20 Apr 2014
“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 entrance.” (John 20:1) In the name …
During Lent the choir sings this beautiful hymn called Were you there?. In its three verses, it repeats basically the same question nine times: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? I’m up in the choir loft as they’re practicing; happen to be standing next to Barbara Stahelski. Nine times the choir sings that question “Were you there,” and nine times I whisper back to Barbara, who is trying to concentrate, “No, no I wasn’t there.” That’s why they don’t let me stay up in the choir for too long. But the crucifixion really was just one particular moment in history. A biblical scholar who I admire greatly has offered the date of Friday, April 7th of the year 30AD (A Marginal Jew Vol. I, John Meier, p. 407). If you weren’t on the outskirts of Jerusalem on that particular day 1,984 years ago, then you were not there when they crucified my Lord.
But Easter is so much more than history. This is the very definition of mystery. There is something taking place here that transcends the limits of time and place. Easter straddles the eternal and the temporal. It is as much a story of heaven as of earth. Easter is in the perpetual now. A friend emailed me a story about the Resurrection painting at the Dallas Biblical Art Museum and its painter. The artist said he read the Bible for his inspiration, then he painted Jesus emerging triumphant from the tomb before all kinds of witnesses. But the Bible never says any such thing. Instead the angel says, “Why are you looking here for Jesus, He’s resurrected.” It’s the looking that matters! Easter was first realized through faith not evidence. All that separates us as people of faith from the empty tomb – 2,000 years, 12,000 miles – disappears. The cross was a moment in time and place. Not Easter. If there is ever a hymn Were you there when Jesus resurrected?, the answer can be, “Yes, yes I am.”
So a husband walks into his house and sees his wife passionately kissing a man he’s never seen before in his entire life. He’s shocked and yells out, “What do you think you’re doing?” To which the wife nonchalantly responds to the man that she had been kissing, “See I told you my husband was stupid.” She’s talking about the obvious, the kiss. He’s talking about why are you kissing. Sometimes it’s not the obvious that we’re referring to. Sometimes it’s what lies beyond the obvious that has the real meaning for us. The tomb was found to be empty back on Sunday, April 9th, 30AD. That was the obvious reality, and that’s where the evidence points.
One of the two most convincing arguments for the empty tomb, at least for me, is that the ones who wanted to discount the possibility of Jesus’ resurrection did not deny the empty tomb. If Jesus, for example, had been left on the cross regardless of the quickly approaching Passover holiday, left there to decompose by the Romans as was their usual custom, then the deniers of the resurrection would have simply pointed to the fact that thousands of pilgrims had seen Jesus’ dead body rot on the cross. But they don’t. The ones who deny the resurrection only say that the body was stolen from the tomb and that’s why it was found empty. They’re not denying the empty tomb. They’re denying how it became empty. The other principal argument is the change Easter made in those around Jesus. His family were not enthusiastic followers of Jesus during His lifetime, but after the resurrection they were found among the believers; and Jesus’ disciples fled in fear after Jesus was captured and crucified, but after Easter they were fearless. You don’t find this kind of transformation by stealing a dead body in the middle of the night and hiding it somewhere. So it is not fantasy to say that the tomb was empty, and not because the dead body was stolen. That’s the obvious reality of Easter, but that’s only our starting point.
George Burns’ wife, Gracie Allen, was often portrayed on television as being a bit ditzy, but she was pretty profound when she said, “Never place a period where God has put a comma.” The empty tomb is not the end of the story. There’s no period after it. There’s only a comma. Let me try to explain by a recent and local example. Two weeks ago Derrick Gordon made the public announcement that he was gay. He plays basketball for UMass, and he’s the first Division I college player to do so. In response, members of the Westboro Baptist Church decided to protest this past Wednesday. These are the nut, fringe religious people from Kansas who show up all over the place screaming hateful thinks about America, Jews, Catholics, the military, gays, just about anything and anyone who doesn’t belong to their tiny little sect. To counter this kind of religious intolerance others gathered by the thousands to speak in favour of acceptance. My daughter Amanda was among them. She and the thousands of others believed in something strongly enough to do something about it.
The obvious Easter reality is that the tomb was empty. That’s a message about Jesus. He was vindicated. His gospel message and His life were affirmed by God. The reality that lies beyond the obvious, however, is how we choose to respond to the empty tomb. What are we going to do since we here have also come to the tomb looking? The rest of the story needs to be written by us. The resurrection is a promise of unmitigated hope. And what a difference hope can make in any person’s life, and the world is in desperate need of people who hope, who are looking for something better, holier than what we now have. Easter gives us the reason to dream and the strength to try. Easter hope lets us believe in what is possible not only what is practical. As a lady told me yesterday, Easter makes her feel like she’s flying. That’s our reality when we believe that the tomb was empty. That’s when the empty tomb becomes the resurrection. May the resurrected Jesus fill us now with the promise of hope and the willingness to do something important with it. For this we pray in His name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo