The tomb is empty. The stone has been rolled away. Jesus is not there. A vacant grave appears in the dim light of morning. This is the height and summit of the story of Jesus the Nazorean.
Except it’s not.
This year’s Easter reading from the Gospel of John gives us the account of a grief-stricken Mary Magdalene seeking the tomb of her Rabbi, Master, and friend. It is early. The sun has yet to rise. She finds the tomb empty and — with anguish and horror — runs to tell the disciples that someone has taken the body of her Lord. This Jesus (her Jesus), who was all mercy, all truth, all gentle and fierce and holy power — must he suffer the indignity of being stolen in the night? Was not the pain and humiliation of the cross enough? Where have they taken him? Simon Peter and John tear through the quiet streets of Jerusalem and arrive at the tomb. It is just as Mary has reported. Empty. They are left with questions and vague hope.
Jesus did not come to give us vague hope. The empty tomb is not the end of the story. Jesus is not gone. He lives. Really and truly lives. Not figuratively. Not in some hyper-spiritualized, otherworldly sense. He is alive.
In the days following the Resurrection, the disciples see him, touch him, and eat with him. His body — the same body knit together in the womb of his mother and nourished lovingly at her breast. The same body slick and gritty with hard work at the side of his foster-father. The same body constantly reaching out to touch, heal, forgive, comfort, and feed. The same body subject to torture, degradation, and death has been raised from the dead. Jesus has conquered death. By his Passion and Resurrection, he has made our humanity resplendent. Jesus came to give us hope that is resplendent. He knows intimately the depth of the darkness we face. If we are brave enough and trusting enough and reckless enough to hope in him, it cannot overcome us.
This week during what the Church calls the Octave of Easter we will hear stories of the Risen Jesus walking and talking and eating and being touched by his friends. We will meet people stumbling in doubt and confusion and grasping at vague hope. We will watch the Risen One set their hearts ablaze with what is glorious and piercing and true. Easter is not over. It is still unfolding. Like the crocuses bravely pushing their way up from my snow-covered garden, the Resurrection has broken the canceling grip of what is cold and cruel and final. This week, the Resurrection will unfurl itself.
Go to daily Mass this week to hear the Risen Christ proclaimed. Hear how day-by-day the Resurrection blossoms and reveals itself and receive a share of the resplendent hope that is yours … for you. Really and truly for you. The empty tomb is not the end of the story. It is the beginning of a new and glorious and forever unfurling story. It is your story. It is a story of hope. It is hopeful indeed.