Time to throw off the shroud: lessons from Christ's empty tomb
What is the single most important truth entrusted to the Church? It is the declaration “Christ is risen!” It is the most significant fact in the history of creation.
Because Christ is risen, the past may be healed. From the sin of Adam to our time, the resurrection is the divine declaration that evil is not the greatest force in human history.
Because Christ is risen, the future need not be feared. The resurrection is the divine declaration that hope for the future is not mere wishful thinking. Christ the God-Man has opened the gates of heaven and even now intercedes for us before our heavenly Father. The resurrection’s promise is that we may see the face of God and live.
Because Christ is risen, the present may be full of life. The resurrection is the divine declaration that we may awaken from our bad dream to find that we are not orphans but adopted children, beloved heirs to a kingdom. In each present moment we are offered sufficient grace to rebuke Satan and call upon our heavenly Father.
Past, present and future, all the way into eternity — there is no moment of creation not touched by the resurrection of Christ. Who in our time has expressed this truth more succinctly and eloquently than Fulton Sheen:
“The cross had asked the questions; the resurrection had answered them. … The cross had asked: Why does God permit evil and sin to nail justice to a tree? The resurrection answered: That sin having done its worst might exhaust itself and thus be overcome by love that is stronger than either sin or death. Thus there emerges the Easter lesson that the power of evil and chaos of anyone moment can be defied and conquered for the basis of our hope is not in any construct of human power but in the power of God who has given the evil of this earth one mortal wound — an open tomb, a gaping sepulcher, an empty grave.”
What a needless tragedy, what a waste of opportunity, if we Christians do not live guided by the light of the resurrection and the eloquence of the empty tomb. Alas! We can still be beguiled by Satan’s lies. We can be tempted to believe that the mercy of the cross and the victory of the resurrection are for everyone but us. Satan can use crippling shame or a twisted pride to convince us that our own sin is so great that its stain and stink cannot be removed. While Christ cast his shroud aside (for he would no longer need it), we may still be bound by our shroud of sin. We may become convinced that no power can unbind us.
I’ve met so many people who have resigned themselves to the living-death of resignation to the binding memories of their own sin. I believe they cannot accept the forgiveness of God because they cannot forgive themselves. Consider these poignant words from author Louis Evely:
“We love them all, we forgive all. … However, let us be careful lest we forget someone. Someone exists who has disappointed and offended us, someone with whom we are continually displeased and with whom we are more spiteful than we would dare be with anyone else. That is ourselves. We are sick of our own mediocrity, revolted by our own inconsistency, bored by our own monotony. We live in a state of indifference and even of unbelievable hatred toward the nearest neighbor that God has given us to guide and to offer to him. We would never dare judge any other of God’s creatures with the contemptuous negligence with which we crush ourselves. It is said that we must love our neighbors like ourselves. We must therefore also love ourselves in the way we try to love our neighbor. … Let us ask him to allow the kindness, the love, the indulgence, the incredible trust with which he forgives us, to win us over to such an extent that we shall be freed from that dislike of ourselves that follows us everywhere, and of which we are not even ashamed. It is impossible for us to know God’s love for us unless we alter our own opinion and feelings about ourselves, and side with him, even against ourselves, when he loves us. God’s forgiveness reconciles us with him, with ourselves and with the whole world.”
Fine words, but how shall we pray for the graces Evely speaks of? Sheen would point us to the empty tomb. There we see that Christ has put off his unneeded shroud. Our call, as one retreat master told me, is to “leave behind the dead weight of the past in the empty tomb of Christ, where it belongs.” So many Christians go about carrying the dead weight of the past, the burden of their repented and forgiven sins with them. That dead weight is the shroud that we must put off — we have no need of it! We are made alive again in Christ! Let’s once and for all put off that dead weight, that reluctance to accept the forgiveness of God and the victory of the risen Christ! If we allow ourselves to be so unburdened, we can be free to walk in the light, receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit, and declare before the world that truth that changes everything: “Christ is risen!”
When I write next, I will speak of refusing to let ourselves be robbed of Christian joy. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.
Father Robert McTeigue, SJ, is a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. A professor of philosophy and theology, he has long experience in spiritual direction, retreat ministry and religious formation. He teaches philosophy at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL, and is known for his classes in both rhetoric and medical ethics.