23 Mar 2008
“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” (John 20:1) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
Back on Passion Sunday, Parade Magazine ran an article with suggestions on how to live to be 100 years old. After reading the article, I figure the heck with 100 years, I may just never, ever die. One thing they mention is reading the newspaper. Surprise there since Parade Magazine is part of the newspaper, but they say staying engaged in current events helps people to live longer. The article also mentions getting married and having kids. That kind of surprised me because I thought for sure those would actually take years away from your longevity. They also talked about watching your waist. Well for all those years when I was called a scrawny kid and a gawky teenager, I guess this promise of longevity helps to even the scales a little bit. It was also mentioned that living in the country, like the town of South Deerfield, can extend a person’s lifetime. I was also pleased to see that drinking tea and wine can make it easier to hit 100. I always drink tea, and since this was Holy Week I’ve been drinking a lot of wine too, sacramental wine, but wine nonetheless. And the last reason why people can hope to live to be 100 is an active faith life. The researchers also discovered that of all the various occupations a person can choose that clergymen live the longest of them all. With so many of the pre-qualifiers for a century of life in me I figure I just may never, ever die.
My question this Easter Sunday morning is if that were true, if there were some way in which we could live forever, would Easter matter any more? If we never had to go into the tomb, would it matter to us that Jesus came out of the tomb? Is Easter just about what happens at death, or is it more about what happens during life? In other words, when there is so much to worry about in life when an economy is in recession, when we are fighting two wars, when homes are no longer the security blanket we once expected them to be, and with all of the other worries that can keep us up at night, does Easter matter right here and now? I recently came to meet a man who is a Baptist deacon down in Hartford, CT. He is not a shy Christian. The phrase he used for the resurrection is “that great gettin-up morning.” When he said these words, there was joy in his voice, or maybe a better word would be hope. Resurrection is a beautiful word, but for some people it’s become a formal, technical term. It can be said without mystery and awe. It’s even worse with the word Easter. After Mass this morning, I’m going to have some Easter kielbasa and then for dinner we’ll be serving Easter ham. We tie-in “Easter” as if it’s an adjective for pig-parts. Look what we’ve done to that powerful word of life-returned. This is why I so liked the deacon’s phrase of “that great gettin-up morning.” It has a feel of the freshness and the immediacy that Easter should always have.
In today’s Gospel to help get across that sense of living in the moment John sets a quick pace for his story. Mary Magdalene ventures out to the tomb of Jesus in the dark before dawn. In the other Gospels, the women go there to finish the burial rites for Jesus, but in John’s Gospel that was all done on Good Friday. Mary is going to the tomb for another reason. It’s not made explicit, but in those hours before dawn we get the impression that she has been unable to sleep, she paces in her room, and in her grief she wanders out to be by Jesus’ graveside. She sees in the distance the vandalized tomb. There’s no pause to look inside. She turns around, runs to the disciples in Jerusalem and tells them of this final insult. Immediately, Peter and the Beloved Disciple now run in the other direction back to the tomb. The younger disciple arrives first but is too hesitant to enter. Peter has no qualms and runs right past him. Then the other follows inside. We next hear of the exact setting of the empty tomb: this is here, that’s there. It’s a mental snapshot of an extraordinary moment burned into their consciousness forever. Everything stops.
Then there’s that small little phrase that changes all history: “He saw and he believed.” Before we can even catch-up with the story, the running this way and that, the bewilderment and fear, why was Mary out there? why didn’t John enter the tomb? why is it said that only one believes? Before we can catch-up to our thoughts, it hits us: The reality of the resurrection! It’s in that tiny little phrase, so if we’re not going to miss it completely we have to come to a screeching stop. Everything is meant to keep us off balance so that we can sense the immediacy of the day and the impact of that first realization that the tomb is empty. It’s visceral; it’s intuitive. It’s something we have to feel more than understand. The resurrection is not even miracle. It’s not a momentary breaking of the physical laws. It’s their abandonment. It’s mystery; it’s the grandest of God’s mysteries. It’s that great gettin-up morning. It as to be said with joy, hope, expectation, excitement or not at all.
Easter can never be relegated to eulogies, nor can it be limited by this world, if the economy is up or down, our health is good or bad, anything. It’s not only about life after death, nor is it only about this life. It’s about transformation. It’s about being open to the presence of Christ around us now, and no matter what. It’s about stopping and realizing that if Jesus is not there, He’s here! The Beloved Disciple saw and believed, it says in the Gospel. He saw what Mary and Peter saw, but he was able to believe. Some may see in Easter only a message for funerals, and some may get nothing more out of it than today’s Easter ham and kielbasa, but some will see and believe, some will get that feeling of the “great gettin-up morning,” some will be changed by the nearness of Jesus here and now, some will be surprised and awed still by Easter. Then the resurrection becomes a place of strength, hope and faith because then it’s no longer someone else’s story. It’s our story … and when the faith becomes personal it becomes powerful. It becomes life-changing.
May the mystery of Easter touch us. May the confusion, exhilaration, anticipation and faith of that first Easter Sunday awaken us to possibilities of all that the empty tomb entails today. May Easter never become ordinary. May it always be the promise and challenge of the nearness of Jesus. For these things we pray in His name, our resurrected Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen. (+)