons and Thomas Jeffersons.  Mostly men, portraits of human greatness, whose achievements were superlative enough to generate a legacy that would weather the test of time.  But we would know nothing of the hundreds of simple, humble, poor saintly men and women whose lives we have treasured through the ages and whose intercession we have sought.  The young women Perpetua and Felicity who heroically offered their lives for Christ, St. Benedict and his sister St. Scholastica who demonstrated a practical life of work and prayer, St. Anthony of Padua who still helps us find things, St. Francis and Clair who inspire us to live simple and generous lives, St. Therese of Lisieux and her little way, St Maximillian Colbe who courageously sacrificed his life for a little child at Auschwitz.  How many other holy men and women, how many quietly heroic lives would we know nothing about?

And at a deeper level, might we wonder whether these men and women would have existed at all?  They told the world, they have told us that the source of their holiness, of their great love, was not their own, their personal greatness, their worldly accomplishments, but the life of Christ risen from the dead whose risen life animated them.  Would others, not filled with Christ, have lived so generously?  Would they have found the same strength and inspiration and joy and peace and overflowing love somewhere else?

Where?  Where, my friends, to where would they have turned?  To themselves?  To others?  To an unknown and distant god?

No.  They would simply not have existed.  Saints do not exist if Easter does not exist.  And so our world, the world as we know it, would be so much darker, so closed upon itself, so stale and depressing.  If the tomb had not been empty, if it had been closed on Easter morning, our world would be empty, it would be empty and closed in on itself.  Life would be claustrophobic, the scent of death would constantly hang in the air.  Time and space would be flat and bland and boring.  Without an empty tomb, life would be a tomb to us.

Easter reminds us that Christ, risen from the dead, has changed our world, has made our world new, so much closer to God, that we cannot even begin to imagine, to comprehend what life would be like without the empty tomb.

My life would be a joke, and a miserable one at that.  What would your lives be like?  Were it not for the great example of Christ loving me, loving my family, from the cross – loving us in our sinfulness in confession, nourishing our souls in the Eucharist, consoling us with his words, urging us on with the promptings of his Holy Spirit – what kind of man would I be, what kind of life would I live?  What kind of men and women would we be?  We are all bad enough sinners as it is, but just think of all the misery, the pain and suffering, the evil that would overwhelm us if the tomb had not been empty!

Today we proclaim the great news of Easter: that the empty tomb has given us the fullness of life!  Christ, risen from the dead, has raised us up, raised us so high beyond our understanding, beyond our ability to even comprehend.  He emptied himself so that we could have the fullness of life.  He died so that we could rise.  He has suffered so that we can find joy.  He has endured hatred so that we can find love.

The new life, the risen and eternal life of Christ animates our world, animates us, encourages us, urges us on, draws us together, and challenges us to be holy as our Heavenly Father is holy, to love as he loves, to live as he lives.

It is amazing how something so empty can be so full of life!  New life pours from the empty tomb, pours from the side of Christ who was pierced for our offenses but who has been raised and who now lives and moves among us, his people, alive in our world.  Alleluia!

Lord, give us your new life!  Give it to us in abundance this Easter.  Let it soak into your church, into us, like gentle rain upon fertile ground.  Keep us always in your love, keep us always in your life.  Keep the stone always rolled away, the tomb always empty, and our world always full of your life, close to your risen heart, your risen body and soul, close to our salvation.

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