Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for Holy Saturday at the Easter Vigil

April 3, 2021
St. Patrick Cathedral
Fort Worth, Texas

Genesis 1:1-2:2
Psalm 104:1-2, 5-6, 10, 12, 13-14, 24, 35
Exodus 14:15-15:1
Exodus 15:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 17-18
Isaiah 54:5-14
Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-2, 13
Romans 6:3-11
Mark 16:1-7

When the Sabbath was over, three women gathered the ingredients necessary to bury the body of Jesus. They went to the tomb early and thought of a few practical points they had overlooked. What about the heavy stone sealing the tomb? What about the guards? What about the official seals that had been put on the tomb? But when they arrived, the soldiers were gone, and the stone was rolled away.

Mark does not tell us how they reacted to that … just that when they went inside, they were shocked. The tomb was empty except for a figure in white sitting to their right. The messenger felt their amazement, shock, and fear. He announced that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth was gone — not taken but raised and on the road to Galilee. He sent the women back to Peter and the disciples with the message to meet Jesus in Galilee.

One wonders what was going through the minds and hearts of these women. Another Gospel tells us that they fled from the tomb into the garden. Yet they were not women easily given to fear. At least two of them had braved the scorn of the crowd, the religious leaders, and the soldiers while Jesus was hanging on the cross. And after His death, they had remained to assist in His provisional burial without fear. Could fear have overtaken them now?

Jesus’ arrest and trial, and especially His gruesome passion and death had been a horrible shock to His followers, but it should have been expected. He had told then that it would happen. It was inevitable since lives of goodness and justice have a way of threatening those in power and those of us who prefer easier paths than the way of the Truth. Nevertheless, His disciples had not expected such a violent and bloody death, and these women were now trying to remedy a hasty and ill-prepared burial. As traumatic as the Crucifixion was for them to experience, they experience more fear at the encounter with the empty tomb because the empty tomb is so very real that it demands a decisive response to believe or to deny. The victory of Jesus’ Resurrection over death is so real that it requires us to accept the real intimacy of the mystery of the empty tomb, be converted, and not remain distant by considering it only to be a riddle.

As Pope Francis preached at the Easter Vigil in 2018, “To enter into the mystery demands that we not be afraid of reality: that we not be locked into ourselves, that we not flee from what we fail to understand, that we not close our eyes to problems or deny them, that we not dismiss our questions…To enter into the mystery, we need humility, the lowliness to abase ourselves, to come down from the pedestal of our “I” which is so proud, of our presumption; the humility not to take ourselves so seriously, recognizing who we really are: creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness. To enter into the mystery, we need the lowliness that is powerlessness, the renunciation of our idols… in a word, we need to adore. Without adoration, we cannot enter into the mystery.”

If we as followers of Christ are unprepared for His death and our share in it, then we certainly are unprepared for an empty tomb. Baptism illuminates our minds to see what is real through faith. The white robes that those who are baptized wear are akin to the white robe of the messenger who proclaimed the Resurrection of Jesus to the women in the Gospel. Faith given through Baptism shows us that the empty tomb has become a passage to a life that is beyond our control. The empty tomb has become a sign of the fullness of life, the cause of our joy. It is the joy of that new life that we celebrate today. Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified is risen. He has gone before us. Alleluia.

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