A few years ago, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, I was scheduled to celebrate Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem, the church that marks the spot (and we are almost 100 percent sure of this) where Jesus was crucified. The church is built around the hill (called either “Calvary,” in Latin, or “Golgotha,” in Greek, both meaning “Place of the Skull”) where Jesus died. A few feet from that section of the church stands a small marble building called the “Aedicule,” a kind of church within a church, which houses the Tomb of Christ.
But the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is not simply where Jesus died and was buried. It is the place where he rose from the dead! That’s why I favor the name used by many Eastern Christian churches: the Church of the Anastasis, that is, the Church of the Resurrection. It is perhaps the holiest site in the whole Christian world, save for the heart of the believer.
In all the churches that were built to mark holy sites in Israel, the “Reading of the Day” is the same, no matter when you’re celebrating Mass. So, for example, at the Church of the Beatitudes, on the Mount of Beatitudes, you hear, at every Mass, the Gospel narrative of the Beatitudes. So, even though it wasn’t Easter, the readings at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre were of Christ’s Resurrection. Every day is Easter at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Just before Mass, a pilgrim who was also a deacon asked if he could proclaim the Gospel—as the deacon should! But I said, “No, I’d really like to if you don’t mind.” I so wanted to read out the beautiful words of John’s Gospel, in which Mary Magdalene says, “I have seen the Lord!” As soon as I said this, my friend’s face fell. I instantly realized how disappointing this was for him, who might never again visit this holy site. So I reversed course and said, “Of course you can!” He proclaimed it clearly, loudly and beautifully.
How often do we have that same enthusiasm about proclaiming the Resurrection, the central mystery of our faith? Now, the Incarnation, our belief that God became human in Jesus, is also a central mystery. But for me it is the Resurrection that defines us as Christians. On Easter Sunday, Jesus shows us that love is stronger than hate, life is stronger than death and hope is stronger than despair.
For me, the “Easter event,” in the anodyne language of some theologians, has radical implications for our entire life. Of course it is enough to say, “Christ is risen!” and know that he has conquered death. It is enough to say that Jesus shows us what God has in store for all of us—eternal life—having not only told us this in his public ministry, but revealed it to us on Easter Sunday. These are life-changing truths.
But on a daily level, the Resurrection reminds us that no matter how bleak life may seem, things can change. I often think of the disciples on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, cowering behind closed doors, certain that everything is over, nothing good can happen and things are done. Easter shows us that suffering is never the last word and nothing is impossible with God. Nothing.
And that is something that should be proclaimed every day!
Happy Easter from all of us at Outreach!
We ALL want to proclaim the words of Mary Magdalene! You were a blessed, humble priest to give the Gospel to the deacon. God bless you always!