The Power of the Empty Tomb

“Because my friends, we do believe in the empty tomb. We do believe that Jesus Christ has risen.” These powerful words were spoken to us by our tour guide a couple of weeks ago. Now that we have arrived in Jerusalem, the power of these words has been realized. Last week we celebrated Mass on Calvary. Today, we had the chance to celebrate Mass in the Holy Sepulcher; the empty tomb of Christ. It was there that these words came back to mind. “Because my friends, we do believe in the empty tomb.”    

Before Jesus rose from the dead, only one apostle remained with Christ. One Apostle clung to Christ with every fiber of his being and offered up his entire soul to the Lord. That Apostle was John. The rest abandoned Christ. They left. They did not remain.    

But then Peter, John, and Mary Magdalene discover the empty tomb. This time the one who remains is Mary. The other “disciples went back to their homes” (Jn 20:10). Why does she stay? She stays because of the depth of her love for the Lord. She does not yet realize that he has risen, instead she is distraught that “they have taken away her Lord” (John 20:13). And then, Christ comes to her. At first she does not recognize him, but then he proclaims her name and immediately she recognizes that it is the Lord. The Lord rewards her immense love with a task. He tells her to go and announce that he has risen from the dead. “Go and announce it to my brothers. For in this do resurrection and life consist: in further proclaiming the Good News, in carrying on the flame, in being a useful instrument in my hand that I may build up my kingdom in men’s hearts, in letting my Heart go on beating in yours” (Balthasar). So she goes and delights in being used by her Lord to bring the Good News of the Resurrection to her brothers; the apostles.

The apostles, however, are hidden. They don’t want to be found. They have heard the rumor from Mary, Peter, and John that Christ’s tomb was empty. They want to believe Christ is alive, but at the same time it terrifies them! They left him to die on the Cross alone. Then suddenly, he appears to them even though their door was locked; now somehow he is there. What follows no one can imagine. Christ “stood there in their midst and greeted them: ‘Peace be with you!'” These words were more than a mere greeting. To be more exact, these words brought healing. The apostles, once afraid and full of guilt and shame for abandoning Jesus, were now standing in the midst of the resurrected Christ receiving his forgiveness. And now they could “rejoice” (John 20:20)    

The greatest act in human history takes place: Christ, the God-man, rises from the dead. He overcomes death, he overcomes sin, and he overcomes sin’s disgrace. He first brings this news to the apostles. He reminds them of his love for them in his greeting, “Peace be with you”. His presence is the sign that he has defeated death and they have no reason to fear. But that’s not all. The Resurrection of Christ gives us “the power to become children of God” (John 1:12). So Jesus sends his apostles. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” This time they would respond to Jesus’ call for mission. They would not leave him. Instead, they “were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

Dear friends, this is why we want to be priests. It is a response to encountering love personified. This was the experience we had today. The Mass in Jesus’ tomb reminds us that Jesus Christ has saved us, Jesus Christ loves us, and thus, Jesus sends us to bring his loving heart into the world. This, my friends, is because we do believe in the empty tomb. We do believe that Jesus Christ has risen.”