Try to imagine what it must have been like to see the empty tomb of Jesus. The women in today’s gospel story must have realized that some strange and wonderful thing had happened—the gospel says they were “fearful yet overjoyed.” They must have sensed that now both they and their world were different. Gazing into that tomb, Mary and Mary Magdalene felt the first rush of Easter life. When they fled the tomb they were not the women they were when they arrived. They were Easter creatures, women of Easter life.
What is striking is how quickly they flee the tomb. Once they see that it is empty, it is impossible to stay there. Easter is God’s way of saying that the tomb is not the place for us. Easter means we are to be set free from all the tombs of our lives, whether they are tombs of sorrow and grief, tombs of anxiety and fear, tombs of injustice and diminishment, or tombs of feeling unloved and forgotten. Indeed, the resounding message of Easter is that the God who fashioned us from love and first gave us life wants us to know fullness of life.
And yet, some will not only refuse to hear this gospel message, but will also try to snuff it out. Like the chief priests and elders in the gospel story, they will try to persuade us that Easter is not real and there is no reason for its joy. They may even try to shut us up in other tombs. But the power is not with them, it is with the risen Lord. For people who take this wonderful truth to heart, there is no turning back to the tomb.
Paul J. Wadell is Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the extended Passionist family.