Sunday, 12 April 2020

Easter Sunday 2020

We continue with the saga of the Resurrection and this morning the focus in on the empty tomb. Note the irony. From Christ Himself, we hear that He compared Himself to Jonah and since Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days, He said He would remain in the earth for three days after which He would rise again. He also told them that His Body was the Temple, and should they destroy It, He would rebuild It in three days. He was quite clear that there would be the Resurrection. But, from the Jewish religious authorities, He was nothing but a charlatan. They branded Him a deceiver. And yet, they had a sentinel posted at the entrance to the tomb, just in case the dead body should come back to life. So, maybe, just maybe, they instinctively recognise what He was saying as something they should believe in.

As for the sentinel posted, one could explain the fear arising not from the possibility of the Resurrection but rather on an apprehension that the disciples might come back to steal the body. This fear was unfounded for the simple reason that the followers of Jesus also never expected the Resurrection. Mary of Magdala brought aloes and spices to embalm the body. The had to rush to entomb the body as Sabbath was approaching. Hence, at the entrance of the empty tomb, the women thought that someone had removed the body. Furthermore, Peter and the other 10 stayed away until they were summoned. Added to this, we read in Luke of the two the disciples making their way to Emmaus.

No one had expected the Resurrection. No one.

Thus, the empty tomb is the crux of our belief in the Resurrection. Christianity stakes its authenticity on whether or not Christ rose from the dead. St Paul in the 1st Letter to the Corinthians could not have said more clearly: “And if Christ has not been raised then our preaching is useless and your believing it is useless”.

Through the Resurrection we have been saved. Now, sin and death no longer have their eternal hold over us. We take confidence in the fact that, through Him, His victory is ours too. No tomb can ever hold the Lord in. However, the empty tomb and the Resurrection require not just a holding on to but also a letting go of. The icon of the Anastasis or the Resurrection, otherwise known as the Harrowing of Hades, shows Jesus before the Resurrection entering Hell in order to set free those who have died. In one rendition of the icon, we see Jesus reaching out to pull Adam and Eve from the grave. Holding on to Jesus, both Adam and Eve had to let go of the tomb.

We can feel so overwhelmed by life as if we are trapped in our tombs—of anger, depression, hatred, perversion. When Christ rose from the dead, He broke these chains that keep us tethered within our tomb. He leads us out of these tombs into life. Thus, when everything seems to be out of control, we are not afraid because we can rest on the certainty that Christ Jesus has the ultimate victory. To follow Him, we must hold on to Him. Faith in the Resurrection means that we must let go of the tomb.

But there may be a crisis. We claim to be a Resurrection people but there may be a crisis of belief in the Resurrection. Firstly, some people live in opulent plenty. A good life is not seen in terms of a preparation for the coming future, a future after death. Instead, a good life is conceived of mostly in a material sense. For many people there is a desire for a better life. And like everything material, we find it hard to stop. Hoarding is perhaps symptomatic of this desire for material well-being. Material wealth has become the standard of or measure for success. Every parent wants his or her child to be up there. Does a parent ever wish his or her child to be a rubbish collector? Whether we like it or not, material wealth is not a reliable benchmark for a good life. Morality is for our goal is to live a good life not have a good life.

When life becomes so good, the horizon of the Resurrection can be obscured. We can be lulled into thinking and believing that this is the only life there is. In other words, our goal is to live a long life and to enjoy it. When the goal of life is its prolongation, we will be afraid to die. We are afraid to leave this material tomb in order to follow Jesus. We witness this crisis of the Resurrection especially when death claims a loved one. Some people grieve as if the end of a life is the end. Fullstop. This is a world that cannot imagine a life beyond the good life we have.

Today, the empty tomb stands as witness to a life that goes beyond this life. Fulfilment is not just a this-worldly word but it also the other-worldly word. Just think of all the injustice of life that never saw justice. For example. Cardinal Pell, if he were not vindicated by the court in this life, it is not a failure on his part. It is not the end. It may be a failure of justice on the part of the Australian court but what is important if we hold on to the Resurrection is that Cardinal will see his justice in the next life if he did not get it here. This is the meaning of the Resurrection. For every man or woman or child, whose life is cut short, whom life has dealt most unfairly the deck of cards, the Resurrection is the guarantee that what we do not have in this world, the Lord will ensure that justice be seen. Thus, we do not need to have the last word in every fight. We do not need to win every time. God knows and He will make right what this life does not and cannot give. But only if we believe that there is the Resurrection.

Peter and John ran to the tomb. They saw and they believed. For many people, seeing is the only path to believing. But Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who do not see yet believe”. We believe so that we might see and experience the Resurrection here and also in the life to come. He is Risen. Alleluia.