Primacy of Grace
One of my most memorable experiences is celebrating the Holy Eucharist at the Empty Tomb in Jerusalem. The chance came when I was invited by a priest-friend during his birthday for this occasion. We were at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at 5 o’clock in the morning way ahead of the buzzling crowd of pilgrims who would make uninterrupted visits during the day. This church stands on the site where Golgotha and the burial place of Jesus could be found. In fact, it has been an important pilgrimage destination since the 4th century. Stepping inside the holiest Christian site in the world, it filled me with delight. Wow! I said to myself. I am at the very heart of the Christian faith where everything started.
There was something lacking in that experience, however. I was then a deacon, not yet a priest. I was just among the “guests” who had the privilege to stand on such a holy ground. As I touched the marble slab covering the place where the body of Christ was laid and from which he rose from the dead, I remembered closing my eyes making my firm profession: “Lord, I believe that you are alive.” The Resurrection is the proof of Jesus’ power over death. Until now, more than fifteen years have passed, I still long to go back to the Empty Tomb to savor the scent of the resurrection event. Our faith in the Resurrection of Jesus is something we have in common with the early Christians.
The Holy Week culminates with the focus of the Empty Tomb. The Gospel Readings narrate the experience of the women disciples of Jesus especially Mary Magdalene. She witnessed what had happened to Jesus on Good Friday. She saw him in agony. Tortured. Crucified. His death finally broke her heart. Other disciples hastily buried him and his tomb was sealed with a heavy boulder. Roman soldiers were even stationed to guard it for fear his disciples would steal his body during the night. Yet early morning on the third day of his burial, she found the tomb empty! No trace of his body could be found except the linen that once covered it. Then she came out with a bold proclaim to the others: “I have seen the Lord!”
Every year, we are invited to return to the Empty Tomb. Its greatest lesson is this: from our ashes, we can also rise! There is always a new beginning. For this reason, we should never give up. We will find in it the greatest reason to keep believing. Because of the resurrection husbands are empowered to honor their promises and wives are inspired to hold on to their love. Despite the rough roads in married life, they still decide to wear their wedding rings and not throw it away and say: enough! Because of the resurrection, religious life acquires its mysticism. Even priesthood still acquires a special glow in the darkness of an atheistic culture. Because of the risen Jesus, we have the greatest reason to be faithful.
The Empty Tomb leads us back to our faith. It challenges us to fix our gaze on the Resurrection of Jesus. It invites us to rekindle our faith in Him. It may happen that the candle of our faith has been extinguished by the strong winds of doubt. We hold a candle without a flame. If our life were a car, we find ourselves stranded along the highway for lack of gasoline. There is no more oil in our engine. We cannot move on.
But through the resurrection of Jesus we have a chance of rebirth. We can once again procure an abundant supply of faith, hope and love that will energize our life. It motivates us to tame our passions; look beyond mere appearances and allow us to soar above our fears. It can keep our hearts burning with love for God and allow us to dispense forgiveness despite our experiences of resentment and betrayals. It has the power to transform our little hearts with a brand new desire to embrace humanity with unlimited love.
It is consoling to think that God can do wonders despite human fragility. His power is not limited by our doubt nor His wisdom confined to our foolishness. God’s glory can break through our hardheadedness to remind us that everything is grace. The Empty Tomb of Jesus is the icon of the primacy of grace. The sight of it is to return to the basic truth that human redemption is God’s initiative. His grace is never wanting for anyone, anywhere and anytime. Isn’t that amazing?
This thought gives me courage. When I am tempted to despair that the world is falling apart, I look at the empty tomb. The man, they thought, they have killed and buried is not there. He is risen!
(This article also appeared in the Faith Section of Cebu Daily News, April 7, 2013)