Along with Easter blessings we have a sad note. This is our first Easter without Sister Barbara. She worked here 41 years. Her death on February 4 was a personal loss: since I arrived in 2009 she has been my right arm, a great support and friend.
During Lent we used a booklet I found helpful: Finding Hope When Life Hurts by Joseph Sica. For Easter Fr. Sica tells about a child named Anthony:
"Anthony, a first grader with a brain tumor, was in Miss Hunt's class. The Friday before Easter she gave each student a plastic egg. 'Put a symbol of Easter inside. But don't put your name on it," she said.
"On Monday morning, Miss Hunt's desk was filled with Easter eggs. A flower popped out of the first one. Alice said, 'That's my egg.'
"'What a wonderful symbol for Easter. Springtime. Everything coming to life,' the teacher said.
"The second egg was empty. This must be Anthony's, she thought, putting it aside.
"'Miss Hunt' Anthony said, 'That's my egg.'
"'But it's supposed to be a symbol for Easter,' she said.
"'I know,' he explained. 'The tomb was empty on Easter morning.'"
Then Fr. Sica tells what happened to Anthony: "Anthony died after Easter. Miss Hunt's class placed Easter eggs near his casket. And all of them were empty."
In today's Gospel we see the empty tomb: at first a shock for the disciples, especially those closest to Jesus: Peter, John and the holy women Jesus had healed. They thought the worst - not only had their Savior died, but now someone had taken his body. It seems to rub salt in a wound, but it turns out to be the first clue in the greatest detective story ever.
The tomb is empty. To unravel this mystery I invite you to read chapter 12 of The Case for Jesus. We have extra copies especially for college students. Dr. Brant Pitre starts by asking: What is the resurrection? Does it just mean that Jesus' soul went to heaven or did his body actually arise? After answering that question he considers the evidence beginning with the empty tomb. I encourage you to read it yourself, give his argument a fair hearing.
Now, I'm not here to argue anyone into the faith. What I ask you do is join me in exploring this mystery: that Jesus who died and was buried rose on the third day, according to the Scriptures. We have 50 days between today and May 20 - Pentecost Sunday. We can't take it all in at once. Keep coming back. Keep coming to Mass.
For today it's enough to simply contemplate the empty tomb. In telling the story of Anthony and the empty Easter eggs, Fr. Sica makes a spiritual application: "Hopefully, Lent has been a time for you to pour out all the harmful, negative ways of thinking that filled your head....I hope you replaced any stockpiles of anger, guilt and resentment with peace, happiness and forgiveness.* Most of all, may you count God in rather than counting God out, especially when darkness descends."
Empty yourself of what is harmful and negative. St. Paul tells us to get rid of the the old leaven - the yeast of malice. At Passover time Jewish people would scour their homes to remove every particle of yeast and leavened bread. Like them we want to make a new beginning. As Fr. Sica says, get rid of those stockpiles of anger, guilt and resentment.
Something that will help is the CD by Dr. Edward Sri: Who Am I to Judge? He shows how to avoid both judgmentalism and abdication of responsibility. It's not easy because we are surrounded by relativism - the belief that there is no good or bad, right or wrong, true or false. Students and parents have told me they found Dr. Sri's talk very helpful.
This brings us to the final point. Easter is victory for every person with an open, believing heart. On the other hand, for one person Easter was a total defeat. It's significant that this year Easter falls on April First. Well, the joke's on Satan. He thought his lies and rage had won out. When they closed Jesus' grave with a huge stone his triumph seemed complete. He could now forget Jesus forever.
But the joke's on Satan. April Fools to him! The empty tomb indicates the turning point of human history.
In a few moments I will ask you to renounce Satan, all his works and all his empty promises - and then embrace the hope only Jesus can give. As our Psalm says, "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." Amen.