(Lost in the contemplation of an empty tomb)
Sermon for Easter 2020 by Fr Emmanuel ODOEMENE
(Parish Priest of St. Thomas’s, Newport and St. Saviour’s, Totland)
Depending on what time you arrive, but generally speaking, the long queue is off-putting; expect overzealous stewards of the Greek Orthodox Church scurrying you; anticipate a tight space to venerate the hallowed platform on which the body of Jesus was prepared for burial; but nothing compares with the bliss and satisfaction for all your troubles. Enter the empty tomb of Christ! Welcome into the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem! You are in the holiest place on earth for us Christians. And every adult Christian should endeavour to visit there. Someone made a little joke – putting words into the mouth of the wealthy man who donated this tomb, Joseph of Arimathaea. Asked why he gave his newly built tomb in a beautiful garden to Jesus, he responded that he only leased it for the weekend.
Yes, the tomb has since remained empty! Because Jesus is NOT there.
He is truly risen, Alleluia!
If you are looking for what makes Christianity a distinctive religion, look no further. It’s because the cruel hands of death could not hold down its founder in the darkness of the grave, unlike any other religion. Mention the religion, and we will find where the mortal remains of its founder were interred.
The reality of the Resurrection makes all the difference.
Martha received that assurance early on at the tomb of the brother Lazarus when the Lord said to her: “I am the Resurrection and the life; whoever believes in Me will live even though he dies” (Jn 11:25-26). The Resurrection gave meaning to our lives as Christians; the Resurrection conferred authority on the preaching of the gospel (I Cor 15:14); the Resurrection gave us the army of witnesses: the apostles, martyrs and saints.
“Easter” literally means “the feast of fresh flowers“. Do you now see a link with the tradition of putting flowers on coffins when we bury the dead? Beyond sending flowers as an expression of love and comfort to mourners, we perhaps without knowing it are making a statement of faith in the power of the Resurrection. We are offering prayerful wishes that the dead may experience the new life in Christ who conquered death and restored life symbolised by fresh flowers. After all Jesus was buried in a garden!
Easter 2020 will be remembered for a very long time to come. The year when our greatest feast was celebrated with people in every continent on lockdown; when social distancing meant we could not gather together in our Cathedrals and Churches; when virtual worship meant we would almost want to put out our own bread and wine in front of TV or computer in anticipation of the prayers of the priest. Why? Because there’s an invisible enemy coronavirus lurking around and dealing lethal blows – over 100,000 persons worldwide have died.
My beloved, be reassured that the power of the Resurrection is NOT diminished. Be happy that it’s the day the Lord has made and it’s wonderful to behold. Be confident that this scourge, like Good Friday, will pass over, and the light of the risen Lord will shine through and dispel the darkness of sickness, sin and death.
For we’re Easter people and Alleluia is our song!