“The Tomb of Christ, Who is Living” (from Easter Sequence)
It was still dark on Sunday morning when Mary Magdalene went to the cemetery where Jesus was buried. She found out that the body of the Lord is missing; the tomb is empty. As testified to by Peter and John, what Mary found left in the tomb are linen cloths and napkin “rolled up in place by itself” (Jn. 20: 7). What was Mary expecting to see at the tomb?
In the Easter Sequence, the church urges Mary to speak of her discovery: “Speak Mary, declaring What you saw, wayfaring,” and she responds in these profound words, “The tomb of Christ, who is living…” In all the accounts of the resurrection from the synoptic Gospels (Mt. 28:1-1-, Mk 16: 1-11, and Lk 24: 1-12), none refer to the tomb the number of times John did- seven times. John, within a length of ten verses, refers to the tomb severally. Repetition of the words “the tomb” is a way of emphasizing that Jesus’ death is non-contestable, which makes the news of his resurrection unique. I return to Mary’s words in the Sequence: “Yes, Christ my hope is arisen.” Mary Magdalene discovered hope in the tomb, not death.
I took a prayerful and recollected walk around St. Peter cemetery on Wednesday morning as I do from time to time. I did intend to find hope amid headstones erected in memory of our beloved brothers and sisters who have gone ahead of us marked with the sign of faith. What did I see? Unlike Mary Magdalene, I did not find linen cloths and napkins. I saw, among others, a tombstone designed in the shape of a harp- a sign of joyful hope, images of guardian angels, inscriptions celebrating birthdays, insignias of butterflies, and flowers symbolic of life like hyacinths, daffodils, tulips, and roses- all these signify hope and life. One of the tombstone inscriptions reads: “.…Until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.” I discovered signs of hope at the cemetery, not just death.
The Easter liturgy announces that “Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining…Amen. Alleluia” This is a mystery central to our faith. It is the hope of Christians. This faith, this hope, is the reason we are joyful today and beyond. The resurrection's significance, victory over sin and death, is not lost on the Church, hence the liturgical celebration of Easter hope and joy for weeks until Pentecost.
St. Athanasius puts it well in the following words: “The fifty days from the Sunday of the Resurrection to Pentecost are celebrated in joy and exultation as one feast day, indeed as one ‘great Sunday.’ “ And the Church reminds us that “these are days above all others in which the Alleluia is sung.” Even if we the darkness of death around us, as the world tries to rise from the ashes of Covid-19, let us not fail to see the Christian hope of the resurrection. Let us not succumb to despair because, as Pope St. John Paul II reminded us, “we are the Easter people and Alleluia is our song.” It is Easter, sing and live Alleluia, please!
Fr. Bernard Oniwe, OP