Saturday, April 03, 2010

Reflection for Easter, The Empty Grave

"He has risen, He is not here. Behold the place where they laid Him." St. Mark, 16:6.

There was a salesman by the name of Frank Headland, who had an unusual hobby. For over fifteen years his sideline had been finding out where the great men and women of the world are buried. One might think that is an easy task, but you will be surprised at the amount of time and effort he had to spend in locating the graves of the famous and the near famous.

He started his hobby back in 1932, when he came upon an editorial in a newspaper which lamented that the grave of a famous citizen of Ohio, a former Supreme Court justice, could not be located. The dead man's friends wanted to erect a memorial to him. Headland finally found the site of the grave in some old records. He decided to continue searching out the secrets of other graves, when he realized that there were dozens of directories tell­ing where famous folk lived when alive, but no list of their last resting places. In this way was born his unusual book with the title Where's Who. Kings, governors and presidents are listed with the site of their burial place.

But the most famous name, the greatest name in all history is not on his list, for the simple reason that the most outstanding Person in history did not stay buried, and there is no record or even suggestion that His body is buried anywhere on this earth.

Where's Who cannot tell us where Christ is buried today, for the simple reason that He is not buried. Yes, Mr. Headland could tell us where Christ was buried 2000 years ago - for three days - but the risen body of Christ is now in heaven. The angel still stands by the grave of Christ and still declares:
"He has risen, He is not here. Behold the place where they laid Him."
That is the glorious fact which we celebrate this Easter morning. That
is the truth which makes us happy today. But how do we know that Christ rose from the grave? How do we know that there was a first Easter, which gives all the meaning to this Easter of 2008? The primary proof for the Resurrection we might put in this way: Jesus Christ is truly risen from the grave, if the Apostles were not deceived or mistaken, and if they did not deliberately deceive or mislead.

1. The Apostles were not deceived.

A. The resurrection of Christ from the grave is something that comes under human observation. In other words, the Apostles could see that the stone was rolled away, and that the grave was empty. They had heard of the statement of God's messenger that He was not there, that He had risen. They could also hear the silly excuse of the sol­diers that Christ's friends had stolen His body while the guards were asleep.

B. During forty days, at various times, to various individuals and groups, Christ appeared, talked, and even shared food with them.

C. They definitely did not want to be deceived because they refused belief. Think of St. Thomas, the Apostle, refusing to believe unless he would put his finger into the wounds of the risen Christ.

D. But when they were finally convinced, the Apostles went forth into the whole world to preach the resurrection of Christ, in the face of ridicule, torture and even death. All but one laid down their lives for this truth.

2. The Apostles did not deceive.

A. Christ's followers, especially the faithful eleven of His chosen twelve, had no reason to deceive or mislead others with regard to the Lord's rising from the grave. On the. contrary, they had every rea­son not to deceive.
i. God would punish their lie and deception.
ii. Men would persecute and punish them for their deception.
B. Furthermore, the Apostles had no way or means of deceiving.
i. Of themselves they were timid, uneducated, men without influ­ence. How could they convince the world of such a lie?

ii They knew the world would never believe such a statement, if it were not true.

iii. Nevertheless, a great part of the world has accepted the fact of the resurrection. Accepting that fact and that truth has made the world better, and has made the world sure that Christ, who taught such a high way of life, was really God.

3. Added to these reasons are many others:
the prophecies carried out; the testimony of the angels, especially of the angel at the tomb; the Jewish council giving bribes to the guards to tell a lie; the appearances of our Lord to others beside the Apostles; the constant belief and teaching of Christ's Church; the firm faith of the Apostles and martyrs in dying for this truth; the conversion of the world because of this belief; yes, and the unshaking faith of entire Christendom today, including ourselves, who believe without doubt that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, by His own power, rose from the grave on the third day after He was put to death.

That is why on this Easter day we wish you all a Happy Easter. Mother Church decks out her altar with fragrant flowers; she puts on her brightest vestments; she sings her most joyous songs; she greets your shining faces and your shining souls with the words of the angel:
"He has risen, he is not here."
Yes, if Frank Headland had compiled a book with the location of the graves of all who ever died, he would have to leave out the name of Jesus. But for that very reason, for the reason that Christ rose from the grave, the graves of all others become places of hope rather than despair. Because Jesus rose, we will rise.

Because the grave of Jesus is empty, all the graves of all time will one day be empty. That is part of the joy; the blessed joy and hope, we wish all of you this morning. Amen.
Adapted from Lent and the Capital Sins
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (©1952)

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