By Canon Gerry Conroy
On Easter Sunday or around these days, there is a tradition amongst many to visit the grave of their loved ones. I don’t know when or where this tradition started, if it was following the example of Mary Magdalen, but it expresses the love that binds us to one another even after death.
As with every visit to a cemetery, there is a sense of the tragic in the visit of Mary to that tomb: you can sense the loss and confusion in her. It is not simply the empty tomb that brings this upon her, death itself is the source of much of that loss and confusion because it has struck at the love that sustained her life since she found Christ only to lose him again to death. The love that had brought her to the tomb that first Easter Sunday morning still burned in her heart, but it burned more with pain than with joy.
Is that not the way of all human love when it comes face to face with death. I do not mean to play down the value of our love for one another. Our human love is a wonderful thing that brings great joy and hope into our lives and enriches them in so many different ways. Without it our lives would be poorer, would be unsupportable, but death also seems to make clearer to us its limits. Death will always stand over against our love and cast a dark shadow over it. A shadow only the light of the resurrection can disperse. Only the resurrection of Christ can save our love from its fate and preserve its beauty and glory. It is the resurrection of Christ that saves our love from death, and fills it with a new radiance. But Mary stood in confusion before that tomb, her all too human love in tatters before death, because she did not understand the words of Scripture that he must rise from the dead.
And what of Peter and John as they ran to the tomb? Their minds also must have been filled with confusion, not knowing what to find when they arrived there. When they did arrive they found signs not of confusion of death but of some order, signs that opened the way to them believing and finally understanding all that Jesus had spoken about, and had taught them from Scriptures about him rising from the dead. Here was something new, something that opened up to them a new way of understanding not only Christ but their own lives.
What we celebrate is not a denial of the love that we hold here on earth, but something that gives it a new lustre, something that shines a new light on it so that we can understand it as it is meant to be in all its beauty, as God intended it to be. What we celebrate is life and love, but not just human life and love, but life and love transformed by God’s mercy into a greater glory. It is this we are invited to take hold of and make our own: To live by faith with a greater and truer hope and a love that no longer is limited only to the horizon of this world, but now looks to eternity and the hope of eternal life.
Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton