BE NOT AFRAID!
Easter Vigil Mass (C)
April 3, 2010
The world has been in a protracted bad Friday for so long now… a tad too long. Since 9/11/2001, March 11, 2004, and so many other dates we’d rather forget but cannot, we have gone from fear to terror, from sadness to one disappointment after tragic disappointment, from lukewarmness to fervent prayer like Jesus did yesterday: Eli, eli, lema sabachtani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
The Holy Father, too, in a particular way, and along with him, the church has been in a protracted bad Friday in the recent weeks and months – on account of the crucifixion done by a few rotten eggs in the Church that have catapulted the Church once again, to the Calvary of biased media attention.
Tonight, armed with centuries old rich symbolisms and Biblical images, we have gathered here because, in the words of one issue of National Catholic Reporter, “something happened this Easter memorial night that makes all our bad Fridays good” and our lives worth living … good enough for us to ring bells and belt out our best song as an Easter people – Alleluia! Tonight, everything we do smacks of life and new beginnings … water, light, baptism, Passover, deliverance, promised land, empty tomb!
Empty tomb! Thank God it is empty! If it were not, we wouldn’t have any reason to be here tonight. But since we are here, it might do us good to ask ourselves: “Is it really empty for us?” We might want to give a look at who is there and what’s in there, or isn’t there. It isn’t empty when our lives are based on fear, when we are ruled by so much sadness and anger, when we live our day to day lives as one continuous bad Friday of indifference to God and his workings in our lives, and perhaps, a constant desire to get even with our enemies.
Today, Jesus who left the tomb tells us: be not afraid to go into the tomb. It should shame us men who are here tonight to take note, that it was women who went to the tomb “while it was still dark.” Be not afraid to go into the tomb. Be not afraid to die to yourself. For unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot bear fruit a hundredfold.
But tonight, we rejoice at the great news that the tomb is empty. The witnesses of that empty tomb, it would interest us to note further, went in running and went out sprinting. Not out of fear, I tell you, but out of glee, out of love overwhelming for Him whom they have come to anoint. Who was it who said that love is a trembling happiness? (Kahlil Gibran) We are thus reminded tonight, “Be not afraid to leave the tomb with Christ!”
In our times, our young people don’t feel the need to go to church. They don’t exactly come running to church. One possible reason: we have sanitized death too much. We have shielded them so much from pain, from suffering, and even from death itself. But material goods, and comfort, and freedom alone can’t guarantee a meaningful existence. Into everyone’s life some rain must fall, as we hear in the musical Les Miserables. We all must see some bad Friday and face the reality of dying to self and to the world, for us to feel the exhilaration of leaving the tomb together with Christ.
Some of us, indeed, are still in the tomb. The hopeless, the discouraged, the vengeful, along with terrorists who are enslaved, entombed with their death wishes and deeds, thoughts and desires that cannot come from a God who has left the tomb forever. Some of us, preferring to live with God at a comfortable distance, far enough for Him not to bother us in our merry and selfish ways, so that we could give free vent to what Rolheiser calls modern society’s “unbridled restlessness,” are nowhere near leaving that tomb of indifference, irreligiosity, and moral laxity.
Our liturgy tonight can boast of a brother and four sisters who today have chosen the path to the tomb of Christ. I must remind them that they have chosen the better part – to go and die with Christ so as to live with Him forever! I lay claim to no answer to our legitimate fears and worries. I find no words to comfort those families who continue to lose 18 year old kids to a war that was never, and will never be to their liking, even as I can find no sure answers to individuals who are still caught in the throes of grief after losing a very dearly loved person to sicknesses that seem to play favorites.
I won’t have the words to erase the unfairness and the injustice of innocent lives being snuffed into permanent oblivion from this sometimes cruel world, populated by ungodly people who prefer to take others to the entombment of their brightest hopes and dreams for themselves, for others and for the world.
I only have great news to share with you tonight. No … death does not have the final word. God does. And He sealed it forever by leaving that tomb and leaving it forever empty! On this easter night, my humble counsel to everyone who suffers, to everyone who is bothered by uncertainty and fear, to everyone yet undecided to commit himself or herself to the Lord via active membership and participation in your Christian community, my counsel to Barbara, Anthony, Elizabeth, Julie and Maria is simply this: Be not afraid to go into the tomb with Christ! Be not afraid to leave the tomb together with Christ! Be not afraid of death. It has no more sting.
Be not afraid of the tomb. It is not our final destiny. For, to quote my favorite poet, “In a flash, at a trumpet crash, we shall be what Christ was and is… immortal diamond, immortal diamond.” Be not afraid of life, for that is what He has come. suffered, died and risen for, that we may have it more abundantly. Happy Easter to you all.