Our New Life is Born in the Empty Tomb

When the holy women reached the tomb, they found that the stone had been rolled aside. This is what always happens! When we make up our minds to do what we should, the difficulties are easily overcome.

The Forge, no. 625

All sorts of questions fill the air on Easter morning, on that first morning of our new life: “Who will roll us back the stone?” “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” On the evening of that first day, the question would be: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And by Pentecost the question would become what we hear in Acts: “What are we to do, my brothers?”

In the face of God’s action, His omnipotence, we all have our questions. Our Lady had questions: “How can this be?” and “Son, why have you treated us so?” When questions arise in our hearts, hearts of people both fallen and redeemed, we often wonder why our expectations have been disappointed. We ask why our plans have gone awry. Whatever personal questions we may have, we see that our first Christian brethren had ones very similar to our own. In the case of Mary Magdalene, the One whom she loved more than anything else had been snatched away from her. The one Person who had loved her so well, with such compassion and understanding, was violently taken away. Where is he? That was her question.

We have our questions not only in the face of God’s power, but because of it. He is all-powerful. He can do all things. And this fact makes us wonder: If God is all-powerful, then… why? Our strong intuitions about the way things ought to be, our certainty that God wants us to follow a particular course of action, to pursue some holy and good thing, are sometimes met by an even clearer sign that God wants us to proceed no further. He who inspires our search can lead us to an unplanned for destination—a place that looks very different from what we had set out for.

Mary Magdalene was doing the best thing possible on Easter morning: seeking Jesus. But she initially discovered only an empty tomb. She could not find the Lord in her way. Her plans to enter the tomb and anoint Him had to be set aside. God’s power had accomplished something far greater and holier than she could have guessed. And what is most impressive is that as soon as she saw that her plans had to change, she changed. As Jesus gives Mary Magdalene a very hard command (“Do not hold me… but go to my brethren”), she obeys, having already learned not to say no to the Lord.

She would allow herself to be commanded by the One who could so change her, in a single instant, from hopelessness to ecstatic joy. Just as He had already transformed her from sinner to penitent, so was He raising her now to an entirely new height. The penitent turns jubilant apostle: “You changed my mourning into dancing; you took off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy” (Ps 30:11). And thus she hurries to announce to His brethren: “I have seen the Lord” (Jn 20:18).

Sometimes when the Lord is planning better things for us, we want to hold on to what is familiar. But our aspirations are so limited and poor—and what is worse, we can barely see how shortsighted we are before the all-powerful Lord. “She thought he was the gardener.” The Resurrection is supposed to change how we see absolutely everything—God, ourselves, our neighbor, the circumstances of our lives. When we commit ourselves to live in the light of the Resurrection, we consent to have our ideas and dreams all shaken up by God’s power. We agree to follow a path of transformation that passes through a tomb—a place where we cannot see or understand.

This kind of change, of growth, is what makes our new life in Christ truly new. It is born in a grave and once our new life emerges, we cannot go back again. Sometimes we can be so attached to our own plans that we want to go back to the familiar place. But the grave is no place for us: “Is your love proclaimed in the grave, your fidelity in the tomb” (Ps 88:11)? Our God is the God of the living, not of the dead.

We can confidently submit to darkness and confusion—and ultimately to death—because we know that there is such a thing as an empty tomb—and that only the Lord’s power can empty it. We learn to surrender again and again to His providence, because we learn time after time that the tomb is empty and remains empty and will always be empty. Once Christ leaves it, He never goes back into it.

In Psalm 22, after the voice of the Messiah asks why God has forsaken him, why God seems not to hear his cries of prayer uttered day and night, he pauses to say, “Yet you, O God, are holy…. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you set them free.” Those first Christians about whom we hear at Easter time, our fathers and mothers in the faith, set us this example of persevering trust. They ask all the enduring, human questions on our behalf, and also for our sake receive the luminous responses of the Risen One.

When their questions come to our lips we know that the same Lord who rises from the grave is also pointing us to the horizon of a new life. Once our minds are renewed to think always in terms of Resurrection, of Christ who conquers as He is conquered, then the difficulties along the way, to which St Josemaria alludes, are indeed overcome.

Obstacles still encumber our path, but they mean something very different after Jesus destroys death. They are the Craftsman’s tools by which people with old and tired ways are refashioned into the image of Him who passed from death to life that we might share in His new life forever.

Rev. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem. Rev. John Henry Hanson, O. Praem.

Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he is a formator in his community's seminary, preaches retreats, is chaplain to several communities of women religious, serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California, and is author of Praying from the Depths of the Psalms , Home Again: A Prayerful Rediscovery of Your Catholic Faith and Scatter My Darkness: Turning Night to Day with the Gospel. Father's latest book is Coached by Josemaría Escrivá (Scepter Publishers 2023). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.

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