Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"The fullness of life"
by Bishop William S. Skylstad
(From the April 9, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
For the community accompanying Jesus, the morning of Easter Sunday was a shock. Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty, the cloths rolled up neatly on the side. The body was gone. Coming back to the body might have provided at least some small consolation; instead, there was only emptiness.
The story would change rapidly as they became aware of the facts. The beloved disciple looked in and believed. The others soon followed. The world of emptiness and loss turned into the much more profound reality of the Risen Jesus with them. They would catch some moments with Jesus in the days until his Ascension, but now they understood what had happened, something far beyond their wildest imagination. The apostles and disciples who committed to Jesus found life in him and his teaching. But it was only the beginning.
The empty tomb became for them a powerful foundation of belief and faith. Not only were they convinced of the event itself, but they recognized how the Risen Jesus would accompany them as they journeyed in faith. Life would never be as it was before, but now, his Risen presence would give them life and strength wherever they went, however they were called.
Easter is the greatest feast day of our liturgical year. For us in the Catholic tradition, this day completes the celebration of the Triduum. The events of Jesus’ own life reflected powerfully that he had been emptied to the point of death. From Good Friday until the Easter Vigil, our churches are devoid of any liturgical decoration. The altar is bare. The tabernacle is empty. No Mass is celebrated on Good Friday. There is a spirit of emptiness. Yet gloriously, the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday celebrations share with us a feeling God’s promise fulfilled. Whatever emptiness there was before is overshadowed by this glorious event of Jesus rising from the dead.
The symbolism of the empty tomb touches our hearts and lives. Everyone yearns to be full, to be complete. There is a kind of restlessness that can accompany this search. Some call it unbridled restlessness. People search for fullness and completeness in all sorts of ways. Inordinate attachment to money, high lifestyle, exorbitant compensation packages, promiscuity, drugs, selfishness: all lead to further disappointment and emptiness. All of these centuries later, the words of St. Augustine continue to ring true: “Our hearts, O Lord, are restless until they rest in you.” A fruitful and successful search will always lead us to Jesus.
Easter and the Easter season remind us that the fullness of life comes from faithfulness to the journey God the Father has for all of us. There is no other path that will give a sense of peace and fulfillment; no other path will remedy our restlessness. No one should be so naïve as to think that this journey is simple or easy. It is not. Remember the life of Jesus as he approaches his own death. He experiences increased hostility; he must suffer and die before his glorious resurrection. He was faithful to will of his Father – to the will of our Father.
For us, the search continues. I hope our search is not wasted on life’s dead-end roads, but instead is focused on the Lord, and guided by the Holy Spirit. Challenges there will be, whether devastation or dashed expectations, but those are part of the journey of the cross that ultimately will lead to we ourselves being raised up to fullness of life. A ship at sea encounters beautiful and wonderful days, but also must plow through the troughs of storm and rough waves if it is to hold its course until the destination is reached. And so it is for us as we strive to remain faithful to our journey toward God.
We are so very blessed that we do not journey alone. We are part of a community of faith who accompanies our journey with the Lord. Even in this life, as we search for completeness and fullness, we should be wise enough to know that our completeness will never be filled here. After all, we are human. But through sacraments, especially Eucharist, we should have enough of a taste of what lies beyond to know that we are on the right track, to know that God’s promise will always be fulfilled. Jesus tells us he has come to give us life, and give it abundantly.
The deep desire for fullness of life should lead us of faithfulness to the Lord on the journey. The Body of Christ is found especially in Eucharist and also in one another. When we enter our churches, we are always confronted with the cross: in action as we sign ourselves, in symbolic representations throughout the building. St. Irenaeus reminds us that in making the sign of cross, there is “much in little.” Every time we sign ourselves, we express that unity with the Trinity who has, does, and continues to touch our lives profoundly.
May all of you have a blessed and joyful Easter. May Easter help us appreciate the guiding light of Jesus in our lives. May we in turn reflect that Light. The Risen Lord is always with us!
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