An unexpected blessing of this time living a more confined faith has been, for me, discovering the giving hearts of pastors in other parts of the country and world.
Besides connecting with my own faith community, I’ve followed, online, the Reverend Chris Decker of Baton Rouge. Prepared in advance to employ modern means of communication to reach the spiritually hungry, he has adeptly led his flock through living out our Christian faith in what he calls the “little monasteries” of our homes.
In his homily Easter day, Fr. Chris drew a parallel to the emptiness we have witnessed on our streets, parks, and churches with the empty tomb of Christ. In the desolation all around, we might be tempted to despair, he said, but “Hope begins today with an empty tomb.”
The Gospel reading that morning, John 20:1-9, told of Mary of Magdala visiting the tomb where Jesus had been buried, and finding the stone removed. After she summoned Peter and the other disciples, together, they all rushed to see for themselves, discovering the tomb empty.
This did not bring despair, Fr. Chris reminded, but hope and anticipation. When an angel declared Jesus was indeed gone, and “going before you into Galilee,” Mary Magdalene and the others were overjoyed. “They run and become vessels of hope,” Fr. Chris shared. “The emptiness they felt at the cross…now becomes a promise of hope and fullness in new life.”
This prepares them to encounter Jesus as they run back to Galilee, he said, and when the risen Lord greets them, they fall down in worship. Jesus then says, “Do not be afraid,” and later, “Peace be with you.”
“We Christians…are called to be the Mary Magdalenes to the rest of the world…as we cry out the reason for our hope,” Fr. Chris said. “Jesus Christ has been raised. The tomb is empty…and our frail humanity is once again filled to overflowing.”
Overflowing, he said, with the grace lost in the Garden of Eden, now restored “in the Garden of the Resurrection, where the tomb lay.” “Sin and death…have no place to dwell in our souls and our lives, if we but turn ourselves over to the risen Christ.”
This, Fr. Chris said, is “the lamp burning brightly that we carry into the world around us,” this “hope that Christ bids us to stake our lives upon.” Only Jesus Christ crucified, died and risen holds the promise that will not pass away or disappoint, “the promise of fullness and abundance of life, able to be lived now, and…into eternity.”
As we continue seeing empty roads and cities, Fr. Chris said, “we may be tempted to drift back into the shadows of that lonely, long Lent,” but we should not give in. “Christ is truly risen, and no matter the lockdown, our hearts cannot be quarantined any longer,” he concluded. “May that ‘Alleluia’ ring in your heart today and well into tomorrow, for Christ is our hope. Be not afraid.”
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on April 20, 2020.]