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
- “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
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.