Today, like the women of the Gospel and the disciples Peter and John, we have returned here, before the empty Tomb of Christ, to pray, to contemplate, to once again proclaim our faith.
The Gospel of today is a passage that resonates in this basilica almost daily. It is a Gospel full of momentum and life. It speaks of night and darkness that no longer frighten, for they are about to yield to the light of the coming morning. It speaks of a mighty stone that was overturned, and no longer closes anything; of disciples running; of cloths – signs of death – that no longer bind anyone; of eyes that see; of hearts that believe; and of Scriptures that are revealed to full understanding. For us, those signs have a clear meaning of joy, of life, of hope.
Yet, if we pay attention, the context of this proclaimed passage is initially one of death and despondency. For the disciples, everything seems to be over. The adventure, which began a few years earlier in great enthusiasm, seems to have ended in the most unsuccessful of ways. That Jesus, on whom they had staked everything, to the point of leaving their family, their work, their home, their whole life, in short, in order to follow Him, has died in the most miserable way. The disciples had followed Him eagerly. Even if they could not always understand His speeches and choices, they had stayed with Him. They had loved Him. From Him emanated a special power that gave them confidence. But now that Jesus, who with power worked miracles and spoke with authority (cf. Mt. 7:29), lies dead in a tomb, behind a heavy stone.
Despite this dramatic end, however, the disciples’ bond with the Master does not yet seem completely broken. They have not yet returned to their respective paths. Death has not ended everything. Mary Magdalene, in fact, does not even wait for the light of dawn to go to Jesus’ tomb. It is still dark, but she sets out to go to Him. She is not resigned to the absence of the Master, she wants to find a way to be with Him again. The disciples, Peter and John, have not left either. Mary Magdalene runs to them, for they still share a bond. And when they hear that Jesus’ body has been taken away, they too run to the tomb, bewildered. They still care about Jesus’ fate, despite His death. They have locked themselves in the Upper Room, sorrowful and frightened, but they have not left, they have not resigned themselves to believe that their bet on Jesus has really failed. However tenuous, there is still a thread holding them together, with Jesus and with each other. They do not know what to hope for, but at the same time, they have not yet chosen to abandon everything. After hearing Mary Magdalene, therefore, they run, eager to understand.
What kept their connection with Jesus alive despite His death and burial? What kept them from definitively retracing their steps, from going home? What could overcome the seemingly insurmountable wall of Jesus’ death? Love. Only love has this power. The disciples loved Jesus, and that love was not extinguished by His death. It was not extinguished by pain or fear. It was still there, and just needed to find a new way of expression, a new momentum. It will be the Word of Jesus, once again, that will allow the disciples’ love to put reality back into its proper perspective: “When therefore He was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that He had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said.” (Jn. 2:22). At the sight of the empty tomb and the cloths and shroud, the disciples’ hearts began to open to a new understanding of the events that had occurred. “And he saw and believed” (Jn 20:8).
Love has a creative power. It is the only shield that can stop the power of fear, of death and its stings (cf. 1 Cor. 15:56), and generate life. Before being the definitive word of life that God offers to the world, Easter is the proclamation of a love that saves, that forgives, that recreates new life in our dry and weary hearts, and that knows no death. We are not speaking here of a merely human love, but of God’s love. It is that love that resurrected Jesus by the power of the Spirit, that same love that has been poured into our hearts, through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us (cf. Rom. 5:5), and that still continues to work in us and in the world.
Today, this word is also announced to us here.
We live in a time marked by violence and death, marked by a deep mistrust, visible in the different spheres of the social, political and religious life of our countries. The violence against our Christian sites and symbols is only one expression of the more widespread violence that characterizes our time, and that can be found everywhere. Instead of trying to build relationships, common prospects for growth and development, instead of recognizing ourselves as part of one society, we promote exclusions and rejections. Politics, instead of seeking to achieve unity, to promulgate the common good, seems to want to plunge us into a swirl of ever greater divisions, on everything: not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but also among Israelis and among Palestinians. It is increasingly incapable of a vision that creates prospects and a future. Even on the religious level, suspicion, stereotypes and prejudices seem today to have the most powerful voice. I think that, in other words, we can say that we don’t really know how to love each other, and that is precisely why we are living through a rather depressing time in many aspects.
Perhaps we have in our hearts the same feelings of disorientation the women and disciples of the Gospel had. Here in the Holy Land, but also in many other parts of the world, the reality we live seems to speak to us of death and failure. Everything pushes us to believe that there can be no future other than the dramatic tensions we experience daily, that talking about hope is pointless; perhaps we too, do not know what to hope for.
That is why we still come here today to the Tomb of Christ. We need to hear again that Word, which will reawaken in our hearts the love that generated in us life and faith. Like the disciples Peter and John, we must rekindle in ourselves that love that tells us to run to the Tomb, to have the courage to renew the threads of broken relationships, to heal wounded friendships, to trust in spite of betrayals, to experience the healing power of forgiveness, to create contexts of beauty and serenity, to heal our hearts from feelings of hatred and resentment, to generate trust, desire and passion.
One of the great poverties of today is not the lack of money and success, but the lack of love, given and received. We have nothing to believe in, to hope for, and to give our life for, because we have nothing overflowing from our hearts. We do not trust our neighbor, we do not know how to forgive, because we have never experienced forgiveness.
Yet, with Christ’s Passover, the world has acquired a new dimension: that of those who lay down their lives for those they love, and who do not fear “trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword” (cf. Rom. 8:35), or even death, for “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Rom. 8:37).
Here today, once again, before this Empty Tomb, we renew – for ourselves and for our whole Church – our desire to bet on the love of Jesus, not to fear death and its bindings, but to be, here in the Holy Land and in the world, makers of life, love, forgiveness and hope.
By: Pierbattista Pizzaballa