Offered by Deacon Michael Brennan, O. Praem., at St. Norbert Abbey
This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
Today on this glorious Easter morning, these words spoken by St. Peter centuries ago continue to echo across the years. These joyful words bounce off the walls and ceilings of this abbey church! They remind us on this Easter Sunday that Christ, our Lord is risen today! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! These words resound in our hearts and souls.
The Risen Christ draws us to this Abbey Church on Easter morning! We too, will eat and drink with Christ at this table, on this Easter morning, with this Church gathered here. We have encountered the Risen Christ in Word, in sacrament, in one another. We know the Risen Christ; we believe in the Risen Christ.
However, on that first Easter Sunday, Mary, Peter, and the Beloved Disciple stood before the empty tomb bewildered. “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead” (John 20:9).
If we’re honest with ourselves, do we understand this? Can we even begin to comprehend the Resurrection?
For three days, Jesus remained in the tomb. Dead. Not sleeping, not resting, but dead. We saw Him die. And the first day of the week, we arrive at the tomb and His body is gone.
During the next several moments, let’s imagine ourselves standing before the empty tomb on that first Easter Sunday. As we stand together with Mary, Peter, and the Beloved Disciple, let’s peer into the empty tomb and gaze upon the burial cloths of our Lord—our Friend, our Teacher. As we stand before the empty tomb, what do we experience? Do our hearts begin to race as the life of Jesus flashes before our eyes? Do we remember the first time this Jesus of Nazareth called our name, invited us to “come, follow me” (Matthew 4:19)?
In this silence before the empty tomb, we suddenly recall the moments that most astounded us: we witnessed Him granting sight to the blind; we stood in awe as He raised the dead; we were overcome with wonder as He fed thousands with just a few loaves and a couple of fish. Then His words come tumbling back: “What so ever you do for the least of my sisters and brothers you do unto me” (Matthew 25:40). “Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Then swiftly, like a tidal wave, we are immersed in the memories of these last few days. In these final hours leading us to this moment before the empty tomb, our Rabbi, our Teacher, our Friend became our Servant as He humbly knelt before us and washed our feet. Later that evening, we processed with Him to the garden. As we struggled to keep our eyes open, we overheard Him pray so intently, so sincerely to the Father. If we knew He was to be arrested, would we—could we—have stayed awake? Yet, we slept …
Suddenly, we were awakened by a cacophony of guards and onlookers who burst into the garden to seize our Lord, our Friend, our Leader. They came to drag Jesus away from us. Out of fear, many of us ran and hid. After the garden, we witnessed from afar that horrible trial—full of false accusations. Standing today, before this empty tomb, we now wish we could have said more, done more to defend this Man with whom we have journeyed so many days. Yet, we feared for our reputations. We feared for our very lives, so we stood back and watched. Our knees tremble as we recall the horror of those final hours. We hear the echoes of the crowds; we still sense the anger, the yelling. We feel the sadness, the crying. We remember His bruised and bloodied face. Nonetheless, through His pain, through our tears, we can still see His eyes. His eyes gaze upon us with love. For a moment, we remember Him looking at us; our eyes meet His and we feel His pain. His pain brought about by our sinfulness; His pain intended to console us in our darkest hours.
Are we too afraid to continue on to Golgotha, or were we among the brave women who followed Him to the end? Did we stand beneath the cross and hear His final words? Those of us who were there were overwhelmed by the words of our Rabbi, our Teacher, our Friend. As He hung upon the cross, amidst His unbearable suffering, He cried out for forgiveness for those who did this to Him. Even as He breathed His last, He thought of others before Himself. Upon His death, the earth shook violently, and then … then there was a great silence over the earth. A silence, a stillness like none other. This silence remained throughout His forty hours in the tomb.
But now, we stand here before this empty tomb. We stand before this empty tomb … we stand bewildered, lacking understanding. Slowly, we realize that we recognize this feeling: our own lives are filled with moments, with events that leave us bewildered. We have peered into plenty of empty tombs; there is much in our world that we do not yet understand. We stand before the empty tombs of damaged and broken relationships in our families and communities. We stand before the empty tombs of war and violence, bewildered by bombings, gas attacks—not understanding the violence that occurs in our homes and neighborhoods. We stand before the empty tombs of family members, confreres and friends, who endure illness and the challenges of old age.
We stand before all these empty tombs, bewildered, and we ask: “What has happened here? Where has Jesus gone? What will happen next?”
And then ever so slowly, we begin to remember His whole life has prepared us for this. We saw Him heal others; we saw Him raise the dead. Is this the moment for which all His words and deeds have prepared us?
As we stand before these empty tombs on this Easter Sunday, we know that the answer is, “Yes!” Our lives, in which we have encountered the words and deeds of the Risen Christ, have prepared us for Easter Sunday. Prepared us for these moments of the Easter Season; we go forth during the next 50 days of Easter to bring the joy, the promise, and the hope of the Risen Christ with us wherever we go. We bring the joy of the Risen Christ into the brokenness of our families and communities—filled with the hope and the promise that the Risen Christ can begin to transform our homes, our communities into places of resurrection. We bring the hope of the Risen Christ as we stand up and speak out for all those who are victims of violence, of war, of mass incarceration … that they, too, may experience the Risen Christ! We bring the joy of the Risen Christ to those who endure illness as we begin to recognize the privilege of walking with them in their suffering. We bring the joy of the Risen Christ into the public arena to speak for justice and to offer hope and promise to the homeless, the immigrant, the refugee.
As we eat and drink with the Risen Christ today, we are invited to burst forth from these doors, just as the Risen Christ burst forth from the tomb. As we begin this Easter Season, we are invited to burst forth with a message of deep and abiding joy into a world full of empty tombs. We are encouraged to go forth and encounter the Risen Christ. We are empowered to bring the hope, the promise, and the joy of the Risen Christ into all the moments of our lives!