THE LIGHT AND THE EMPTY TOMB REFLECTION FOR THE EASTER VIGIL Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem PhD

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Light is not only important to life generally, it is most expedient for a lot of reasons. If we read in between lines we will discover that Light preceded God’s creative work (Gen.1:3). In fact light needs to be present before any other business. The ceremony of this evening began with the entrance of the great light into the Church. This Paschal light we see here stands for so many things. Among other things in the Easter proclamation we heard that this light is “a flame divided but undimmed; a light bravely burning to dispel the darkness of this night”. The darkness referred to here is not actually the physical darkness but the darkness occasioned by sin and disobedience. Hence this night we celebrate that transition from darkness into light. This night we celebrate the victory of light over darkness by He who is he light of the world (John 8:12).

There is usually a negative connotation attached to anything being EMPTY. Being empty means that something contains nothing inside. Often we express our disgust over such situations of emptiness. On this day however, the word EMPTY takes up a triumphant and victorious meaning. Today we look forward to seeing the tomb empty. When very early in the morning on the first day of the week some women went to the tomb with some spices to anoint the body of Jesus they found out that the stone used to close the mouth of the grave had been rolled away and going in they found the tomb empty; they were confused and disappointed. But two angels were on the ground to tell them that the one they seek is alive and not among the dead; hence that the tomb is empty is after all a wonderful indication that the Lord has risen to life.

 

From the event above, we understand emptiness from a different perspective. It speaks of a plus instead of a minus situation. In fact there is more to it than the absence of our Lord Jesus Christ from the tomb. When humanity failed in Adam we became empty by losing our connection with God. To vouchsafe our redemption our Lord Jesus Christ emptied himself of his equality with God and took our human form (Phil.2:7-8).This he did so that we can be refilled. The tomb became empty so that our lives may be filled with the power of the risen Lord.

 

Furthermore the emptiness of the tomb is an indication of the futility of life without Jesus Christ. When Jesus Christ is absent from any segment of our lives we wallow in abject and senseless emptiness. Attentive to this, the preacher said “vanity upon vanity all is vanity” (Eccles. 1:2; 12:8). The empty tomb is also an indication of the futility of the power of the devil. It shows that the promises of the devil are but empty promises (Luke 4:3-13). By his resurrection Jesus emptied our lives of sin and evil and filled us with good things. (Psalm 107:9; Rom.15:13). Arguments for and against the empty tomb had preoccupied biblical scholars for a long time. It will amount to recycling issues if we jump into that this night; in fact the joy at the resurrection of the Lord is so much that there may not be any chance for such baseless arguments as to whether it was a hoax  or a fact.

 

It will be more gainful to reflect on what actually happened between the time of the burial of Jesus Christ and his resurrection on the third day. When Jesus died his body was buried in the tomb but his spirit descended into hell (as we proclaim in the creed: “He descended into hell”). The hell referred to in this passage is not the lake of fire described in the book of revelation (20:14). Hell as used here refers to hades which in Greek means a place of the dead. We see this very clearly in the book of revelation (20:12) which tells us of the fact that the dead would first be judged before their fate is determined. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians (4:8-10) tells us what this descending into hell means and St. Peter supports his view (I Pet.3:19) by telling us that he descended into hell to preach to the souls there.

 

It is our belief that nobody entered into heaven before Christ’s ascension into heaven. This means that those who died with good lives before the resurrection of Christ were kept in the place of the dead. In the office of the reading today we have an ancient homily which describes how our Lord Jesus Christ went to wake Adam and Eve up from the sleep of death in the limbo of the fathers. He emerges with the tree of redemption (the cross) as contradistinguished from the tree of sin in the Garden of Eden. With the descent into hell our Lord accomplished the work of announcing the good news to all creation (Matt.24:14) because he alone qualifies to announce the good news to that realm.

 

At this point it will be worthwhile to look into what the resurrection of Jesus Christ stands to effect in our lives. Put in another way what are the benefits of the resurrection of Jesus Christ in the life of an active Christian or what is rising from the dead (Mk.9:10). In I Cor.15:14-18 St. Paul did say among other things that if Christ did not rise from the dead we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe. He also said that if Christ did not rise from the dead then our faith is meaningless. Hence the rising from the dead is a confirmation of our faith and we are alive again.

 

The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is a clear indication of the fact that sin and death have been conquered. We are no longer subjected to the law of sin and death, because the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free (Romans 8:2); we are no longer sitting in darkness because a great light has been given to us. (Isaiah 9:2; Matt. 4:16). The resurrection moved the stone of sin that covered us from receiving the light of God’s grace. There is a sense wherein we see the tomb as representing our hearts and the stone as sin covering it from divine contact. The resurrection of Jesus Christ removes this obstacle and we are given access again to God’s grace. It means that we have been liberated from the stranglehold of our enemies. Those who have been after us are now been pursued by God. God is now troubling our troubles and worrying our worries. Power has changed hands and we have been lifted to a new level. The tears of the passion have given way to the joy of the resurrection.

Do have a wonderful resurrection package.

 

Happy Easter!

Fr. Bonnie.

(fatherbonny@hotmail.com)

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