Enter the Tomb

John and Peter

Today’s reflection is on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, and the readings can be found by clicking here. This reflection was given as a homily at the Deuel Vocational Institute, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, in Tracy.

Happy Easter! The Lord Jesus Christ is risen, Alleluia! Our long journey through Lent has come to an end! I don’t know what you took on, or gave up for Lent, but whatever it was, it no doubt took some sacrifice and maybe some pain. I set the bar high this Lenten Season. My wife and I committed to only liquids during the day, and only soup for dinner. I would be lying, though, if I told you that I stuck to it perfectly. I’m quite embarrassed to say that I did not. The Lord, in His generosity gave me another 40 days of Spiritual boot camp to get things right, to sacrifice and be transformed—but again, I fell short of the mark. I am weak.

Not until we really want to change do we realize how weak we are to do so…and that has been my Lenten experience this year. I know what Jesus did for me. I know his way of the cross. I know of his passion and suffering, and yet still I deny him. Not only three times, like Peter, but many times every day. How about you? Did you get up to pray? Abstain from meat on Fridays, and fast daily? Today’s Gospel is a message of hope and has a promise for guys like us who seem to fail time and time again. Today we join Mary Magdalene, Peter, and “the disciple that Jesus loved,” who is John.

Isn’t it interesting that Mary ran from the tomb straight to Peter and John? They must have been together at the same place, right? The Scripture says, “So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.” But why would they be together? Jesus was just thirty-five hours or so earlier crucified. Jesus died on Friday evening, he was in the tomb on Saturday, and Mary goes to the tomb while it is still dark Sunday morning. Both John and Mary remained at Jesus’ side throughout his whole ugly, painful passion and death. John was standing at the foot of the cross with Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother when Jesus died—where was Peter?! Peter denied that he even knew Jesus, and John was with Jesus to the end.

You couldn’t find more opposite disciples of Jesus. John who was always so faithful and Peter who was so weak in his faith. And yet, they remain together, in the same place, no doubt supporting one another through their difficult time. That’s what it means to follow Jesus, my brothers, and that’s the first thing I want to point out. In this Christian community we are all at different levels of growth in our faith, some are more courageous than others, some are more disciplined than others, some remain in their weakness to sin, but like John and Peter, we stick together. Through good times and bad we stick together. Look around—you are my brothers and we are here for each other, helping each other: weak, strong, smart, dumb, black, white, brown, old, young, incarcerated or free, holy, and weak in our holiness: the Church is ONE and must remain ONE, and we must never let the world divide us.

The first thing I wanted to point out is that we must remain united, and the second is that we don’t have to have it all figured out in order to believe—but we do have to enter the tomb. We don’t have to have all the answers, but we must be willing to die to ourselves, enter the tomb with Jesus Christ so that we can rise with him. If we do not enter the tomb and die when will never truly live.

We must die to anger, malice, greed, and lust. We must enter the tomb and put to death jealousy, rivalry, divisions, and arrogance. John arrived at the tomb first, but he was unwilling to go in. I wonder what kept him from going right in. Scripture says He saw the burial clothes and stopped. Interesting that Peter never hesitated. John was faster and arrived first, but Peter entered the tomb before John. He went into the tomb and then saw the burial clothes. John was a little more cautious; a little more careful, but he does enter the tomb.

Are you more like Peter or more like John? Are you more a little more courageous and willing to jump right in? Know this, courageous or cautious they both went in. They entered the tomb with all their unanswered questions, with all their fears, and with all their doubts. They entered the tomb so that they could rise with Jesus.

My brothers, the resurrection of Jesus Christ doesn’t mean anything on its own. We celebrate the resurrection as Christians because Jesus rose from the grave, and somehow, through the waters of baptism, we mysteriously rise with him! God has powerfully connected Baptism to Jesus’ resurrection and our new life. Jesus conquered the grave 2,000 years ago, and we celebrate his victory today, but we celebrate our victory with him everyday! He won, and made winners out of all of us who believe.

But let me make this clear: we must unite together, we must stand by one another regardless of color or status, we must be willing to encourage each other and pray with each other, to look out for one another and to help one another, and we must willing to together enter the grave if we are to have any share in the resurrection that we celebrate today. We are an Easter people! Every day is Easter for those who enter the grave to be born again. Happy Easter, brothers. Let us live in this newness of life. Amen.

For Reflection:

When I fail do I beat myself up, throw all the cards in, or reach out to God in prayer for strength and consolation?

Am I living the resurrected life? One of unity with those around me and a willingness to come to another’s aid regardless of who they are or what they believe?

Am I holding on too tightly to die with Christ? What is keeping me from going “all in” for Jesus and His church?

By Deacon Stephen Valgos

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