I woke up and got dressed in my Sunday Best, to watch Mass on a computer screen in my living room.
Then I looked at my calendar and realized: It’s Laetare Sunday.
It’s time to rejoice.
I decided to change into a pink dress for Laetare Sunday. And as I changed, I thought:
It sure is a strange time for rejoicing.
We’re in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic… our state has shut down… we’re quarantined inside our house, our daily routines are completely disrupted… and we are called to rejoice.
In this difficult time, many people are filled with fear and anxiety.
How are we called to find joy in the midst of the pain and suffering?
Hearts full of Sadness
Let’s hop into the Gospel. Not today’s Mass readings, but the third day after Jesus was crucified and laid in the tomb.
Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Mag′dalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre.Matthew 2:1
Jesus had just been put to death as a criminal, mere days earlier.
The women must have had heavy hearts, full of sadness. But they also had hearts full of love.
Even in their loss, their pain, their fear, they approached Jesus. They didn’t know they would find him Resurrected. They thought they would find him lying dead in the tomb where he had been laid.
But they came to him anyway, as soon as they could: at the first light of dawn on the day after the sabbath.
They were probably risking their lives. A guard had been posted at the tomb, after all. Would the guard stop them from anointing the body of Jesus? Arrest them? Send them away?
Sorrow gripped them. Uncertainty abounded. But still they came.
Fear paralyzes us
In the night, something wonderful had happened that these women did not yet know about.
And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men.Matthew 28:2-4
An angel of the Lord came, and had an encounter with the guards at the tomb.
These men who were working against Jesus – who wanted to keep him locked up in the tomb, to make sure he stayed dead – they were immobilized with fear, and rightly so.
They came face to face with the power of God. They were witnesses to the Resurrection.
Yet their hearts were not prepared to accept the goodness of this moment.
They trembled in fear at the sight of the angel of the Lord, and fell to the ground “like dead men.”
We can be like these men. We can be the ones standing guard at the tomb – keep our hearts locked and guarded. We can allow ourselves to be frozen in fear.
Or, we can seek Jesus with hearts filled with faith and love, as the women did.
Seek Christ Crucified
Note that the angel did nothing to calm the guards’ fear.
But immediately, he told the women not to be afraid.
But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.”Matthew 28:5
God is all powerful. He brought us into existence, our lives are in his hands, and he could bring us right back out of existence in an instant.
But if our hearts seek Jesus Christ, we have nothing to fear from the power of God.
These women were committed to seeking the Crucified Jesus.
And in the process, they came face to face with something mysterious: the empty tomb.
Encountering the Empty Tomb
Right now, we in the Catholic Church seem to be experiencing an empty tomb. Public Masses have been suspended. Confession times are scarce, or must be scheduled privately. Stations of the Cross, Eucharistic Adoration – it’s all been cancelled.
Losing access to the Sacraments creates a void in our lives. We can no longer encounter Jesus where we expected to find him.
But, as the angel of the Lord Said: “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.” (Matthew 28: 5)
Even when we don’t seem to find him, we must continue to seek him.
Like the women who walked that sorrowful path to the tomb, we must continue to walk the path set before us, even in our most difficult struggles.
We must continue to seek Christ crucified.
And in our seeking, when we come upon an emptiness, a hollow in our hearts, that is not a sign of defeat.
He is not here
For the angel says, “He is not here; for he has risen, as he said.” (Matthew 28:6)
And the angel promises the women that they will see him again: “Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him.” Matthew 28:7).
At this promise, the women run to meet the disciples to share the good news. They hasten, joyfully, to live out their vocation and calling from God.
“So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” (Matthew 28:8)
Live Your Vocation Joyfully
And that’s what Jesus calls us to do right now: to walk (or run!) joyfully along the path of our vocations.
To keep the faith alive in our homes.
To enter more fully into a life of fervent prayer. To love our spouses. Love our children.
God is calling us to this joyful witness to the truth of the Gospel, even in the midst of the current stress and sorrow we endure.
The encounter with the tomb in our lives, in whatever form it takes, is evidence of the Resurrection. We are called to respond to that empty tomb with joy.
Finding Christ Crucified
Joy welled up in the hearts of the women before they even saw Jesus face to face.
They set their feet on the path they were called to.
They stepped out in faith, to spread the good news.
And it is there, on the path of living their vocation joyfully, that Jesus met them. “And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Hail!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.” (Matthew 28:9)
When we seek Christ crucified, we will find Christ Resurrected.
When we faithfully follow the path our vocation calls us to walk, Christ will meet us there.
We will fall down and worship at his feet, and he will cast out all fear. He will give us the strength to carry on, more faithfully than ever before.
Now, face-to-face with an empty tomb, may seem like a strange time for rejoicing.
But it is the perfect time to rejoice.
Because, we, like the women, possess the promise of the Risen Christ.
Prayer for fortitude
Lord Jesus, I will continue to seek you.
I will renew my efforts to live my vocation well. I will serve the people in my life with peace and joy.
I commit myself to walking the path of my vocation that you set before me right now. I pick up my cross and I seek you in this suffering. My heart is hurting, and I draw near to you, Christ crucified.
I know you will meet me on the path. You will make your presence known to me.
Give me the fortitude to carry on faithfully until that moment.
My Lord, may I always seek You crucified, and find you Resurrected.