NO EASTER SUNDAY WITHOUT GOOD FRIDAY
Praise the Lord, Christ is risen, alleluia, alleluia.
He is risen indeed, alleluia, alleluia.
We were suffocated for forty days, because we couldn’t say or sing “alleluia”, and if by chance anyone of us due to distraction or routine said or sang alleluia, everybody’s eyes were upon him or her, made some signs to stop the person who felt bad, even humiliated. There was fear lest we said or sang the “alleluia”.
Now we can breathe properly, and even if we say distractedly the word “alleluia” nobody is going to look at us with contempt. In a way it is a pity that we lost the chance to be humiliated. Pope Francis said in his Palm Sunday homily that we learn humility through humiliations. All those who were humiliated through the word “alleluia” are going to be exalted now provided we grabbed such opportunities for love and for souls.
The season of Lent was a pilgrimage of faith. But not simply a doctrinal or theoretical one, it was a living faith that moved our hearts to conversion, to purification, to sanctification, to renewal and growth. Most of us have come to know Jesus’ love, Jesus’ compassion, Jesus’ mind, Jesus’ unbelievable condescension, his utter “kenosis”, self-emptying, his humility, his poverty, his obedience, but above all his greater love, his immeasurable and boundless charity. We could go on and on.
But then we will not have the joy of singing “alleluias”. Let us then come to this most holy season of Easter, which is the other side of Lent. The season of Lent and the season of Easter are the two inseparable sides of the same reality. Both are absolutely necessary. It can be summarized and reduced to the two most beautiful and very important days of the week: Friday and Sunday, both of which go back to the sixth day of the creation and then come to the first day of the recreation.
On Good Friday Jesus broke the old man that God created on the sixth day and recreated the new human being on Easter Sunday. Since then we have these two inseparable days to remind ourselves of the old man and the new man. The last chapter of the Gospels and the entire Acts of the Apostles exclusively center around the reality of the resurrection of Jesus.
Good Friday and Easter Sunday then, are inseparable from one another. They are like the two sides of the same coin. The Good Friday could have been a real tragedy if Jesus did not rise from the dead. All of us are familiar with death and burial, which come to every single person. But we are not at all familiar with the reality of the empty tombs. We know that the cemeteries are filled with tombs, but even after several hundred years there can be some remains if we happen to open the tomb.
In Lima, Peru, there is a Franciscan monastery where underground there is a huge ditch in which one can see the bones, skulls and the skeletons of over thirty thousand Franciscan friars who have lived and died there.
We have the tomb of St. Peter and St. Paul; we have the body of St. Pius V exposed in the basilica of Mary Major. The remains of so many saints like St. Josephat, St. Pius X, St. John XXIII and the tomb of St. John Paul II and several others can be found in St. Peter’s Basilica.
But when we go to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, we see that the tomb is empty. The remains of Jesus’ body, his bones, skull and skeleton cannot be found. And this was being verified on the third day after his burial. Even the huge stone at the entrance of Jesus’ tomb could not hold him, preventing him from going out of it.
The creator of the universe cannot be imprisoned in a tomb. Even two Roman guards who were supposed to guard the tomb and protect the body of Jesus from being stolen could not do it.
The Pharisees and the Jewish authorities tried to explain away the event of the resurrection of Jesus in human terms and in an unjust way. They lied, they bribed the soldiers, and they arrested some of the apostles. Peter was imprisoned. They beheaded James the apostle. They scourged them, warned them not to speak on Jesus’ name. The more they tried to prevent, the more the good news spread around. Saul, the learned Pharisee, trained by Gamaliel, the great teacher of the law, tried to destroy the Christians.
All efforts became useless, because what they had seen and heard, touched and watched, they were proclaiming in order to have fellowship with them, and their fellowship was with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ (cf. 1Jn 1:1-4).
It is enough to go through the book of the Acts of the Apostles to see it. The last chapters of the gospels try to give an account of the reality of the empty tomb: the first ones who saw the empty tomb, the linen cloth rolled up by itself. The disciple whom Jesus loved waited for Peter to be the first official witness of the empty tomb: “Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first, also went in, he saw and he believed” (cf. Jn 20:8).
Let us run with Peter, let us descend to the tomb with John, let us see and let us believe. Perhaps some of you prefer to be like Mary Magdalene who stood crying outside the tomb. She was not interested in the empty tomb, but she wanted to know where the body of Jesus had gone. So she bent over and looked in the tomb and saw two angels there dressed in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the feet. But she did not see Jesus’ body, because he was no more confined to the tomb.
Besides the fact of Jesus’ resurrection, the risen Lord wants us to make an effort, practice patience, and persevere in our search for Jesus. Today the empty tomb can be for us connected with a religious vocation. The Church we are called to belong to can be like the empty tomb for some of us. For some others the spiritual life can be the empty tomb. And for some others still it can be the life of prayer, dry and empty. It can be the parish community where we see the many superficialities.
When we pray without encounter of the person of Jesus, when we try to follow Jesus without the Cross, when we practice charity without transcendence, when we make vows without renunciation, when we live our consecrated life without joy and enthusiasm… we face the empty tomb without the risen Lord. The risen Lord demands effort, fidelity, renunciation, sacrifice, transcendence, conviction and perseverance.
As we lived the season of Lent preparing ourselves for the celebration of the great paschal feast, the season of Easter is a time to prepare ourselves with humility and hope for the feast of Pentecost, although there is a great difference in the Spirit and mood of the two inseparable seasons.
In conclusion I would like to wish each and everyone a very peace-filled feast of Easter. Like Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, the apostles in the upper room and the many disciples, let us rejoice and be glad because the Lord is risen, alleluia, alleluia. He is risen indeed, alleluia, alleluia. Amen. Alleluia.
God bless you.
Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala M.C.