March 25, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

In the crucified Christ, we find love and hope

If you have visited the tomb of a loved one, your mother or father or son or daughter or a friend, there is likely a feeling of aloneness or emptiness, perhaps a questioning of faith.

Is there life beyond this grave? Then in prayer, we need to visit the empty tomb in the garden of Easter morning. The empty tomb is a symbol of hope, a symbol of the reason for hope.

To imagine ourselves in the garden of Easter morning is something like seeing our trees beginning to bud. It is to see the tulips and other flowers pushing up through the ground. Soon the dogwoods, the tulips, the blossoming fruit trees and the greening of our earth will again be a timely reminder that dark winter is over and the new life of Easter spring is here. Springtime and Easter speak to us of hope and peace. They can remind us of the empty tomb.

We are children of the earth. All of us are born of Mother Earth. We also bury each other in Mother Earth, as children who also die in her. A theologian once said, “The earth bears us with infinite hearts, and alas, what she gives us is too beautiful for us to scorn and too poor to satisfy us fully, for we are insatiable.”

Mother Earth brings forth both life and death—never one without the other—always both. We call this mixture of life and death, of joy and sorrow, of creative activity and tiresome duty our everyday life. We love it and yet we want to leave it for something more. Our hearts are restless and insatiable.

We long for a motherhood and fatherhood that would make us more than sisters and brothers in pain and suffering or in moments of joy that pass so quickly. We want our new sisterhood and brotherhood to be more than a dream; we want it to be of this earth as well.

Jesus, the Son of God and also a child of this earth, and our brother in the flesh, revealed a Father whose love mysteriously surpasses our passing experience of love. He gave us a mother, the Church, filled with the Spirit of life and from whose womb in baptism all of us are reborn to a life that will never end. He gave us the gift for which our unknowing hearts are restless.

The suffering and death that God asked of his own Son gives us the key to help make sense of human tragedy and the graves of our loved ones. Once more during Holy Week, we have traced the path of Christ’s Passion. It is the path of an innocent son of the earth who was betrayed by a friend then forced to die the shameful death of a criminal. Once more, we emerge from Good Friday rejoicing because he conquered death and sin. The locked tomb of this earth has been opened and, before the empty tomb of Easter, we cry, “Alleluia!”

Even so, our Church clings to the tradition of displaying the crucifix—the cross with the image of the body of Jesus on it. We venerate the crucifix on our walls. This tradition is not a denial of the victory of Jesus over death and it is not a displacement of the glorious Resurrection in Christian life.

It is God’s own irony that the crucifix is not a sign of death, but a sign of life; not a sign of failure, rather a sign of hope. From the empty tomb, we gaze on the crucifix with the glow of the Resurrection around that body born of earth like ours. We want to be reminded that we do not suffer alone: a real person stretched out his arms on the cross and suffered so deeply out of love for us. Our crucifixes signal a Christian realism about life and death and resurrection; they strike a chord in our hearts as children of the earth.

Because of the victory of Jesus, at the empty tomb we can reach out to you who bear more than your share of suffering. Perhaps you face a terminal illness or a divorce or are afflicted with depression. There is hope. We can all experience the solidarity of Jesus with us.

Most important of all, he showed us that life does not end when we are returned to the earth. For those who face death with fear, Jesus showed once and for all that in death, life is changed and not taken away. Easter is the preeminent feast of hope!

With faith, like Peter as he stooped to look into the empty tomb, we can only be amazed.

God bless one and all with Easter peace and hope! †

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