April 2007 - Volume 11, Issue 9
It All Begins
It all began at a place usually associated with endings – a cemetery. There was no hint of an ending on that particular Sunday morning. The occurrence at that cemetery in Jerusalem on that momentous day was the discovery of an empty tomb. The funny thing about beginnings is that they often are generated from endings. For the apostles the years spent together sharing miracles and dreams - suddenly ended - had left only despair and uncertainty. In itself, the empty tomb may be viewed as a metaphor describing the desolation in the hearts and souls of the disciples of Jesus following the horrors of that Friday past. They had had the meaning of their lives torn from them by the mania of a mob's mindless rage and by the expertise of the executioner's deadly art. Loss and fear, so much alike, enveloped them.
Into this void came news that electrified their very beings. The vacancy of that grave was not the work of one who entered it, but of the One who departed it. The encounter between these incredulous and bewildered apostles and the Risen Christ must have been a scene beyond description. The apostles had had to bid farewell to the close relationship they had known with Jesus. Now, the Jesus they knew well and saw die a few days earlier stood before them. He came to teach them that not only had he risen, but also had his truth. This truth would act as yeast that would raise a world from sin and would lift up a people of faith. And the apostles were to receive the Holy Spirit; an immensely powerful presence that would imbue them with zeal, courage, and wisdom. Thus equipped, they would spread the truth to an anxious world. A new life and a new way of living had come.
It all began on Pentecost. The Church and all that it meant launched its global journey from Jerusalem on that day. God's presence in the Person of the Holy Spirit made missionaries of the disciples. Even though it is celebrated on a Sunday, Pentecost has a Monday feeling. Those who were to spread the gospel were called to work. And what a work it was. Mondays are dangerous days. An inordinate amount of heart attacks and suicides occur on a Monday. The stress that should be spread over a week too often piles up on a Monday. For the apostles, the stresses of proclaiming the teachings of Jesus and the formation of faith communities were different. The reassuring presence and the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit ameliorated the burden of their mission. They would face hostility, rejection, and even martyrdom trusting in the victory over sin and death won for them by Jesus Christ.
Throughout the centuries to the present day, Christians face the challenge of bringing the truth of Christ to a needy human race. In many parts of the world, persecution and death continue to be borne by missionaries of the gospel. Indeed, every Christian must struggle with both internal and external forces inimical to the truth of Christ. Sadly, one only need ponder the Seven Deadly Sins of pride, hatred, lust, jealousy, envy, sloth, and gluttony as well as all of the other moral felonies and misdemeanors people are all too comfortable with to become downtrodden in spirit. No wonder that there are times of spiritual emptiness. No wonder that the ineffaceable sign of the Christian faith is one of unimaginable suffering and agony. Until the end of time, the dark specter of sin will rage against the light of Christ.
The whole earth perpetually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be sacrificed, without end, without restraint, without respite until the consummation of the world, the extinction of evil, the death of death.
– Joseph de Maistre
The outcome of the clash between good and evil is found in an empty tomb. The eternal quality and everlasting pursuit of all of the virtuous contents of what are called human rights and responsibilities begin with Easter. The Resurrection establishes the ideal of living faith, spiritual fortitude, and moral perseverance for all who bear the name Christian. Manifested in this event is the final victory for all believers. Easter has repulsed the product of the world's barbarity. The benign four-letter word of hope rightly can be found in the hearts and on the tongues of the faithful. Every fulfillment of hope and love and faith begins with Easter. As life's mortal elements fade, the soul's immortal essence emerges.
Near the end of Franco Zefferelli's motion picture Jesus of Nazareth, there is a scene in which a Temple official, on hearing that the tomb of the crucified Jesus was discovered to be empty, raced to the site of the burial and entered into the vacant tomb. Having accomplished the execution of Jesus of Nazareth, he and his colleagues assured themselves that the influence of Jesus and of his teachings was over. Terrified, he stands uttering, "It all begins. Now it all begins."
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