The Empty Tomb

First Reading ( Acts 10: 34,37-43): Peter's witness to Jesus' resurrection
Second Reading (Col 3:1-4 ) : Seek the things that are above
Gospel ( Jn 20:1-9 ): : The tomb was empty
Chinese Classics:
- “Tell him if his will be firm like the gold and the set-gem, In heaven or on earth we will be reunited again.”(1)
-“Last year today at this door the girl's face and the peach flowers reflect each other's glow. I know not where the girl has gone, but the peach flowers remain smiling in the spring breeze.”(2)
-“The closer to my hometown, the more nervous I am, I dare not ask about it from whoever comes this way.” (3)

“He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there” (Jn 20:5 ) Because Jesus was no longer there, the sub-title given to this passage in the Gospel is “The tomb was empty.”

This is what the Gospel relates: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” ( Jn 20:1-2 )

What were Mary Magdalene's feelings as she stood before the empty tomb of her Beloved? What were Simon Peter and John's feelings?

I have a rather special feeling towards the emotion of love, so perhaps I may understand their feelings when they saw the empty tomb. It was a feeling of “emptiness,” emptiness of the heart, nothing to attach oneself to, a feeling of insecurity, the whole heart seems suspended in space, an inexplicable feeling of not knowing where one's heart belongs. Students awaiting exam results, husbands awaiting their wives to give birth, perhaps might have similar feelings.

I have been to various places to give lectures, direct retreats, speak at conferences etc. In each instance, there is the same ritualistic conclusion: before leaving Hong Kong I always feel as if there is something missing, a feeling of emptiness. Especially each time, when I visit Mainland China I am psychologically prepared that I might not be able to return. Because each month when I board a plane or train, sometimes for long hours, one never knows when an accident might or might not occur.

When I have fulfilled my task completely, safely and happily, it is time to depart. Then I ask myself, the next time when I come, will I see the same people I saw this time? Will those who spoke to me confidentially this time, become priests or sisters in the future? Will the young church I visit today be able to face and overcome the challenges of the society in the future? All of this is so uncertain at this time that one feels one's heart is suspended, left hanging.

In such situations, there quickly comes to my mind these lines, “Tell him if his will be firm like the gold and the set-gem, in heaven or on earth we will be reunited like them”(1) from the poem, “The Song of Eternal Sorrow” by Bai Ju Yi. In this world 'there is no lasting city.' If someone asks, 'When can we meet again?' the answer can only be 'heaven knows it.' And so this leads to the feeling of 'emptiness' in one's heart.

When I was studying in Rome, a fellow classmate who was returning to India told me he suddenly felt a strong sense of 'homesickness.' I laughed at him, thinking he was joking. How could someone who had 'left earthly desires behind and followed a life which belongs to the world above', who had nothing in this world, be homesick? However, when it came time for myself, who had never felt any homesickness in the four years I was in Rome, I began to feel homesick as I prepared to return to Hong Kong. The closer I got to Hong Kong, the more intense my feeling. Two lines from Song's poem, 'Crossing the River Han' summed up my feelings exactly: “The closer I come to my hometown, the more nervous I am; I dare not ask about it from whoever comes this way.”(3)

The apostles and Jesus' friends already had spent three years living with Jesus and naturally they all had deep feelings of friendship with each other. When they were together with each other, nothing seemed very special. During Jesus' passion and death, they were overcome with such sorrow that they did not feel the separation. But then Jesus died and was buried, and everything disappeared, was finished, totally ended. This was the farewell of death, not separation but an enormous sadness, not the same as the feeling of a void and emptiness.

So what is it about the empty tomb? They all had had a dim hope and they remembered Jesus' prophecy that he would rise again. But while they were still very unclear about what this meant, Jesus had disappeared.

Jesus had disappeared, the tomb was empty. There was no living person there, neither was there the body. Was he not there three days ago? Did he not dine at the same table with them four days ago? Only a week before had he not triumphantly entered Jerusalem? For the past three years had they not climbed the mountains together, crossed the lake, boarded their boats, saw him preach to the people and work miracles? In the midst of an admiring crowd, had he not shared five loaves and two fish, and showed care and concern for his close friends? Their minds had been changed because of him, their lives had been rejuvenated by him. But where was he now?

“Last year today at this door, the girl's face and the peach flowers had reflected each other's glow. I know not where the girl has gone, but the peach flowers remain smiling in the spring breeze.”(2) The place is the same, but where has the person gone? Is this not enough to make one feel deeply desolate and lost?

Later he did appear, sometimes mysteriously, appearing and disappearing suddenly. But he was not the same as before. What followed was that they could only 'see' him in memory, put together piece by piece the words and actions of the Jesus they had known in life. They could have contact with him only through the Sacraments, meet him as they served others, listen to his words when they reflected and prayed in the depths of their hearts.

I think these lines must have reverberated in the disciples' hearts: “Tell him if his will be firm like the gold and the set-gem, in heaven or on earth we will be reunited again.”(1)

Spurred on by these thoughts and purpose, they devoted their entire lives to Jesus and the spreading of his Gospel.