Sunday, March 23, 2008

The empty tomb has become the womb of eternal life!

SOLEMNITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD, March 23, 2008:

“Dear Katie,

I wrote this little poem for you and I hope that when we are married and celebrating our Golden wedding anniversary (50 years) that you will have this little love note from your sweetheart.

My Darling I will always Love you and hope and pray that you will always love me.

This is a …Valentine I am giving you, one that means everything that it says… written by your darling (I hope so).

I will close with all my love, to my love, from her Love. My Darling, My Katie, My Dear,

Loads of Love,
Bud.”

What I just shared is a love letter written from my grandfather to my grandmother a few years before they were married. It was 1935 and he was in the Navy, just 18 years old. I was thinking of that letter this week because I was a bit shocked to realize when I looked at a calendar that tomorrow will be six years since my grandmother died. We buried her on the Wednesday of Holy Week six years ago. When preparing for her funeral, I found that love letter in a chest in my her bedroom. No one knew of that letter other than my grandmother and my grandfather. After finding that letter I shared it with my family and those gathered at that funeral six years ago.

I share it with you today because that experience has been on my heart this week because it taught me in a profound way what Easter is all about. It was the lesson learned while experiencing the grief of losing a loved one so close to the celebration of Easter, the celebration of resurrection. I remember heading back to my parish in on Holy Thursday and thinking about my Easter Sunday homily not knowing what I could preach about in the midst of my grief. But I realized if I couldn’t preach about the resurrection specifically when someone close to me had passed, that perhaps I didn’t have the right to ever talk about it. It is precisely when we’re in the midst of mourning, that the resurrection is the most powerful message ever – it is the message that says death is not the end, death doesn’t get the last word – there will be newness of life, and life everlasting!

Grief is a common experience and as we gather this Easter, I’m sure most of us have experienced some form of loss over the course of this last year. Perhaps we come to this celebration today with a heavy heart, or are praying for someone experiencing that kind of heaviness. There can be no more powerful message to the grieving heart then the message of Resurrection from the dead.

At the Easter Vigil last night, I sung the Exultet, which is the great hymn of resurrection sung only at the Easter Vigil. There is a powerful phrase in the Exultet which says, “The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy.” Brings mourners joy. I was struck by that last line – the power of the resurrection does so many things including bringing mourners joy. Joy! Why? Because there can be no greater joy known in the world then the realization of the resurrection in the face of mourning and grief.

The resurrection of Jesus, and our own resurrection, cannot be reduced to a pretty holiday of fancy clothing and colored candy eggs. This day isn’t about pretty colors, lots of candy and a good meal. It is much more tangible than that. It is about bringing the most profound joy into the most difficult moments of our lives.

This great event and celebration can’t be something that we merely commemorate today at this Mass, but it must be something we connect with at the most painful and difficult moments in our lives with the firm trust and firm faith that God can bring new life to any situation. Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the Thessalonians, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” We do believe and we do have hope.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the very center of what we believe. We must ask ourselves today more than ever, do we believe it? Do we truly in our hearts believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, that we too will be raised from the dead, that the loved ones whose loss we grieve have been raised from the dead? Can we stand with family members and friends who have lost someone and say, “He or she is with God now. They have been saved by the resurrection of Jesus.” We must have the faith that can say just that.

And why? Because we believe in the empty tomb. Our gospel stories today leave us with one thing – an empty tomb. There is no body left in that tomb because it has been raised! We are people of the empty tomb. Fr. Mike shared a wonderful quote in his homily last night. He said, “The tomb that held the dead Christ has now become the womb giving birth to eternal life.” The empty tomb speaks our faith – it speaks of a God who can conquer all things, who can triumph over all things, who can transform and change any situation into one that burst with life – not even death has power over this God of ours!

My brothers and sisters, we need to be mindful of this message more today than ever before. In the midst of all of the trial and violence and strife and war in our world, God tells us that He will raise us to new life, new possibilities, new ways to care for one another, to love one another, to establish peace. God will renew us, transform us, change us, make us new, bring us to new life! The empty tomb has become the womb of new life!

Nothing can triumph over this. As St. Paul said, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

My brothers and sisters – nothing at all can keep us from being born to a newness of life – as individuals, as a community, as priest and people, as Church. I can say with confidence my grandmother is raised, my grandfather is raised, all the loved ones that we’ve lost have been raised, this Church will be raised, our warring world will be raised, each one of us will be raised - if we open ourselves and embrace the resurrection that Christ has planned for each of us.
The empty tomb has become the womb giving birth to eternal life! Jesus has risen as He promised – let us rejoice and be glad!

Happy Easter and may God give you peace!

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