Msgr. Joseph Prior

Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for Easter Sunday, April 5)

I ran across a story recently regarding Easter called “Philip’s Egg.” Easter was coming and spring was in the air. The children of the second grade class were getting excited as they looked forward to Easter. The teacher decided one day to have a project to help the students prepare. One day she brought in a bag of plastic eggs, the kind that have two halves which can be separated, filled and then closed. Each child would take an egg, go out onto the school grounds and find something that reminds one of the new life we celebrate at Easter, something small that would fit into the egg, put it in the egg and then return the plastic egg to the bag. 

Now in the class was a young boy named Phillip. Phillip was gentle and kind. Sometimes, however, the other children did not welcome him in their activities because he was different. Philip was born with Down Syndrome. Phillip reached into the bag and took an egg just as the other children did. The children scattered and gathered their Easter symbols. Soon they returned and placed the filled eggs back in the bag. The teacher then took the bag and emptied it onto a table in the classroom. One by one she opened each egg. Several had flowers. One had a butterfly. Each one had a symbol of new life. She got to the last one and opened it. There was nothing in it. “Whose is this?” she asked. As she asked the question she could feel a tug on her dress. It was Phillip. 

Meanwhile, the some of the other children started to make fun of Phillip. “That’s stupid.” “You did not finish the project.” Phillip did not get angry. He just looked up at the teacher and said, “It’s the empty tomb.”

The story captures the meaning of Easter in a simple, innocent way. It cuts to the heart of what we celebrate at Easter – Jesus is risen from the tomb. He is alive, and because he is alive we have life.

The Gospel account for today’s liturgy is familiar. Mary Magdalene runs to the tomb “while it was still dark.” The grief, sadness and shock at the Lord’s brutal death were still vividly present in her heart. It was not only “dark” outside but on the inside as well. When she arrives and finds the stone rolled away she runs back to tell Peter and the others. 

The Beloved Disciple, John, runs with Peter to the tomb but arrives first. John peers into the tomb, sees the burial cloths which once bound the body of the Lord. The face cloth was there also but neatly rolled up apart from the other cloths. John does not go in. He waits for Peter. Peter goes in and John follows. Once inside the empty tomb, John sees and believes.

Jesus is risen from the dead! Soon the apostles and disciples will encounter the glorified Lord Jesus but for now they only have the empty tomb. Hope begins to grow in their hearts as the darkness of early morning has been pierced by the rising sun. Jesus’ triumph over death gives them hope. They will rejoice as they encounter him and they will soon come to understand what they do not at this point, as the Evangelist states, that “he had to rise from the dead.”

Our celebration of Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ rising from the dead. His victory over death is the victory over sin and evil. His triumph is a victory for us. St. Paul reminds us that we

have life because of Christ. The way this is handed on to us is through baptism. We share in the life of Christ, His victory, because we have been united with Christ in His death. 

Recall the baptismal ritual of the early church. The baptized would be immersed in water, fully surrounded as they were baptized. The symbolic value is rich. One image is that of being in the tomb with the Lord having died with him. Another symbol of the water is being in the womb being readied for birth. Through baptism we become one with Christ and enter into the Paschal Mystery. We are born anew to eternal life. At the Easter Vigil all around the world men and women are baptized. They remind us of the significance of baptism in our lives and its import. Baptism unites us to the death of the Lord so that we too can share in his resurrection. 

The renewal of our baptismal promises at the Easter Masses remind us of this life we share in and through Christ Jesus. So St. Paul writes: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.”

The first reading for today’s Mass comes from Acts of the Apostles. It reminds us of the proclamation of the Gospel by the early Church. Peter stands up and proclaims Jesus died on the wood of the cross but on the third day rose from the dead. This is the central belief of the Church and it is proclaimed with great joy. Through his death and resurrection we have forgiveness of sin. While sin robs us of life, the mercy of God poured forth in Christ Jesus, restores life. 

So the proclamation is repeated over and over as the apostles go forth from Jerusalem to invite all peoples to share in the life God offers. We too are called to proclaim “Jesus is Risen!” The life he offers is for everyone. He asks all of us to continue this proclamation so that all can come to know the life that God offers through his Son.

“It’s the empty tomb,” Philip said to the teacher in the story above. He reminds us in a very simple yet powerful way what Easter is all about. A few months after these events Philip died. The author notes that the family had known from the time of his birth that he would probably not live to adulthood. An infection set in sometime in July but it could not be stopped. At the funeral, his teacher came up to pay her respects to the family. As she did so she presented them with a little empty plastic egg. The parents knew the story. The gesture said it all. “The tomb was empty,” and because Jesus is risen we will rise!