Choosing the better part

Choosing the better part

Sunday, April 5, 2015

From Emptiness to Joy


When I first read our gospel today, it left me with a rather peculiar feeling.  The mood of the whole scene is very somber and grave:  Not at all consistent with the spirit we have become accustom to on Easter Sunday.   The focus is not on the risen Christ, but on the empty tomb and the bewilderment of Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and John.  To be honest, my first inclination was to disregard the ominous character of the gospel, and focus instead upon perhaps something more joyous - something more compatible with our understanding of this special day.  But I kept being pulled back to the experience of these three people and its meaning.  I began to understand that there is something here that we must grasp if we desire to know the full joy of the Resurrection.

Magdalene had watched the dead body of her Lord being put into the tomb, the stone being rolled into place and sealed; a sober, almost brutal fact.  The Lord and his love had suddenly been made inaccessible to her.  In almost a pitiful manner, she came to the tomb in spite of the fact that all reason for doing so seemed to have disappeared.  His death was a very real end and his entombment nothing less than an utter annihilation of hope.  The one who had healed her, freed her, the one in whom she had placed her faith, was gone.  The emptiness of the tomb at her arrival only added to her sorrow - she was prevented now from even performing a final act of love by anointing the body of her Lord.

In desperation she ran to witness to this emptiness.  She ran to others who would surely share her horror, her desolation, her loss.   Not only had their Lord be taken from them in life, but now also in death.

Peter and John ran together.  Peter, who had at one time seen the truth about Jesus so clearly, now found himself running in confusion to an empty tomb; carrying on his shoulders the guilt of his betrayal of the Lord. He could only run slowly and with a heavy tread - as one utterly distraught and painfully aware of his own inadequacy as a human being.  The Lord had given him a special place among his followers and his knees buckled beneath the weight of responsibility.  The demands of the truth were too heavy to bear.

John came to the tomb as one who had known a special closeness with the Lord and even though they have been separated in death he still ran with the swiftness of a friend when summoned.  Although in sorrow, he was still driven by his love for the Lord.  Yet, arriving at the tomb he did not go in, for the Lord was not there.  He yearned for the love that only the Lord could bring, but the tomb stood as empty as his heart.

For all three, the Lord's life among them had opened them up to an unparalleled experience forgiveness, truth and love; Without him it all disappeared into thin air.  At his death they were not only deprived of his presence, but their lives were suddenly empty of hope, meaning and humanity.   

Each of them knew painfully what the loss of their Lord meant.  But it was precisely out of the experience of their emptiness, captured so completely in the image of the empty tomb, that they would be able to testify to the fullness of the resurrection. 

On some level, all of us have experienced such an emptiness in our lives. Perhaps it is the void left by the death of one close to you, the knowledge that no one can fill that empty space within your heart.   It can be the hollowness of loveless marriage, a relationship that has grown as cold as the grave.   Or maybe you know the emptiness of having betrayed another, the feeling that nothing can restore your personal integrity.  You may even carry within you a nameless void that you search desperately to fill with things, people, or work; but to no avail.

It is then that the experience of Mary Magdalene, Peter and John speak most clearly to us.  They show us, they remind us all of the futility of life, the uselessness of hope, the vanity of faith - - without Christ.  They do this that we may know and truly understand the blessing and joy that comes from hearing and believing:  "He is risen!"

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