Last week my spiritual director left me with a loaded question: “What are you going to do when all that’s left is an empty tomb?”
As I gave his question some thought, I chuckled, realizing how well he knows me. Now he can even see my stumbles coming before I do.
What he was surely thinking of is how much I love church, and how just being inside the walls of the church brings me a feeling of such security and peace. I absolutely love Holy Week, mostly because I get to be at church a lot more than usual. I am in love with the music, the fellowship of our community, the beautiful liturgies, and that precious scent of incense. I get so that I never want to leave. And so my director, knowing that I will come crashing into the reality that is daily life all too soon, asked me his question.
We have so much to reflect on when we read the Gospel, so many descriptions of people’s experiences in the presence of God, but how often do we reflect on what happened AFTER those big moments? The angel Gabriel left Mary after the Annunciation; Zebedee’s sons left him on the beach with a bunch of fishing nets; and the three apostles had to come down the mountain after the Transfiguration. After those big moments, ordinariness followed. Life is not built up entirely of big moments and profound encounters with God. Most of the time, it’s just “the usual.”
Perhaps I can apply St. Ignatius’s wisdom: he tells retreatants to store up those moments of consolation and use them to get through the moments of desolation. While the empty tomb doesn’t have to be desolation per se, maybe the experiences I have stored up over Holy Week can give me the courage to walk away from the empty tomb and go out once again. I can’t help but think this was Mary’s strategy. We read in the Gospel that, “Mary pondered them in her heart.” Maybe she was mentally cataloging all she could of what had just happened, to carry with her as she continued along her own journey. Like one who plans food for a long trip, she knew to save the moments and memories and make them last as long as she could.
The empty tomb doesn’t have to be my crash and burn. If I take my experiences of Holy Week—my big moments—and ponder them and cherish them as the holy treasures they are, perhaps they will become the food for my missioning out from the tomb. Go now, the Mass has ended”¦and now it’s business as usual.
Throughout life there are a lot of empty tombs, aren’t there? There’s the business of getting on with a career after the high of graduation, the work of marriage after the long planned for wedding, the downsizing after the last child has left home, grown and on their own, the getting on with being an empty nester. Each change of season, whether in life or liturgy brings with it opportunities, the key is to not be too attached to our preferences as we may miss out on what God has in store for us.