Just a week ago my wife and I returned from the Holy Land. We were leading a pilgrimage with 31 pilgrims from our diocese. Israel, Palestine and Jordan were peaceful places and we were blessed with wonderful weather and met wonderful people, Christians, Muslims and Jews. One of the places we visited as usual was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher or Anastasia, the Church of the Resurrection as Helena, Emperor Constantine’s mother called it.
This is a church that fascinates me because of the rich spiritual treasure it contains. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is also a church that is shared by various Christian denominations. The main ones being the Greek Orthodox, the Latin Church as the Roman Catholics are called in that part of the world and the Armenian Orthodox Church. Of course they also share space with the Coptic Orthodox Church from Egypt, the Assyrian Orthodox Church and also the Ethiopian Orthodox Church that sits at the roof of the building because the Ethiopian got there late and were unable to find space inside the church so they settled in the roof. Sharing the same building with several and very different denominations is always a great challenge and sometimes.
To our shame as Christians, numerable fists fights have taken place that sent a few monks to the emergency room. So, next time you criticize the Sunni and Shiites Muslims for fighting with each other just think of the loving attitude of the Christian monks at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Now, when you visit that church you need to have a lot of patience especially if you want to go inside the empty tomb of our Lord. The Queue can be as long if not longer than the lines that many of us had to face with our little children and grandchildren at Disney World or Universal Studios. There is indeed a fascination with that particular place. At times I wonder that those making the long serpentine line want to make sure that Jesus bones are not there. But that is not the case.
When I was young and slim, I used to wait for hours at the Queue to be able to pray at least for one minute inside the tomb. My wife Diana and I have visited the Holy Land 17 times and now that I am older and overweight I don’t dare to go inside the tomb because I am afraid I will get stuck inside that narrow cave. I could be quite embarrassing.
So I sit in front of it and pray.
It was just last week when I began to wonder why do people are willing to spend almost half a day just to be inside the tomb for less than a minute. After all it is empty; there is not much inside, just empty. Would you be willing to make a long line to see a movie at the theater and when you finally get inside there is no movie at all, just a blank screen? Going inside the empty tomb is about the same.
That’s why I began to wonder why people are willing to wait in such a long line just to see nothing, just an empty tomb?
The 16th chapter of the Gospel of St. Mark gives us a clue. Remember what the angel said to Mary Magdalene and the other women: “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. But now go and tell his disciples……”
I believe that that is precisely why people go through so much trouble just to be inside that empty tomb. They know that they will not find the body of a dead Jesus there. They have also read the Scriptures and know that he has been raised from the dead. They go there precisely because the tomb is empty. There is not a dead body in there. But there is something that they come to seek, and that my dearly beloved is something that we all need. They go there because they are seeking what St. Mark’s called in his Gospel the “sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation.” That sacred and imperishable proclamation of eternal salvation has been proclaimed throughout the centuries.
The same call of the angel to the women is being repeated here to us during this Easter season: Jesus has been raised from the dead and you and I are called to share this message with the world around us. The same way that the events of that first Easter morning transformed Christ’s followers from grief and desperation we can also be transformed into people of hope.
Yes, it was indeed a message of hope that those first disciples were able to proclaim to each other as they shouted for the entire world to hear. Alleluia, Christ is risen! And they heard in return from other believers: The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia! On that first Easter Sunday hope stopped being a dream and instead became a reality. We like those first disciples can be transformed from being people filled with grief and desperation that face the finitude of life into people of joy and hope.
Christ is inviting us to share in his resurrection.
Listen to what St. Paul writes to the Christians living in Rome to comfort them in the midst of all their challenges: “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like him. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again.”
It is that wonderful miracle of hope that we find in the message of the Resurrection that begins to transform our lives giving us renewed hope, lifting the desperation of our souls, challenging our existence. We have become so accustomed to death, defeat, evil and pain having their way that we have forgotten that hope is still alive for us to continue living. Easter reminds us that even our death and the death of those we loved so much becomes the time of Christ’s victory – through him is also our victory.
Yes, let us be transformed into people of hope ready to bring the Good News to others. Let’s share with them that we serve a Living Christ who has conquered death and through him we are also able to share in his resurrection.
Let’s proclaim to the world that Christ is risen today. Yes, the Lord is risen indeed.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!