Celebrating our Faith during COVID-19
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April 4, 2021
[Co-Cathedral of St. Theresa; Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace]
Is the tomb of Jesus still empty, or have we just upgraded it to a much better version?
Of course we are here to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the greatest event in the history of the world. No other has touched more people, over a greater amount of time, to strengthen them in their sufferings and sorrows and to give them joy throughout their lives. And if we go to that tomb in Jerusalem where the body of the crucified Jesus was first laid, we will find no bones, no body, no remnant of the one who rose from the dead. After Jesus rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven, where he is seated at the right hand of the Father. But sometimes I wonder if we think of heaven as simply an upgraded tomb for Jesus, a place more pleasant than an earthly cave with a stone rolled across its entrance, and guarded, not by Roman soldiers but by angelic choirs. I wonder if, for all practical purposes, Jesus might as well just have remained in his tomb in Jerusalem, still far away from us, and still a story of once upon a time, long ago and far away.
Yes, Jesus left us a great legacy of challenging but beautiful teachings, which we find in the Gospels. He taught us many valuable lessons to guide our lives. But so have others who are still dead and lying in their tombs. He gave us an example of heroic love when he laid down his life for us, and while we are grateful, many others throughout history have shown heroic love in many different ways. What makes Jesus different from them?
We must be careful that we do not think of Jesus in the past tense only, as one who lived an exemplary life, died a sacrificial death, and rose from the dead to enter a more glorious place where he is locked up tight away from the world and all its sins and sorrows. We must resist the temptation to think that Jesus came simply to give us laws to follow, a moral code to guide us, and inspiration to pick ourselves up and advance in the world. Despite all the commandments, rules and regulations; notwithstanding the numerous rites and rituals we use to remember him; and not demeaning the plethora of programs and institutions that function in his name to feed the hungry, to educate, and to comfort; the key to our faith is a person, not a program or a principle. And this person – Jesus – not only refused to be locked away in a tomb in Jerusalem, but he resolutely resists even being locked away in a tomb as glorious as heaven.
Just as his many of his early disciples did not recognize him when he first appeared to them after his resurrection, thinking him either a gardener, a ghost, or a very wise stranger who liked long walks, so we do not always recognize him when he is out of his tomb. We sometimes miss the fact that when people are baptized, it is the risen Jesus himself who immerses them in the living waters, plunging them down to the darkness of death to raise them up to the bright light of glory. When the bishop celebrates the sacrament of Confirmation, we can miss the reality that it is the risen Jesus who breaths the Holy Spirit upon his beloved, anointing them with his fragrant and powerful Chrism. When a priest utters the words of absolution in the sacrament of Penance, it is not the priest but the risen Jesus who forgives. When the sick are anointed with oil, it is the risen Jesus himself who lays his hands on them to heal and strengthen them and to forgive their sins. When a man is ordained, it is the Holy Spirit who makes him a living sacrament of the risen Jesus, the servant, the priest, and the shepherd. When a man and a woman pledge their lives to each other in marriage, they become a sacrament of the risen Lord Jesus, who is madly in love with his Bride, the Church.
Best of all, it is the risen Jesus who speaks to us directly and personally when the Scriptures are proclaimed in the sacred assembly, and it is the risen Lord who is the living bread come down from heaven to be truly present to us, and to make love most intimately with his beloved Bride the Church, so that the two, Head and members, and become one living body, bearing fruit for the life of the world. When we receive Holy Communion we do not receive some sacred object, but the person of Jesus himself, who wants to be in intimate communion with us and draw us into communion with one another.
The women who loved Jesus and who went to care for his dead body in the tomb were shocked when they saw a man in white who told them he was alive. We, the baptized, are that person, clothed in the white garments of our Baptism, whose mission it is to announce to friend and foe alike that Jesus is truly risen from the dead. We are the ones Jesus now calls to act in his name to feed his hungry sheep, to heal his hurting lambs, and to shine his light on all who dwell in darkness. We will only be able to fulfill this mission – and be fulfilled in doing so – if we refuse to relegate Jesus to a closely guarded tomb, even if it is as glorious as heaven itself. We will be able to fulfill this mission only if we open our eyes to see that no tomb, however magnificent, can hold this lover of our souls. It is with this vision that we sing with all that we have and all that we are our joyful “Alleluia!”