The Meaning of Emptiness

Br. Simon sings the Exultet at the Easter Vigil at St. Benedict's Abbey.

Br. Simon sings the Exultet at the Easter Vigil at St. Benedict's Abbey.

I am …exhausted! The celebration of the Triduum is an exhausting venture. For three days we are caught up into one continuous liturgy. I’m glad we don’t celebrate a Quadriduum! Without a beginning or end to the celebrations, the liturgy becomes our life, literally, and that’s the point. Everything we do is caught up in this Paschal mystery. Whether we eat, sleep, recreate, pray, everything – and that’s why it is so exhausting. It’s physically tiring with the late nights and early mornings; it’s mentally taxing to stay attentive for three straight days; and most of all it’s emotionally and spiritually draining reflecting and praying and walking with our Lord as he accomplishes our redemption. I’m tired, I’m spent, my tank is empty.

Mary Magdalene, Peter and John go to the tomb and find it…empty. Never before has emptiness been so full…of meaning. But what does this emptiness mean? What kind of emptiness is it? 

We have experienced lots of emptiness these past days. 

The church was empty of all decorations and ornaments. The holy water stoops were dry. The tabernacles were emptied of our Eucharistic Lord. And for a brief moment yesterday morning, even Mother Nature emptied her sky of its bright, full moon during a total eclipse. 

On the Cross Christ was emptied. “He emptied himself taking the form of a servant…being obedient even to death on a cross” (Phil 2: 7-8). His hands were emptied, that is except for the nails that kept him pinned to the wood. His pieced heart was emptied of the intoxicating wine of the new covenant. And after His body was emptied of its Spirit, even the Cross was emptied of its victim. 

Did you feel it? Did you feel God’s absence these days? 

But all these are emptiness’s of defeat. Surely this is not the emptiness in today’s Gospel. The tomb was empty, and never before has emptiness been so full…of hope. 

Lent should have emptied us for this hope, because Lent is like my mother’s cookie Tupperware – its emptiness is for the sake of being filled. It should have emptied our hands from those things that we were clinging to that are not God so that we can more confidently cling to God. It should have emptied our hearts of those false loves that are not founded on God so that they might be filled with God. It should have emptied our calendars of much of the busyness of life to make room for what truly matters. Our monastic cells should have been emptied of those “possessions” that are unnecessary to our holiness. Our stomachs might have been emptied on occasion as we fasted from the food we came to learn we didn’t really need as much as we thought. Maybe even Lent should have emptied our wallets a time or two in giving alms to those who need it more than we. The Sacrament of Reconciliation should have emptied our sin laden shoulders. And our Pride should BE emptied as we realize that probably not-a-one of us lived up to our hoped-for ideal this Lent. If that’s you, join the club, I’m the president!  

The emptiness of the tomb this morning says, “all of that, all failure, is wiped away.” It’s gone. Forgiven. It’s caught up in God’s infinite mercy. Never before has emptiness been so full of…consolation. 

This emptiness of the tomb is still something altogether different. It is not one of defeat, nor is it for the sake of being filled. This tomb is to remain empty for all times and to be a proclamation that the one who once rested there sleeps no longer. He is risen. He is alive! And if he lives, then he is present. This is why we are here. Because we have met somebody. We have had an encounter. We are here because Jesus is alive. Gloriously, triumphantly, wondrously alive. His ideas aren’t alive. He is alive. 

Just as Jesus appeared to Magdalene, to the other women, to the Apostles, to Paul, and to countless men and women down through the ages, so he continues if we will but give him time, to break into our lives, now. 

St. Matthew says that the tomb was opened and the stone rolled away only after Jesus had risen. The stone was not blocking his exit, it was blocking our view of the emptiness of his place of burial. Never before has emptiness been so full…of power. 

Jesus, who passed through the locked door of the upper room, the closed entrance to the tomb, and even the prison gates of the netherworld, in the grace of his risen and glorified person he can enter into the closed and locked doors of our hearts, penetrating deep into their inner chambers and opening the door that separates the “I” from the “Thou,” and even the “I” from the “You.” He fills our hearts with a Presence, with a love that transcends the boundaries of our limitations and weaknesses. 

But as important and necessary as the encounter is - as necessary as it is to meet Jesus - the meeting is not enough. He calls us to deep and abiding friendship, to be conformed to him, to think like him, to put on his mind, to be aware that I think wrongly about so many things, and that the world thinks wrongly about so many things. We must conformed to him, to be transformed in him. To put on his mind and love with his heart. 

This is what Jesus has done for us, for all of us. While we were still his enemies, while we were still in our sin, he went to the cross. And as he poured out his mercy upon us, so he asks us to bring that same mercy that we have received and fill the world with it, to bring it to others. 

He doesn’t call us to himself, transform us in himself, and then let us sit at home. He sends us. We are to go out and fill the world with the one who has emptied the tomb to fill us with his love. He comes in so that he might go out. If we’ll let him out, he’ll change everything.

Maybe we do find ourselves exhausted. Maybe your gas tanks are running on empty. But in a strange way don’t you also find this emptying to be oddly fulfilling, to be energizing. Never before has emptiness been so full…of energy, so energizing. 

So do not be afraid to spend yourselves. God is worth it…and so are you.