National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Starting Point
Issue Date:  April 11, 2003

From the tomb, new life awaits


Recently, my daughter and I were at Mass. It was just the two of us. We were sitting near the back. Toward the end of the liturgy, she leaned over and asked me a question that only an innocent 4 year old can: “Is he dead, daddy?” she whispered softly.

I was a little taken a back by her query. Looking for her reference point, I saw the Stations of the Cross on the wall to my left. To be more specific it was the 14th Station. Attended by his grieving mother, Mary of Magdala and Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus is being entombed.

“Yes,” I replied, “he is.”

She pressed further, “How did he die?”

“He said some things that people didn’t want to hear.”

“What?” she continued.

At this point I picked her up and whispered in her ear, “That God loves you and everybody else forever and ever.”

What seemed so promising has ended in utter failure -- crucifixion. There’s no denying it now. Jesus is dead. The kingdom didn’t come. The dream has ended in a nightmare. Betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, deserted by others, this last detail is taken care of by Joseph of Arimathea, Mary of Magdala and his mother, Mary.

The angel Gabriel’s invitation to bring forth the messiah and Mary’s response, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38), has come full circle. It must appear to her as some cruel joke. The sealing of the tomb has only served to confirm it. Likewise, for Mary of Magdala, the risk of discipleship taken for Jesus has turned to a crushing defeat. The sealing of the tomb brings her ridicule and rejection by family and friends. Finally, for Joseph of Arimathea, a good and righteous man who awaited the kingdom of God (Luke 23:50-51), closure could be put on his now fanciful idea that Jesus was the messiah. No one would ever have to know. He could return to business as usual. The sealing of the tomb offers him a mixture of regret and relief.

Jesus’ healing presence, transforming touch, enlivening word, loving eyes -- all have been entombed. Yet, something pulls at us; lingers still. We ask ourselves, “Is this truly the end? There has to be something more.” St. Paul speaks to the question and tension between death and life, which the tomb brings forth, when he writes to his fellow believers in Rome:

“Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. … If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him” (Romans 3-4, 8-9).

This is what allows us to sing as a hymn of praise rather than a psalm of lament: “We adore you, O Christ, and praise you. Because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world.” The tomb, like the cross, is not a sign of defeat, but victory. As I told my daughter, Cara, in the beginning, no one who loves us and everybody else “forever and ever” dies. Resurrection, new life, awaits!

Mike Daley teaches theology at Xavier High School in Cincinnati.

National Catholic Reporter, April 11, 2003

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