Living the Truth in Love: The Holy Door of the Empty Tomb

We celebrate the Lord's Resurrection during the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy.  The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the ultimate manifestation of God's mercy as revealed upon the Cross.  By coming into this world and taking our human nature to Himself, God truly became one of us and experienced all we experience, including suffering, loneliness, betrayal and death. He was unfairly condemned as a criminal and willingly accepted the Cross out of love for us when He could have left us on our own and even condemned us because of our betrayal of Him. God's love for us is so great that nothing stands in its way and the Cross is the living sign of that love and mercy.

 

The Resurrection of Jesus is God's giving new life to us, both in this world and in the world to come.  Because of Christ's suffering, death and Resurrection, we know that we are never alone and that God is always with us.  The Lord reaches out and touches us and raises us to new life.  We believe that, through His death and Resurrection, Christ has taken our sins to Himself and has freed us from them.  We also believe that, through His Resurrection, our life is not ended in death but only begins in the fullness of life with Him when every tear and sorrow will be wiped away.  The Resurrection reminds us that those who have gone before us, our loved ones - mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters and friends - are still with us in the fullness of life in God's Kingdom.  We look forward to sharing in that life with the Lord and with them.

 

The mercy of God poured out upon us from the Cross truly would have no meaning without the Resurrection.  It is the Resurrection that makes eternal His mercy for us.  St. Paul speaks powerful words about the futility of the Cross without the Resurrection in His First Letter to the Corinthians when he says, "And if Christ has not been raised, then empty [too] is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.  Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that He raised Christ ... and if Christ is not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.  Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all" (1Cor 15:12 - 19).  The Cross and the Resurrection stand together at the center of the Gospel and as one event that reveals fully the mercy of God.

 

The primary symbol that Pope Francis has asked us to use during this Jubilee of Mercy is that of the Door of Mercy.  He asked that every diocese designate the door of its Cathedral as the Door of Mercy through which the plenary indulgence for the year can be obtained.  In our Diocese of Palm Beach, I have asked that every parish designate a door to be associated with the Door of Mercy of the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola as a reminder of this special year during which we reflect upon God's overwhelming mercy.  I have also asked that every family and individual designate a door within their homes to remind us of God's mercy in an individual manner.  Pope Francis has emphasized, on so many occasions, that the mercy of God cannot be contained and reaches to the most remote parts of human existence in the world.  How fitting is the symbol of the door on Easter as we reflect upon the empty tomb and the stone rolled away from it to make an entrance to the tomb.  The doorway of the empty tomb truly is the Door of Mercy which has transformed the meaning of human existence.

 

It is very significant for us to reflect upon the reality that the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead transcends human understanding so that it could not be recorded as an historical event. While there are beautiful depictions of the Resurrection for Easter, no one saw the Resurrection because it could not be recorded in time and space.  The Resurrected body of Jesus is seen but not his being raised from the dead.  The first experience of the Resurrection is when the apostles and disciples approach the open doorway to the empty tomb.  God now begins to reveal to them the reality of Christ's Resurrection.  It is important to realize that, at first, the apostles do not even realize what the empty tomb means and some think that the body of Jesus had been taken away.

 

The Gospel from St. John for Easter Sunday is a wonderful example of the Door of Mercy of the empty tomb.  Mary Magdalene, in her grief, comes to the tomb to pay her respects to the body of Jesus.  She sees the stone rolled away from the tomb and hastens to tell Peter and John that someone had taken the body away.  Peter and John run to the tomb and cross its entrance.  While John reaches the tomb first, he defers to Peter to go in before him.  Peter goes in and only observes an empty tomb with the wrappings from the body of Jesus on the ground.  John enters and sees the same scene but faith is awakened in him to believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead in accordance with the promise He had made.  The first impetus of the disciples after the crucifixion of Jesus was to cross the door of the tomb not knowing what to expect.  It is the crossing that slowly begins to awaken faith.

 

The Gospel of St. John continues with the appearance of Jesus to His apostles on the evening of Easter.  This account is read on the Second Sunday of Easter – Mercy Sunday.  It is a wonderful encounter and displays the meaning of the Resurrection as the revelation of God's mercy.  The apostles are together but behind locked doors out of fear.  The locked doors are understandably a barrier both to fear as well as to faith and hope.  While there can be holy doors, there can be unholy doors which block out the Lord and other people.  The risen Jesus appears in the midst of the apostles and literally passes through the locked doors.  He shows them the wounds of His hands and sides as He proclaims peace to them.  He then breathes upon them and gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit in order that they might obtain the awesome gift of the forgiving of sins which He had obtained through His death on the Cross.  The apostles, now in a unique manner, not only receive the mercy of God but also are its sharers.  One of the apostles, Thomas, is not with the group behind locked doors and is even further away in the locked doors of his heart.  A week later he is with them and Jesus, once again, is able to pass through the locked door and open the heart of Thomas as well as all of the apostles.  The Resurrection of Christ is able to pierce our hearts and to pass through the locked doors of our hearts when we try to obstruct Him.  The power of Christ's Resurrection will not be blocked even by our sins.  God is a God of mercy who gives Himself to us in the fullest of ways.

 

During this Jubilee of Mercy, especially as we celebrate the Lord's Resurrection at Easter, we are called to walk through doors as a symbolic gesture of entering the door of Christ's merciful heart.  We are also called to open closed doors, especially those of our hearts, which try at times to block the love of Christ.  Jesus has called us to make a home in Him as He makes a home in us (cf. Jn 15:4).  It is only by walking through the door of His heart and letting Him open and walk through the door of our heart that we will know that home.  Christ's rising from the dead is the center of our faith as it reveals in the fullest manner what He did for us on the Cross.  As we look around the world today and see so much persecution, suffering, hatred and violence, and as we experience a confusion and unrest within our own great nation, it is the message of Easter which is the only one that makes a difference.  In the words of Pope Francis, spoken to all of the people of the world last year on Easter Sunday, "Lord, we pray to you for all the peoples of the earth: you have conquered death, grant us your life, grant us your peace!  Dear brothers and sisters, Happy Easter!"

Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
March 25, 2016