“[They] saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” – Jn 20:8-9
I once met a 15-year old kid at a juvenile hall on the threshold of baptism. Let me call him Carlos. I asked him why he was taking such a step. He said that his son was just born. Despite a past that involved killing as many kids as the number of years he lived and a present that included most of his many siblings in gangs, he wanted to change. His eyes conveyed a conviction that this was possible. It was for his son. He believed, even though he did not yet understand. Yesterday, I baptized three youths in a nearby juvenile detention center. Their eyes conveyed s a similar belief that awaits understanding.
Being in their presence reminded me of the all-night vigil I spent in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which housed Calvary, the slab of rock where Jesus was embalmed, and his tomb. Besides a kind of foggy sense of holy bravado or the chance at a once-in-a–lifetime experience, I did not really know why I was there. But something was born within me. There were about fourteen of us pilgrims, so we took turn praying inside the tomb itself. I stayed mostly in the Chapel of the Angels, the small ante-chamber where the angel announced to the women that Jesus had been raised. I sat looking in the tomb, waiting. Something beckoned me to wait. Yet, I did not know for what. Through many prayers of petitions for people, moments of distractions and yawns, something gradually dawned within me. A deep sense of peace and trust grew within. And an elusive joy embraced me. I have no words for it. Such peace and joy lasted the entire night, at a consistent depth and duration that I had never known before. It has been a year since, and this experience remains with me in its freshness and influence.
I still don’t really know what happened. Something did. And it continues to change the way I relate to God, to others, to myself. I am still the self-preoccupied, perfectionistic, idealistic, fearful, seeking-to-control person who struggles to trust God. Yet, I find this elusive peace and joy infusing my awareness despite myself. I find myself more willing to stand in witness with people like Carlos. How paradoxically, at the same place where death-like experiences once ruled, new life rises. (It is interesting that the Church of Holy Sepulcher, or Tomb, is known by Eastern Christians as the Church of the Resurrection.)
Today, we celebrate the central point of our Christian faith. We are called to proclaim the Paschal Mystery, the pattern of suffering-death-resurrection revealed in Jesus’ life and uncovered in our own lives. It takes time, for understanding follows believing, just as understanding follows loving. It is a blessing that the Easter Season lasts 50 days, so that believing and loving can gradually transform us to witness the power of God’s light overcoming darkness.
“Risen One, deepen my belief and trust in your unfailing and transforming love!