September 12, 2008

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Empty tomb is a symbol of Christ’s victory and our salvation

(Fourteenth in a series)

Were you there when they buried him in the tomb?”

A text from the Gospel according to St. Luke describes the fourteenth and last Station of the Cross.

“A member of the Council arrived, a good and upright man named Joseph. He had not consented to what the others had planned and carried out. He came from Arimathaea, a Jewish town, and he lived in the hope of seeing the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. He then took it down, wrapped it in a shroud and put it in a tomb which was hewn in stone and which had never held a body” (Lk 23:50-53).

The tomb was near Calvary in an orchard. Actually, the tomb was new and belonged to Joseph of Arimathaea. Because it was the eve of the solemn Pasch, Jesus is laid there. Jesus came into the world with nothing; so, too, with nothing—not even the place where he rests—he has left us.

“Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea, who are hidden disciples of Christ, intercede for Him making use of high positions they hold. In the hour of loneliness, of total abandonment and of scorn …, it is then that they stand up for him boldly … heroic courage!” (St. Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, The Way of the Cross, p. 121).

Catherine de Hueck Doherty wrote: “When it received the Lord of Life lifeless, dead, the tomb became a manger again, the birthplace of life. Its silence sang a requiem of alleluias. Its coldness became all flame and fire of joy—joy beyond desire. Jesus slept within the cradle of its depths the sleep of the One who conquered death.

“Alone the tomb became witness to the mystery of victory. For all eternity, it will keep the secret of that mystery, giving humanity but its emptiness, guarded by angels” (Way of the Cross, p. 39).

“ ‘A grain of wheat falls into the ground.’ Jesus had said that the harvest can be reaped only by planting the seed in the Earth. There it dies and bears much fruit. In this holy and silent Paschal night, Jesus lies buried in a borrowed tomb. The long winter of man’s estrangement from God has ended. Jesus, the first fruits of the dead, will arise from this tomb. By Baptism, we share his death and share also His glorious Resurrection” (The Holy Face in the Way of the Cross, Columban Fathers, p. 30).

We are the inheritors of the incredible fruits which Christ won for us by his Passion, death and resurrection. The empty tomb becomes a symbol of his victory and our salvation.

In the busy world of our day-to-day lives, it is a challenge to keep the wonder of Christ’s victory and its decisive meaning in focus. So many other things become seemingly more important.

What could be more important than our salvation? What is more important than our eventual entry into the house of the Father?

As the saying goes, we know neither the day nor the hour. But worrying about death and judgment is not the point. The real point is a truthful response in love for Jesus, who gave his all for each of us.

We have the witness of many saints and martyrs whose lives give us a model or pattern on how to live our gratitude for the greatest gift we could ever receive—our salvation.

It is helpful to remember that just as we do not love Christ as perfectly as we would like, neither did they. But they kept on course, and so can we. The secret of holiness is the willingness to keep on starting over when we fail. God’s grace will prevail.

Finally, we can be grateful for the tradition of praying for deceased souls. We pray for those who have died before us that they might enter the Kingdom, and be finally united with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We count on those who survive us to pray for the repose of our souls, too.

As we reflect on this Fourteenth Station and Jesus being laid in the tomb, we can be confident that he blesses the grounds of our cemeteries. We can also count on his consolation and that of his holy Mother as we commend our loved ones to the house of the Father.

St. Paul’s words to the Romans summarize our hope: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:4-5). †

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