The Empty Tomb

Early in the morning, Mary went to the tomb of Jesus and found it empty. Anxious, she ran to Peter and John and told them that they had taken the Lord’s body away. The two disciples immediately ran to the tomb. John arrived first but did not enter. He did only when Peter arrived and entered first. Both disciples found the tomb empty but had different reactions. While Peter was simply perplexed, John “saw and believed.” John saw the fulfilment/fullness of Jesus’ promise in the emptiness of the tomb for “his is the love that sees through the dark.” (Denis McBride)

What enabled John to recognize the risen Christ in the empty tomb was John’s love. “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” (The Little Prince) Pope Benedict XVI is more direct: “Only with the heart can we see Jesus. Only love purifies us and gives us the ability to see. Only love makes us recognize the God who is love itself.”

I believe that among the apostles John proved to be the one who loved Jesus most. While everyone abandoned Jesus in his passion and death, only John followed him up to the foot of the cross on Calvary.

And why such an unparalleled love? I think it is because John too felt that he was the apostle most loved by the Lord. In his gospel, he refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” and the one who “leaned back close to Jesus’ chest” at the last supper. (Jn 13: 23,25)

These days, we have celebrated and reflected on the mystery of God’s overwhelming love, a love so great that “he gave his only Son so that those who believe in him may not perish, but may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) I hope that we have been touched and affected by such an ineffable love. For it is only when we experience that love can we love in return and follow the Lord all the way.

Before my episcopal ordination, I took an Ignatian retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House in Banawa, Cebu. One of the meditations my director gave me was on the Good Shepherd. When I came to the verse where Jesus said, “I lay down my life for my sheep,” I was deeply disturbed. I wrestled and agonized with the words. Deep in my heart, I knew I could not own them. I have been called to shepherd God’s flock in Kabankalan, and like the Good Shepherd I too should be ready and willing to lay down my life for my sheep. But in all sincerity I knew I was not ready nor willing to do so. It was my saddest realization. I have always been afraid of pain, even more so, of death. Hence, I could not honestly tell the Lord, “I will lay down my life for my sheep.”

Since it was a Friday, I made the Way of the Cross at the park behind the retreat house that afternoon. As I walked from one station to another and retraced the steps of Jesus to Calvary, it slowly dawned on me that Jesus went through every pain and suffering for me, to save me. Then I began to realize how much I am loved. I had never felt so much loved, so infinitely loved. By the time I reached the twelfth station, I could hardly see the crucified Lord; my eyes were welling with tears. Then I told Jesus hanging on the cross, “Lord, now I’m ready to die for you.” After a few seconds, I seemed to hear from the depths of my heart the Lord answering, “No, don’t die for me. Live for my people.”

It is only when the love of God touches our heart that we can love him in return. And when we learn to love him, we shall be able to see and recognize him. For he is risen, and he is alive. He is present, and he is with us even in the darkness of our day and the emptiness of our life.

Happy Easter, everyone!

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