Death hurts. When our beloved parent, spouse, child or friend dies, it just hurts.
It hurts because the communion that we shared with one another seems like it has ended. We can’t pick up the phone to call them. We can’t hold their hand. We can’t look them in the eyes and say, “I love you.”
“On the first day of the week. ...” (Jn 20:1). Mary of Magdala has lost not just her friend, but the beloved Bridegroom, the Word made flesh. His life is over.
Or so she thought. On the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath, the day that will define all other days, she goes to visit the tomb. An empty tomb.
The emptiness of the tomb is a strange sign indeed. The tomb may be the place of death that serves as a bitter reminder of our dead beloved. A sealed tomb shows that the death is complete. Our beloved is gone.
But the tomb is open. There’s a lot of possibility for confusion here. Perhaps someone else opened up the tomb. Perhaps the tomb was never sealed.
In each of the Gospels that are possible for Easter, there is this mix of confused hope.
In the Gospel of John, Mary Magdalene, Peter and John encounter an empty tomb with no explanation. They await one in the consoling words of the Scriptures: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Ps 118:22).
In Mark, the visitors to the tomb are different, including Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome. But the effect is similar. They encounter a young man, an angelic figure who announces, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here” (Mk 16:6).
Do not be amazed! If Jesus has risen from the dead, if the crucified and rejected one is dead no more, then what is there but amazement? Wonder? Hope?
The kind of hope that convinces once forlorn disciples, moping along a dusty road in the Gospel of Luke to hightail it back to Jerusalem to tell the gathered disciples the good news: Love has won.
Love’s conquering of death is the great news of the Easter season. Death hurts. It hurt the beloved Son, the Paschal Lamb, who took upon himself the darkness of men and women.
He died. He was wounded for our afflictions, wounded through all the ways that we human beings can stifle love.
But love won. Love is winning: “Christ our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed; let us then feast with joy in the Lord” (see 1 Cor 5:7B-8A).
We feast not because all the pain of death has been eliminated. We know better than to think this.
But we feast because we abide in an age in which death will not be given the last word. In which new life is possible. In which dying men and women could live again.
And this day, this day of all days, it is our recently baptized Catholics who give us this hope. Once dead to sin, they live anew. Their very bodies are signs to us of a future hope: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).
Death hurts. It hurts because it cuts off communion. But in Jesus Christ, we have received the Good News that such hurt will not be fatal. There’s hope: “Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining. Have mercy, victor King, ever reign!” (Sequence).
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.