Last week on March 20th we celebrated the first day of spring with rain showers and cloudy skies. Usually we expect sunny days, spring flowers and trees in bloom. Spring often has its own mind. Two thousand years ago “on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.”
On February 24th of this year, on Saturday morning, our pilgrimage group got up in the dark at 3:30 AM to go the Church of the Holy Sepulcher before sunrise to celebrate Mass at the tomb of Jesus. We arrived around 4:20 AM not long after the doors were opened and the Armenians were singing their Morning prayer. We had time to pray and reflect in the chapel on Golgotha where Jesus died before our turn to celebrate Mass. We celebrated the Mass of Easter and I proclaimed this passage from John’s Gospel, John 20: 1-9. At the tomb the scripture text has an amendment, “On the first day of the week in this place, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb.” We were there in the tomb on the Sabbath celebrating the Mass of the Resurrection and in a moment, the scripture was very real, an emotional experience remembering the empty tomb so long ago. Our group had the privilege to be in the church, in the tomb before any other pilgrims arrived. It was quiet, a little surreal standing in the antechamber lit by a single candle and praying together in front of the tomb.
We experienced some of the excitement and even some of the confusion of those men and women as they pondered what it all meant. When they saw the empty space, the burial cloths rolled up, the scripture simply says, “they believed.” And with that belief came slowly but surely the realization that all that Jesus said and did was true. He would hand on to them the charge of going out to the whole world and giving witness to this truth, “He has been raised,” as he said, “Alleluia.”
Today we celebrate that same truth “he has been raised and will raise us up on the last day. He is risen as he said, “Alleluia.” Celebrate this great day with food and family, celebrate the God who is Emmanuel, God with us the one who is Risen and sent us the Holy Spirit.
Lenten Blessings, Father Larry Hendel