Easter: Joy Follows Emptiness
The Gospel lection from John (20:1-9) chosen by Jesus’ Church for Easter Sunday’s Mass records the consternation of Mary Magdalene when she found that Jesus’ tomb was empty. She ran back to the Upper Room to tell Peter and the others about her discovery. Peter and John investigated and found it as Mary reported. John records that on looking into the empty tomb he “saw and believed.” (Jn 20: 8) In an aside, he noted that “…as yet they did not understand the Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.” (Jn 20:9) John saw with the eyes of Faith that the empty tomb signified Jesus’ resurrection as He had foretold. As Christians, “We walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7) The emptiness felt by the Apostles at Jesus’ crucifixion was followed by the joy of His Resurrection. Consolation followed desolation.
Emptiness prepares us for joy, but we don’t always realize it. We feel joyful when we empty our self of the stuff that weighs us down and makes life miserable. When we empty our mind of negative thoughts we experience the joy from of positive thinking. When we empty our self of anger, we experience the joy of calmness. When we empty our self of lust, we experience the joy of self-control, When we empty our self of greed we experience the joy of giving. When we empty our self of sloth we experience the joy of productivity. When we empty our self of covetousness, we experience the joy of kindness. When we empty our self of pride we experience the joy of humility. When we empty our self of gluttony we experience the joy of moderation. When we empty our homes of clutter we experience the joy of neatness and order. When we empty our gardens of weeds we enjoy the proliferation of flowers. The empty tomb became a source of joy for the Apostles who were convinced that Jesus’ death on the cross was the end of everything. When we find ourselves overwhelmed the solution lies in what we need to empty our self of in order to experience the joy of gaining control over our life. The empty tomb was followed by the joy of knowing that Jesus had gained control over His life by conquering death. Jesus’ emptied Himself of death which was followed by the joy of His Resurrection. In Baptism we were emptied of our fallen nature and experienced the joy of a redeemed nature.
When God’s Word took on flesh in Mary’s womb “He emptied Himself and took on the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2:7) Jesus emptied Himself of His will so as to completely submit to His Father’s will. The empty tomb signified that Jesus was free from all that bound Him as a human being. This was symbolized by “the wrappings on the floor” of the tomb, and “the piece of cloth which covered His head not lying with the wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself.” (Jn 20:6-7) In freeing Himself from suffering and death, Jesus perfected and glorified human nature by completely uniting humanity and divinity within Himself in His Resurrection. By emptying Himself in order to be totally faithful to His Father’s will, Jesus saved mankind from the chains that bind us, namely sin, suffering, and death. He taught us to empty our self so He can fill us with the joy of His resurrected presence.
On Easter Sunday morning no one, apart from the Virgin Mary, felt more empty than Mary Magdalene. Filled with grief she came “early in the morning” to the tomb to pay her final respects to the one Man who loved her for herself and restored her humanity and dignity. Her experience of the empty tomb was followed by joy when the risen Jesus called her name. I’ve often tried to imagine what that meeting was like. This woman went from the emptiness of grief to the fullness of joy as she embraced her risen Lord. As Christians, Jesus’ Resurrection is the event that fills our emptiness caused by our sorrows, some brought on by ourselves and some brought on by others, bringing us the joy of a refreshed soul. This is why Jesus’ Church is so essential. Through His Church, particularly in her Sacraments, Jesus makes Himself present to us just as He made Himself present to Mary Magdalene. But we must walk and talk with Him in His company “by faith, not by sight.” As the Holy Spirit tells us, “Now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” (1 Cor 13:12) It’s through, with, and in Jesus’ Church that Peter’s words become real for us: “Although you have never seen Him, you love Him, and without seeing you now believe in Him, and rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory because you are achieving faith’s goal, your salvation.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)
Easter Sunday is “the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad. Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His mercy endures forever.” (Ps 118) Jesus emptied the people of their doubts about who He was and filled them with the joy of faith, hope and knowledge of His love that never dies. As the appointed head of the Apostles, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, addressed the crowd on Pentecost, informing them of who Jesus was and what He did, calling them to put their faith in Him as the promised Messiah, God dwelling among us. “He went about doing good, healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him … They put Him to death … God raised Him on the third day … He commissioned us to preach … and to testify that he is the One appointed by God as the Judge of the living and the dead … everyone who believes in Him will receive the forgiveness of sins through His Name.” (Acts 10:34-43) Through His Church Jesus continues to call you and me to empty our self so He can fill us with the joy of His risen presence and His promise that He’ll empty our tombs by raising us from the dead.
May our moments of emptiness remind us that Jesus wants to fill us with the joy of knowing that He wants us to submit our self to Him so he can raise us up from our suffering and death to be fulfilled in Heaven. As Jesus was raised from the dead by His Father so He raises us if we put our trust in Him. I wish you a joyful Easter. (frsos)