Reflections on the Readings
Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil - April 19, 2014 - Year A
But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay." - Mathew 28:5-6
Come, See the Place where He Lay!
My mother's name is Mary. On July 16, 1995, my mother left us and our embrace filled with Easter hope. Four women (five, if you allow me to add my mother's name to the list) share the name Mary in the story of the Empty Tomb: Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary, the mother of James and Joses; and Mary, the wife of Clopas. In addition, there is Joanna, the household manager of Herod Antipas, and Salome, possibly the mother of the apostles, James and John. Like these women who share the distinction of being the first witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus, it was a woman, my mother, who first told me about Jesus Christ, Crucified, Buried, Risen and Ascended. The place of mothers in the faith formation of their children is priceless. We see this maternal influence in Timothy as well, a spiritual son of the Apostle Paul. In his second letter to Timothy he says, "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice." (3:5)
As a young teenager I remember how I loved to watch NBA basketball on TV upon returning home from Sunday morning church and after Sunday dinner. One particular Sunday my mother made the observation that the sequence of changing from worship to NBA basketball seemed to be incongruous. Of course she was correct in her concern. After all it was the Lord's Day, not Wilt Chamberlain's.
Every Easter we hear the same angel give the same invitation, "Come, see the place where he lay." And then the angel asks, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here; for he is risen as he said!" Then we hurry out of Church discussing where we are going to eat today. I wonder today if I truly stop long enough and gaze long enough on the mystery of my salvation. Do I truly come to see where the Lord lay and bask long enough in the light and power of His Resurrection? Does my heart burn with the knowledge of Jesus Christ victorious over death, hell, and the grave?
Don't forget that this is the story; it is our story. Boldly Peter preached, "They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day…we ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead." (Acts 10:39-41) The invitation for all these centuries is the same, to come and see where they lay him. Do I ever invite someone to come and see the place where they lay him? That is, do others see the joy of the Spirit in me; the wonder in my eye that says "He is Risen?"
Our story is filled with faith and hope and charity; a threefold cord of God's lifeline to us that will not fail. Our story is about how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. Our story is not a story of condemnation of you or me or anybody else but rather is a rousing indictment leveled at Lucifer. The slippery fingers of death could not keep Christ in the tomb nor can the slimy fingers of Satan keep you in his condemning grasp. That's the moving and compassionate truth of Christ who no longer occupies a tomb. On the third day he blazed through his burial garments. Then he made his bed before he left, folding the facial napkin and laying it down neatly in a place by itself. It was a borrowed tomb after all!
Some may go through this Easter Sunday like any other Sunday or any other day of the week for that matter. It'll be like a blink of an eye; a momentary recognition, "Oh, that's right. It's Easter Sunday." Or others may be like a call I took at customer service a few years back just before Christmas. The caller asked, "Is the Bank open tomorrow?" "Not tomorrow," I answered. "It's Christmas day and the Bank is closed." "What's that got to do with anything?" my caller retorted. Interestingly enough I've taken many calls ahead of Good Friday from folks inquiring if the Bank will be open on Good Friday. That cross on a hill far away still holds a wondrous attraction.
I stand in the shadow of my mother's sense of the sacred. Her love for Jesus and her faith in him was indomitable. She lived with a faith in the risen Christ that inspires me yet to this day. And it will be that faith that was first in my mother, Mary, that will carry me through. How grateful I am that she like so many numberless thousands accepted the invitation to come and see the place where the Lord lay. And then she passed on the Good News to me and my siblings.
Today we remember the urgent and joyful message of those first women who departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy and ran to tell his disciples. On their way Jesus met the breathless women and said, "Hail!" C. H. Spurgeon spoke about this greeting of Jesus in a sermon he gave at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in Newington (England) in 1882:
That is, first, a word of salutation, as if He had said, "Welcome, Friends! Glad to see you, Friends! All hail, My Friends!" There is nothing cold and formal about that word—it seems full of the warmth of brotherly kindness and affectionate condescension. "All hail!" says our Lord to the women. "You are glad to see Me, and I am glad to see you. 'All hail!'" How much more sweet that sounds than that bitter sarcasm of the soldiers, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And yet it seems almost like an echo of it, as though Christ caught up the cruel word, crushed the bitterness out of it and then gave it back full of delicious sweetness to the holy women before Him. "All hail!" He says. "All hail!"
One more time they bow before him and bathe his feet with their joyful tears and worship him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."
I urge you to also come, see the place where they lay him. Then, go and tell! Amen.
Dennis Hankins is a parishioner at Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral, of the Diocese of Knoxville, TN. Prior to uniting with the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil 2006, Dennis served as a priest in the Charismatic Episcopal Church. E-mail Dennis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @dshankins or visit him at: www.dennishankins.com