Monday, April 1, 2013

His Presence

Readings for March 31/ Easter Sunday:
Acts 10:34, 37-43
Psalm 118: 1-2, 16-17, 22-23
Colossians 3:1-4
Luke 24:13-35

I don’t know about y’all but I’m excited to be able to say the ‘A-word’ again.
Christ is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!

What a blessing to be able to come here today to begin this most solemn feast by singing over and again the praise of God with that word that brings such joy to our hearts – Alleluia! We rejoice because today Christ has conquered death. He has cast out the darkness and brought us into His light. Where there was one darkness, sin, and fear, Christ comes with light to sow life and peace. If we cannot rejoice in this, there is nothing in which to rejoice!

Not to take anything from the joy that we experience in this moment, but I would like to take a moment to reflect on Holy Saturday before returning to Easter Sunday. I’m sure most all of us know of the pious practice of visiting Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament from time to time to pray. A visit to a church, a stop at the Adoration Chapel – these are little moments where we come before God and come into His Presence to find guidance, peace, and consolation through our prayers. This type of prayer is good and enjoyable for the most part because we often receive some grace in the end. But a few years ago I was challenged through a reflection by a religious sister to spend Holy Saturday praying with the absence of God. Holy Saturday is that one day each year when there are no official liturgical services – the Easter Vigil being an anticipated Sunday liturgy – and so there is no activity and often the tabernacle remains empty awaiting the consecration at the Vigil. Praying in this way, what I’ve found year after year is that those days are difficult ones. I came yesterday into the Church with it decorated for Easter and the smell of flowers in the air to signify the end of Lent, and yet as I stood there I felt something missing – or rather Someone missing. I sat before tabernacle, with it’s door wide open and nothing inside and began to pray. In the midst of that, though, I couldn’t help but feel this constant longing for the Lord to return.

Later in the evening at the Easter Vigil, as happens each year, as the words of consecration are spoken over the host and chalice, the emptiness is gone and a certain light and fullness, for lack of a better description, becomes truly present once more. Life has returned and the joy of that moment is tremendous as the darkness fades away.

I was praying with the contrast between those two experiences and it struck me that those points are actually short experiences of what eternity will be like. Hell has been traditionally understood as a profound absence of God because we by our sins have chosen to send Him away forever. Hell is the place where you feel completely empty and perpetually await the return of the Lord to bring life once more, but it never happens. On the flip side of the coin, the joy that is experienced in this celebration of Easter joy and the fullness of the Presence of Christ with us is a foretaste of the joy of Heaven. But the most incredible part is that the joy we experience now is as nothing compared to what is to come.

Often we think about heaven in our own terms. We take whatever thing or activity we enjoy the most – cars, fishing, shopping, eating, etc. – and we make it exist on a huge scale and imagine that as heaven. But the truth is that heaven is so glorious that it is beyond anything we can ever think of. That’s the good news that we celebrate today – that Christ by His victory over death has flung open the gates to Heaven that all the righteous might enter into that place which we could never have the courage to ask for, nor the imagination to make up. It is something entirely new and yet open for those who long to be received into it.

This something new is hinted at today in the Gospel passage as St. Peter runs to find the empty tomb and the clothing. Remember that Peter had been with Jesus when Lazarus was raised. He was there when others were raised up as well, so Peter knew well what Christ had the power to do. But when Lazarus was raised up, it was to the same life he had before. That’s why when Lazarus came out of the tomb they had to unwrap him. He had been covered in the burial shroud and simply revived, later to die once more. Peter saw that. But as he went into the tomb where Jesus had been, the cloths were in the same place as before, except He wasn’t in them. It is as if the Lord simply passed through them by sitting up and going about His way. This is shown to us later, as the Lord continue to pass through doors to get to the disciples. Something new has begun, and although, as the Scriptures tell us, they didn’t fully understand what being raised from the dead meant yet, they knew something was different. Something had changed.

My brothers and sisters, that something was the glorious life Jesus was living and to which He invites each of us today. So let us like the beloved disciple, not simply stop at seeing this miracle, but letting it also bring us to a conversion of heart and belief in Christ that compels us to go out and proclaim this good news of eternal life by our words and by our deeds. Let us today choose Christ once more and let Him choose us for Himself, that rather than feeling His absence we might rejoice today and for all eternity in the gift of His Presence.