This reflection was published in Give Us This Day, April, 2015. Reprinted with permission of The Liturgical Press
On that first morning of the week, day breaks into chaos. Sorrow, joy, disbelief, and hope fight out rival claims to the first disciples’ hearts as rumors and stories chase one another through the community. No wonder the accounts clash! Amid the confusion, though, one irrefutable fact stands out: The tomb is open. And it is empty.
Explanations spring up like weeds. The ubiquitous “they” have carried Jesus off, says Mary Magdalene to a doubtless amused “gardener.” Not any “they,” claim the guards assigned to prevent that very thing. His own disciples stole the body away in the night, they say, their employers’ bribe jingling in their pockets. But no, counter some of the women. He met us. He talked to us on the road. He’s alive. As more and more voices add to their chorus, and tales of Jesus’ appearances multiply, the tomb begins to fade into the background of this week’s Gospels, and the witnesses move elsewhere.
But still the tomb stands open. And still it is empty.
The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem contains an empty spot venerated as its very site since the fourth century. But the point is not a place back then or over there somewhere. The point is the tomb’s proclamation of Easter here and now.
From the Israelites in the desert to the Pharisees in Jerusalem, God has lamented our human habit of burying ourselves not in the ground but in the stone caskets of hardened hearts. God calls to us still today in Psalm 95, often prayed at the beginning of the Church’s Morning Prayer: Don’t do it again! “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as on that day at Massah in the desert . . .” when Israel, fresh out of Egypt, refused to trust that God would do anything about the hunger and thirst that were killing them. They could not imagine that God would summon a future for them out of the desert wastelands, even though they had seen the sea open at their feet. And where imagination is locked in a box, hope suffocates and dies.
In the Gospels, Jesus grieves over the Pharisees. Their hearts have hardened into whitewashed sepulchers, filled with the bones of their dead forebears’ hopes. The prophets had fueled those hopes with the promise of a new covenant. Its laws would be written not on stone tablets but in human hearts. But Jesus’ present hearers have shut their eyes, ears, and hearts to any possibility that God might break out of their own stone-carved rules, even when the new law made flesh in their midst raises the dead to life before their very eyes.
We know them, the Israelites and the Pharisees. We know what it is to seal ourselves into stubborn refusal of Christ’s invitation to come out of the habits of mind and spirit that are slowly destroying us. We are afraid, as the disciples were afraid behind their locked doors on Easter night. We dare not hope any more than they did that God will overcome the invisible enemies threatening us with suffering and death.
Yet still the tomb stands open. And still it is empty. It announces that no tomb can hold us now, not even our selfmade sepulchers, unless we choose to stay. When our imagination fails and hope withers, the tomb proclaims in silent boldness that all things are possible with God.
Sister Genevieve Glen, OSB