Easter greetings from the Custos of the Holy Land
Here we are inside the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, just a few steps from here we see the empty tomb where the body of Jesus was buried on the evening of Good Friday and a few meters higher we can see Calvary, where a few hours before Jesus had been crucified and died.
If by fantasy we were able to go back in time to that first Easter morning, instead of this Basilica we would see a disused quarry, a new sepulchre dug out of the rock and a large round stone that had been overturned. Here where I am stood now, instead of the marble floor there would be the green grass of spring, perhaps even some trees in blossom.
It is here that on Easter morning, whilst it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to complete the burial rites for Jesus. I can imagine her feet bathing in dew as she approaches the Sepulchre. The sunlight would not have yet risen, but in the instant of dawn, the outline of things begins to be distinguished.
The grave is empty. Not only was Jesus killed, but someone also made Him disappear. Mary looks inside the Sepulchre but sees no one, only a limp and empty sheet. She is short of breath. She goes back into the open and burst into tears, she cannot even honour the dead body of Jesus, who had freed her from seven demons and returned her to life.
In the shadow of the garden she sees the silhouette of a man who approaches and asks her: “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”. In the timbre of that voice there is the echo of a voice imprinted in the memory of her heart. Yet she cannot think of anybody being present except a gardener. When, however, that voice again makes a sound and pronounces her name: “Mary!” she immediately recognizes Him: “Rabboni she says, which means Master!”.
She would like to touch Him for fear that He is an illusion, a hallucination or a ghost. Instead it is He, Jesus, risen and alive, who says to her: “Do not touch me, but go to my brothers and say that you have met me! Tell them I am alive! Tell them that My grave is empty! Tell them I have overcome death forever! “.
Here, in this place, in front of this scene, I understand that hope is not the projection of my desires but it is the Risen Jesus who has overcome death.
Here in this place I understand that the Risen Jesus is the gardener of life, the one who overcame death by passing through it and has conquered all our fears, all our anguish.
Here in this place I understand that by taking upon Himself all the evil of the world throughout history, all the evil in each of us, Jesus has already overcome every form of evil.
The risen Jesus is now my sure hope, to welcome Him with faith is to receive the only vaccine that can save me from the virus of death, fear and anguish, from the virus of evil that infects our humanity and our history, from the virus of a meaningless and aimless life.
Today, just as the pandemic is still sowing death all over the world, I feel that it is up to me, to you, to each of us to accept the invitation that Jesus made to Mary Magdalene: “Go to my brothers and tell them that you have met Me! Tell them I Am alive! Tell them that My grave is empty! that the sting of evil has been broken, it can still hurt but can no longer kill! Tell them that fear, anguish; despair and death are overcome forever! Tell them that life still makes sense that a new humanity was born here! “.
I wish you all a Happy Easter this year, especially to the sick, their families, the nurses and doctors who assist them. Happy Easter to those who find themselves passing from this world to the heavenly Father to be together with Jesus. Happy Easter to all those who are putting their lives at risk to guarantee essential services to our society.
Happy Easter to each and every one of you and your families. May the Risen Christ guard you in hope and make you glimpse the life that flows from this empty tomb.
Fr. Francesco Patton ofm
Custos of the Holy Land and President of Association pro Terra Sancta