From Emptiness to Communion

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, March 2013
– PDF version –

On Easter morning I peer into the empty tomb along with Mary of Magdala, Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved. I long to make my home in such emptiness. I long to hear for myself the proclamation of Good News from the surprise witness of Jesus’ friends. The meaning of such emptiness is still being realized in our world, within our Church and in the minds and hearts of all who survive poverty.

Emptiness is a way of life for people who make their home on the streets and who live in the shadow of our riches. Emptiness is a stomach that needs to be filled every day. Emptiness is a body that needs medication for disease and mental illness. Emptiness is the backpack that was stolen during the night. Most of all emptiness means the loneliness and absence of meaningful relationships for many people who either live in single-room occupancy hotels or under the bridges in our neighborhood. Emptiness, loneliness and isolation actually kill people not only in our neighborhood but also in rural communities and large cities throughout our country.

As a preacher in the Easter season, I peer into the empty tomb and my joy begins by learning how to articulate Good News to people who most need to hear it, to the people with whom Jesus gathered, ate and spoke during his ministry. The empty tomb is a rather clean slate, an open window, to explore how grace is given now, not just on the day of Mary of Magdala’s breathtaking observance. The Sundays of Easter give us who preach the images, the context and the love of Christ to continue proclaiming the Resurrection in our day and time.

The Second Sunday of Easter invites us all who preach to sit still behind the fear that paralyzes people. Jesus’ friends begin in isolation and in dread to begin the Easter message. The doors were locked and their lives trembled with worry. Then in their fearful emptiness comes the Risen One from out of nowhere. They touched the wounds of the Christ: the hands of graciousness, his side of salvation, and the feet of the journey. They believed and their fear melted before them. Thomas needed his own experience. He touched the Mystery of the Risen Christ, the redemptive wounds of love and the future of belief for us all.

No matter the context of our preaching or the people who worship in our pews, offering a homily within the Easter season must offer people this redemptive touch. We all must preach from our experiences of touching the Mystery of Suffering. We must know first hand the grace that is offered us when pain makes us turn toward God. Jesus is found when we name the pain. Freedom from this life comes in our hearts when we learn there is more going on within us than our own reluctance, stubbornness or doubt. As preachers in the season of Easter, allow Thomas to show you the way to unlock doors and to live a new life of freedom

On the Third Sunday of Easter, the disciple whom Jesus loved verbalizes his eye-catching miracle, “It is the Lord.” The emotion of this recognition cannot be lost on us who preach. We must feel the tenderness and the certainty. We need to look at our own lives for such a miracle and we must be able to draw people into this healing encounter so that we all may find the Risen One. Peter jumps into the sea, the nets are full and Jesus invites him to eat. After the meal then Jesus challenges Peter into a loving relationship with the Risen Christ and into love for the lowly followers, the lost ones, and the people who need Christ Jesus. As preachers who articulate the presence of Christ for others, we cannot discount the number of times Jesus asks Peter these things. We also must realize Jesus’ numerous commands to us to feed the emptiness of people’s hearts and lead others to the miracle of communion on the seashore.

For many preachers, the Easter season is exhausting and we may ourselves feel empty, exhausted and alone. The sacraments for students and weddings for adults demand much time. Preachers in large parishes seldom have time in this holy season for self-reflection, quiet prayer and solitude for homily preparation.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter claims the most familiar image for our people, the Good Shepherd. This image is not meant to build up the ego of the priest as one who searches and finds the lost here on earth. The image does not lessen people by claiming we are only sheep. The image is of the tenderness, caring and love of communion. We preach with this image beginning with our relationship with Christ, being found in the arms of the beloved.

As preachers we claim the continuing miracles of Resurrection from the emptiness we all find within our lives. Our communion is not just in the Body and Blood of Christ at the altar table, but within our words from the jaw-dropping love that comes from peering into the empty tomb on Easter morning until the day of Pentecost.

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