He went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead. – John 20:5-9
“Your memories are like sadness and that keeps you cold. These memories will make you happy and that can make you feel warm.” My seven year old, Paul, lovingly ran his hands along the quilt. Our neighbor had it made out of her late husband’s favorite shirts. It has been just over a year since he died from cancer and my kids are still grieving the loss of this larger than life grandpa figure to them. These empty clothes told a story of adventure, generosity, and family. They told the story that his suffering has ended and that he is at peace now.
In today’s Easter Gospel, the disciples arrived at the tomb to empty clothes that told a different story. Like my son gently stroking the flannel and cotton, I imagine the disciples touching the empty clothes in front of them. “We just wrapped him in these two days ago… we saw him, we touched him, we felt him in these clothes?” Painful memories of Jesus’ beating and death on the cross would have flooded back, “the memories that make you feel cold inside” as my son Paul said. They “saw and believed” that something good was still coming from this experience. They did not understand fully, but the empty clothes told them that death was not the end of the story. The warmth of hope can begin to replace the cold of our sadness.
In the past year, our relationship with the liturgy became even more detached. We learned about spiritual communion as we participated from afar, via livestream or recordings. Even once Churches reopened a bit more, many of us still found it difficult or perhaps unsafe to return. We continued to watch on a screen, to receive Communion in drive-thru lines or not at all. I had to ask myself the difficult question: does anyone care if I am here or not? Does it matter to anyone if I ever attend Mass? We have proven that we, the Body of Christ, are dispensable when it comes to the celebration of the liturgy. These thoughts can fill me with sadness and regret.
The empty clothes tell another story, though. Jesus is not bound by time or space. I can be on the altar, in the pew, in my car, or at home on the couch. While I may not be able to physically receive Communion in each of these physical places, I am struck that Jesus has promised his Body and Blood to me in all of them. Death is not the end. Loneliness is not the finale. I have learned in new ways that the physical spaces we create or enter into for prayer are aids to clear our minds and hearts. The community gathered, the collective experiences of grace, are tangible and real ways that the Sacraments come alive. Despite MY struggles to fully enter into these strange spaces for prayer, Christ has no similar difficulty.
Today I feel like an empty tomb. I am awaiting my own encounter with the Resurrected Lord. I trust that the emptiness within me is a reminder that new life is stirring.