A few years ago, when I was in seminary, I was fortunate enough to be able to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It’s one of the most extraordinary places I’ve ever been. During our visit to Jerusalem I got up very early one morning to attend Mass with one of the priests in our group at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is a church that contains the sites of Calvary and the tomb of Christ. I was very excited because the priest had made a reservation to say Mass in the tomb itself. The chapel in the tomb is very small, so if you attend Mass in there, you can’t help but be pressed up right up against the altar. During the Eucharistic Prayer, as I was kneeling, I could see into the space where the body of Jesus had been laid to rest. And it was empty.
Now, I knew it would be empty. I believe in the resurrection of Christ. But still, there is something strange about peering into an empty tomb, since death is a fundamental part of the human experience, hanging over everything. The spirit of the world tries to convince us that the tomb is the end, that there is nothing on the other side of death. But the empty grave of Christ testifies against that. His appearance to the disciples testifies against that. He came to them, not as a ghost, but in the flesh. He spoke to them, breathed upon them, touched them, and ate with them. Such things, the world tells us, are not supposed to happen.
But the truth is that death was not supposed to happen. Adam and Eve were not supposed to die. With their sin came death – both for them and for us. It is with the death and resurrection of Christ that we are freed from slavery to sin and offered eternal life. Jesus was supposed to be in the tomb Easter morning, but He wasn’t. We live in a world in which a man rose from the dead.
That morning in Jerusalem when I attended Mass and peered into the empty tomb of Jesus – it was a remarkable feeling. Because there, just above the grave that held the dead Jesus, the priest made present the living Jesus. The Eucharist is the Body of Jesus crucified, Jesus resurrected, Jesus glorified. And He was there with us, alive in His empty tomb.