One by one the stars were going out. A tinge of gray was diluting the inky blackness of night. In the sleeping city few people were stirring. Here and there a skinny dog prowled the gutters looking for scraps. The cocks had not yet pulled their heads from under their wings to announce the dawn. A woman was running through the narrow streets darting in and out of the deep shadows cast by the high walls surrounding the houses. She left the last home behind. Breathlessly she raced up a small hill to a tomb cut in the rock. Panting and shaking she stopped, looked into the tomb and saw . . . nothing! The tomb was empty! The body was gone! Frightened, she raced back through the streets in which people were beginning to stir. The cocks were crowing. The sun was peeking over the horizon, casting a warm glow over the city. She pounded on a door, it was opened. She darted in and blurted out the first Easter message. Her message was not “The Lord has risen” but “The Lord has been taken from the tomb. We do not know where they have put him.”
The tomb was empty. His body was gone! These words twisted the knife which had already been driven into the hearts of the apostles by the crucifixion of Jesus. Now Peter could not have even the consolation of sitting by the tomb and weeping for his sin of denial. Mary Magdalene could not have the consolation of visiting the tomb to quietly reflect on the loving words of her Lord. James and John could not have the consolation of praying at the tomb when their anger flared at people who did not listen to them. The hearts of all the disciples and apostles gathered in the Upper Room sank because their last connection with Jesus, His dead tortured body . . . was gone!
Then something happened that turned the whole situation around. Yes, the tomb was empty. It was empty not because the body had been stolen but because Christ had risen! The accounts of angels in the tomb and the appearances of Jesus on Easter morn were written many years after the event, and these accounts are confusing and contradictory. Yet, somehow, some way, the companions of Jesus were convinced that Jesus was alive –not merely as a powerful bodied soul but as the living person they had known in the weeks and years before the events of Good Friday.
Now Peter knew that he could ask forgiveness for his sin from the Jesus who loved sinners. Mary knew that she could touch and cling to the Lord she loved so dearly. James and John knew that they could get help with their tempers from Jesus who was with them. Their despair, worries and fears were replaced by hope and trust. This hope is echoed in the words we so often proclaim at Mass, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! In the years left to them the apostles preached this belief and this hope. They preached a message of hope to people who had never seen Jesus. They told all who would listen to them: “Your sins are forgiven by Jesus who is alive and with you. Your hearts are comforted by the love of Jesus who is alive and with you. Your minds are enlightened by Jesus who is alive and with you. Your struggles with yourself are no longer yours alone but you have Jesus alive and with you.”
This message of hope has been passed down to us in the preaching of the Church and in the written words of Scripture. This message of hope colored all that the early Christians said and did. It gave focus to the way they saw life. When Paul wrote his first letter, when Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote their Gospels many years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, this message of hope was central to their writings. They wrote not as reporters or historians intent on getting the facts straight — but as believers bursting to share the good news that now we have hope!
When we look around us at the crime and shootings in our streets, when we see greed and wanton disregard for people and property, when we realize that all life can be wiped out if two intelligent and well-meaning individuals turn a red key because they have received a wrong message, we see no future. When we see hearts breaking in families because husbands and wives, children and parents no longer communicate, we cry out, “Where is it all going and when is it all going to end?” When we come into contact with poverty, mental illness, sickness, sin, death, we feel that the forces of evil must be winning. When we reflect on all that is happening in our lives and around us, we are tempted to feel the despair of the apostles in the pre-dawn hours of that first Easter. We are tempted to cry, “They have taken our Lord away and we know not where they have laid Him.” Our hope in the face of the threat of nuclear annihilation, our hope in the face of death, of our own weakness, of crime and suffering, lies in hearing, accepting, living and proclaiming that same message, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” A Happy and Blessed Easter to one and all! ! !