In today’s Gospel reading, Mary Magdalen, Simon Peter, and the beloved disciple came to Jesus’ tomb in succession. They found the tomb empty. They returned to the rest of the group who had sequestered themselves in fear. The Gospel says, “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” (Jn. 20:9)
Our current situation might afford us an appreciation for the uncertainty and confusion the Apostles faced after Jesus’ death.
Jesus preached about a renewal of the Covenant with God, repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and a new life in God’s Kingdom. The Gospels portray the Apostles as receiving Jesus’ words with joy but failing entirely to understand him. Their lack of faith and understanding led them to interpret Jesus’ death as the end of his ministry and the end of their hope.
We’re in a situation unlike what the Apostles faced, but we can probably sympathize with their confusion and their uncertainty about the future.
Easter is the Christian celebration of new life, the renewed Covenant, renewed faith, and renewed relationships; all of these are symbolized by the empty tomb. Jesus was not found to be dead; rather, he was encountered as present to the disciples even though they didn’t yet believe. Jesus remains present to the Church today; this feast of his Resurrection is our celebration of the Lord’s enduring presence with us.
Despite the joyful sounding words above, the fact remains that we’re dealing with a deadly pandemic, we’re separated from family and loved ones, and we’re wondering if hope is warranted. This Easter will probably remain unique in our memories. We celebrate Jesus’ presence while enduring one another’s absence and facing an uncertain future.
I’d like to make a suggestion about how to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection during the statewide “Stay at Home” order. Truthfully, it’s more than just a suggestion; look at this as an assignment – homework, if you will.
I’d like you to express verbally your love for the people with whom you are sharing confinement during this “Stay at Home” order. I’d like you to give some thought to this beforehand, and tell your spouse, children, parents, siblings, et al., how much you value and cherish them. It will be all the better if your expression of love comes across as awkward and halting. You’ll be able to sympathize with Mary Magdalen, Simon Peter, and the beloved disciple who went back to the gathered disciples but didn’t know how to explain what they had seen at Jesus’ tomb.
After you’ve worked your way through the people in your household, then pick up the phone and call your relatives, loved ones, and friends. Tell them how much you value your relationship with them and how much you miss them on this Easter Day. You are allowed to give some thought to how to express your affection, but you are not allowed to skip this assignment: no cheating, no tardiness, no exceptions.
Jesus’ preaching about a renewed Covenant with God and new life is much more than uplifting words. Jesus intended his words to create the renewal of life that he described. Jesus still works to create new life and new faith in the hearts of those who believe.
Like the empty tomb, our parish church is empty today. This year’s celebration of Easter is a sad and paradoxical representation of Jesus’ presence with his disciples: we are absent from one another but present to Jesus in the Church. Unlike his tomb, we are not empty; we are filled with the new life of resurrection. Like the apostles, we are sent; we are sent to proclaim our belief in his Resurrection. Today, I’d like you to give credible witness to the fact that you understand and trust Jesus’ words about renewed life and renewed faith. I’d like you to proclaim to the people closest to you that their presence in your life is a blessing from God. Doing so might make this Easter one to remember as the beginning of a renewed life.