Have you ever thought about resetting your life? Starting it over? When was that?
Well… as soon as I found out how much I have to pay for my social security tax last week, I wanted to reset my past year for a moment. But seriously, don’t you sometimes want a new and fresh life when suffering and sadness surpass our hope and happiness? All along our lives and until we take our last breath at the end, we experience moments of little death, moments when we feel like having a walk-through of our own tombs, moments when we taste the dark foretaste of death. Unbearable pain of loss, for example, can beat us to our knees. What about illness, which is called a dress rehearsal for death? And getting laid off? How about traumas from horrible accidents, disasters, and terrors? All of them can possibly make us a little less than dead.
Going through these deadly experiences, we may want to reset our life and start it all over again. You can easily find many online articles like “6 ways to hit the reset button for your life,” or “Need a reset button on life? Here you go.” But we all know that resetting life is not like resetting the alarm clock in the morning, or pushing the reset button on a remote control. We can’t delay or turn off our suffering and sorrow like we push the reset button. Then, how? How can we reset our lives? How can we take a second chance?
In today’s Gospel story, Mary Magdalene visits the tomb and finds the tomb open and Jesus is not there. She runs to Peter and the other disciple, the unnamed one whom Jesus loved, and delivers this news to them. The two disciples immediately go to the tomb. The other disciple outruns Peter and reaches the tomb first, but he doesn’t go into the tomb. He just stands outside and bends down to look in the tomb. He just finds the linen wrappings and cloth lying there, but don’t know what’s going on. Then, Peter arrives and goes right into the tomb. The other disciple now goes in there after Peter. And right there… inside the tomb, this unnamed disciple sees and believes. “Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed.” The Gospel doesn’t tell us what exactly this disciple saw and believed. According to the next verse, they couldn’t understand the resurrection of Jesus as a reality yet (John 20:9). But “in the tomb,” the beloved disciple sees and believes.
In the aftermath of the horrendous death of their precious Lord and friend Jesus, the disciples lost all of their faith in new life and new world. They didn’t know how to start his life over without Jesus. But ironically, “in the tomb,” in the place where all their hopes and dreams were buried with Jesus, in the place where they never wanted to visit, in the place of deadly despair, in the place of the end, they finally saw and believed. What did they see and believe? Perhaps, they might see some glimmers of new life coming even out of the place of death. Perhaps they might believe a possibility still emerging out of the place of impossibility, or a new beginning unfolding out of the place of dead-end. They may not fully understand yet. But they see. And they come to believe the possibility of resurrection… in the tomb. In the tomb!
A renowned preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor says she realized this ironical mystery of resurrection in the tomb, when she went to Organ Cave in West Virginia. (4) She writes, “If it happened in a cave, it happened in complete silence, in absolute darkness, with the smell of damp stone and dug earth in the air. Sitting deep in the heart of Organ Cave, I let this sink in: new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.” (From Learning to Walk in the Darkness)
Sisters and brothers in Christ, on this Easter Sunday, I cannot fully articulate the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection. But I can certainly tell you one thing… one thing I’ve seen and believed in my life. In the middle of our deepest despair and denial, we can still discover a possibility of something new. In the middle of darkest nights, we can still bear a hope for a new dawn. And even in the middle of our tombs, we can still find a way of new life. It is because resurrection takes place right there, in the dark tomb—not anywhere else. It is because up from the grave, Jesus arose! How to reset our life? How to start it over? In the tomb, see and believe Jesus who is the resurrection and the life. And with him, turn your tomb into a place of new beginning.
Last Sunday, in Egypt, a bomb exploded inside St. George’s Church and killed many Coptic Christians who were celebrating Palm Sunday. On the same day evening, Fr. Boules George gave his response to the horrible terrorist attack. The title of his sermon was, “A Message to Those Who Kill Us.” His sermon began with a simple but powerful sentence, “Thank you.” He said, “What will we say to them? Thank you. The first thing we will say is ‘Thank you,’ and you won’t believe us when we say it.” Fr. George said thank you “because for Christians, die the same death as Christ is the biggest honor.” He said thank you because the bombing couldn’t scare people away from the church, but rather brought much more people to the church that night.
Then, he changed his phrase as he continued his second part of the sermon. “We love you.” “You won’t even understand at all but we love you.” Fr. George said that we Christians love you because Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:46; 44). Then, he asked the people in the church to pray for the terrorists: “Pray for them so that they can sleep at night.” “Pray for them…. Take it as a duty. Take it as the application of Christ’s instructions. We must all pray for them today that God opens their eyes and open their hearts to his love (From www.copticdadandmom.com).
The terrorists tried to turn the church into a massive tomb, turn the place of love and joy into hatred and enmity. However, in the middle of death and grief, in the middle of threat and suffering, right there, the Coptic Christians gathered again and turned the tomb, the place of massacre into a place of resurrection and new life. How could they reset their lives? In the tomb, they saw and believed Jesus who already opened a way of new life and new love from within the stone-shut tomb to the whole world. And they saw and believed Jesus who assures them, “In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world” (John 16:33).
Sisters and brothers in Christ, today, let’s not be afraid to enter into the tomb where we can see and believe Jesus Christ, our risen Lord. Right there, he reveals the mystery of resurrection and gives death its due. With our risen Lord, we can take courage to turn our moments of little death into moments of new life. With our risen Lord, we can try hard and pray hard to change our death-drive world into a place of peace. So, from today, let us live our life anew. Let us hope once again. And let us love one another afresh. Christ is risen. Up from the grave, he is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.