Prepare to be heard

Homily of the month

Go inside the tomb

Easter comes amid spring rebirth, on a day of bonnets and bunnies, sweets and playtime. We're rousing ourselves from winter and ending our Lenten fasts. The Lord has risen; we are saved. It's time to savor life, writes Jennifer Tomshack in Prepare the Word's featured homily for Easter.

PREPARE THE WORD's library includes insightful sample homilies for funerals, sacraments, holy and feast days, and special occasions. We regularly add new homilies to the mix. Feel free to submit a homily you've written or from someone on your parish preaching team that you want to offer for consideration. Send homilies to mail@preparetheword.com.

Occasion: Easter Sunday: Solemnity of the Resurrection of the Lord
Readings: Acts of the Apostles 10:34a, 37-43; Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20:1-9

Easter comes amid spring rebirth, on a day of bonnets and bunnies, sweets and playtime. We're rousing ourselves from winter and ending our Lenten fasts. The Lord has risen; we are saved. It's time to savor life.

The disciples experienced wonder and joy on this day. Confusion, too—sheer bafflement. But the elation that they must have felt as the realization took hold—that the man they loved, the leader they abandoned everything to follow had been raised from the dead—must have been overwhelming. All their dashed hopes were restored.

And on this glorious, jubilant day, the gospels take us—into a tomb. It's an evocative scene, full of detail that makes us feel as if we are there. We see exactly what Peter saw: The cloth that had covered his head was not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place; it's jarringly specific. It puts us there with them.

Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved sprint to the tomb as soon as they hear from Mary Magdalene that the stone was removed and that Jesus was missing. But Peter bolts inside while the other hesitates at the entrance. Only after Peter goes in first does he follow, and only then does he believe. His understanding is still incomplete, but he has to go inside the tomb, experience the dark, dank sepulcher of death from the inside—and find it empty—in order to even start to get an inkling about the miracle of the Resurrection.

We, too, need to go there, inside the tomb.

We, too, need to go there, inside the tomb.

In 2007 my father-in-law Hank was as good as dead. He'd been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis long before, but that winter the progress of the disease, in which the immune system attacks and permanently scars the lungs, escalated so quickly that doctors were confounded. In a matter of days Hank could barely walk or breathe. He fell into a coma and was put on a ventilator. The doctors gave him a five percent chance of surviving. For 10 days we, his family, sat vigil at the hospital. We discussed organ donation; we started to plan the funeral.

Then a new doctor was consulted. She gave him massive doses of steroids. His body responded. He came out of the coma; the ventilator was removed. He got his life back. It was a miracle.

We knew he wasn't cured. There is no cure. But he got four more years. Four more years with his family and friends. He got to celebrate his 60th birthday and his 36th wedding anniversary. He got to see another of his sons married and an ultrasound of his first grandchild. We got four more years of his love and strength. Four more years of memories with him.

We spent that time in an empty tomb—his—marveled at it, as did he. It made everything different. So did knowing it was waiting for him, waiting for all of us. We were given the blessing of opportunity to prepare for the awful inevitable while appreciating what had been given back to us.

In Latin the word for “void” or “empty space” is vacuum. According to scientific theory, when a vacuum occurs—that is, whenever there is an absence of matter—matter will immediately rush in to fill it. The scientific argument is that a vacuum cannot really occur because any void will always instantly be filled.

Hank didn’t make any big changes in his life in his last four years. He kept on living the way he always did, which wasn’t anything particularly extraordinary but one of service to God, family, company, community. After he died there were mountains of cards, rooms full of flowers, newspaper articles, three priests on the altar (all personal friends), and nearly 1,000 people at the funeral—testaments to a simple life lived well all along.

It can be scary to stand at the threshold of the empty tomb and get up the gumption to go inside, and sometimes you’re compelled to. A void is left, and life rushes in, more exquisite for the space it fills.