Tuesday, April 10, 2012

12-04-08: Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday

Acts 10:34,37-43 / Psalm 118 / Colossians 3:1-4 / Victimae Paschali Laudes / John 20:1-9

If you’ve ever been to Jerusalem and had the opportunity to visit the Holy Sepulchre you might agree that it’s a big mess. Different churches control different parts of the church and their respective (though not very respectful) clergy are constantly getting into arguments with each other that quite often escalate into fist fights and brawls. If you can manage to get through the main entrance and make your way to the tomb itself you can actually enter the tomb, say a prayer and maybe light a candle - before you get thrown out. Unlike any other famous tomb, there would of course be no remains present because, as the gospel states, “He is risen as he said.” In this, you would have walked, literally, in the footsteps of Peter and the beloved disciple and experienced what they experienced on that first Easter morning – an empty tomb. Yet we are told, the beloved disciple “saw and believed.”

So, what did he see? That’s the starting point of a book just released this past week in which a British professor makes the case that it was the Shroud of Turin, or more precisely, the image on the shroud that engendered belief in Jesus’ resurrection for Jesus’ first disciples. John’s gospel tells us that the burial cloths that covered Jesus’ body, as well as the cloth which had covered his head, were in plain sight. The author of the book makes the case that, unlike today, an image had an enormously powerful effect on ancient peoples and it was the image of the crucified Jesus on the shroud that engendered belief in the resurrection. I haven’t yet read the book (only a review) so I don’t know how the author deals with the other very obvious detail in the gospel account – the fact that the body of Jesus was missing.

The other way to read the same gospel account is to understand that what the beloved disciple saw was, in a word, nothing. He believed on account of what he didn’t see. And it’s this experience – the experience of what’s missing – which can be of great value, precisely because we human beings all know that feeling. And we don’t like it! That empty, hollow feeling we get after a long relationship breaks up, when the doctor gives a diagnosis of terminal disease, when someone we’ve loved so much takes his last breath. It’s that hollow, empty feeling that brings on that sick-to-the-stomach, I–just-wanna-wake-from-this-nightmare feeling. But maybe that’s the first fruit of the resurrection – that hollowed feeling can become a hallowed encounter with the divine.

The notion that the hollowed may be a sign of the hallowed, that emptiness is the mirror image of holiness, that what is missing is already evidence of what will be found, resonates with that old rabbinic take that God created the world by withdrawing, just as the beautiful sandy beach appears only when the wave recedes. This might not be an experience of the Risen Lord in the flesh, but it may well be the first fruit of his resurrection – hope. A hope which intimates that all is possible. That’s what happens when you hollow out space; you make it hallowed, holy – you make room for what’s missing.

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