The great message ringing out during this holiest of days is contained in the words of the angel at the empty tomb, heard at the Gospel account according to Saint Matthew: “Do not be afraid, I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said” (Matthew 28:5-6a).
The women disciples had hastened to the tomb of Jesus very early on the first day of the week, looking for their Master, presuming he was dead, and desiring to complete the elaborate burial preparations now that the Sabbath rest has passed. Believing everything had ended in tragedy, they still wanted to pay adequate respect to their now deceased teacher, Jesus of Nazareth.
But lo and behold the faithful women encountered something else entirely!
The women disciples were not really expecting or ready to hear the cry of the angel recounted in another Gospel account: “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). The angel goes on to tell the women at the tomb, “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again. Then the women remembered the words of Jesus” (Luke 24:6-8).
“The Lord comes forth,” the psalmist tells us, “like a bridegroom coming from his tent” (Psalm 18(19):5).
The tomb was thrown open not to make a passageway for the risen Christ, but to provide the needed evidence to all that Christ had truly risen, wondrously and mysteriously.
The empty tomb was a sign to the disciples. Seeing the empty tomb, they could begin to comprehend what had been foretold to them: that Jesus would suffer and die for the sins of the world and then rise triumphantly in glory. When they pondered the empty tomb, the followers of Jesus came to know that something significant had taken place, a change of fortune had occurred and that the clock could not be turned back.
Over the next days and weeks, Christ revealed the glory of his resurrection to his disciples. Mystery accompanied his appearances, and called for eyes of faith that the Lord was really in their midst once again, yet now in a changed manner. Having tasted death, Christ became the conqueror of death once and for all. Death could not hold the Lord captive, being himself the author of life.
The resurrection occurred in the context of the community of believers. That is to say, if the Lord had not appeared to his band of brothers and sisters, the apostles and disciples, then how could we or anyone else have heard of the resurrection?
Only an event such as this could reverse the sadness and even despair of these first followers of the Lord. They become, as a result of the Resurrection of Jesus, radiantly joyful, courageous and ultimately willing to give their life for the cause.
Belief in the Resurrection is central to our Christian religion. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit we are being given the eyes of faith, to perceive and know the power of the unconquered Sun of Justice, Christ the Lord. The greatest joy we can imagine or experience is an encounter with the living Lord who desires to be at the center of our existence as individuals, as community, as Church.
We are being called to celebrate this festival of festivals with joy and thanksgiving for the victory Christ has won, triumph over sin and death and the chance for us to partake of eternal life with the Holy Trinity and the communion of saints. Let us hasten to partake of the banquet being offered to us, free of charge, costing only willing hearts ready to be transformed by the love of God poured into our hearts.
“Christ my hope has arisen,” we sing each day with Mary Magdalene during the Easter Octave in the Sequence at Mass. We are utterly amazed before this mystery, we confess our lack of comprehension, and yet we live with full confidence that it is true. “We have put on Christ,” as a “new outfit,” so to speak, to announce to all we believe Christ is risen. We eat Easter eggs, symbols of life that springs from the shell, like Christ from the tomb.
Do I imagine I understand fully the meaning of the resurrection? Definitely not, for we are dealing with something that transcends our human capacities and logic: it requires faith! But is it something unreasonable? Absolutely not!
If we have been raised with Christ, says Saint Paul, we are always “to seek the things that are above, where Christ is.” And furthermore, the life we live “is hidden with Christ in God (see Colossians 3:1-4). This is one of my favorite passages in the entire New Testament; simple yet profound verses.
We live with and in a wondrous mystery. And our response without reserve is: Alleluia!
We are each called to be signs of hope to all we meet, living lives of peace and willingness to forgive. May the Risen Christ be our only hope! A happy and holy Easter to all!
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB