by Rev. Richard A. Miserendino
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Many of those fortunate enough to travel to the Holy Land and visit the Holy Sepulcher report a similar experience to that of Mary Magdalene, Peter and John in our Gospel for Easter Sunday (Jn 20:1 -9). When confronted with the reality of the empty tomb, it often comes as a shock.
Having visited the tombs of saints or heroes or loved ones, we're used to expecting a specific, physical reality that is both the symbol of the certainty of death and the focal point of our prayer. Bluntly, when we visit a tomb, we expect to find someone buried there. And yet, even for those "in the know," who believe in the resurrection, the emptiness of Christ's tomb still catches us by surprise. That surprise always kindles hope, hope that hints: Perhaps death isn't as certain as it seems, there is more to the story, and God's love, grace, and light do have the final word over sin and darkness.
In the spite of that same hope, we enter the Gospel and run in haste with Peter and John to the tomb. Once we arrive and catch our breath, we follow Peter's lead inside. There, our minds continue to race faster still with questions.
For instance: Where did Jesus go? Literally, perhaps someone stole the body or moved it to a different location. Mary Magdalene's story at first seems the likely explanation. But then more questions follow: Why leave the burial cloths behind? Or fold them nicely and put them aside? If someone had merely moved the body, they certainly wouldn't have unbound it. And who folds up old used and bloody clothes anyway? Something didn't add up, and the merely natural explanation wouldn't satisfy. The empty tomb is a riddle of hope, a sign that points beyond itself. More data is needed to solve it, data found in both the past and the future.
Our thoughts continue racing, now through out memories that give clues: ""Remember that time that he raised Lazarus from the dead? Or what about that time he raised the young guy from Nain? Or that little girl? You don't think . . . he couldn't possible have raised himself, could he?" Then: "Well, he did mention more that a few times that he would rise from the dead . . ."
The empty tomb and the promises of Jesus are convincing enough to inspire hope, but they're not satisfactory in themselves. Our hearts and minds still want more. We know where Jesus isn't. Where is he? Only an encounter with the risen Lord himself will do. And thus, either with Mary Magdalene first or Peter and John later, we must allow our hope to turn us from the empty tomb to find Jesus. How?
We come to know Jesus as risen just like the apostles and disciples did, by following him on the way and looking for him where he promised to be found: in the upper room where two or three are gathered, in Galilee, by the fireside, in the breaking of the bread. In other words, we meet the risen Lord by seeking him in hope through our prayer and works of love. It's that concrete experience, that encounter through a relationship of prayer and self-gift, that sets our curious minds and hearts at peace.
Jesus wants to meet us in our own personal Galilee as well. By grace, he seeds hope in our hearts though the shock o the empty tomb, and that hope inspires us down the road in search of the truth. If we seek him, we will find him, waiting for us along the wayside of our lives, kindling the fire of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and nourishing us with his body present in the broken bread. We'll know the truth and joy of the Resurrection by our meeting the incarnate love of God who triumphs over sin and death: Jesus the resurrection, the Lord of life.