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home : opinion : perspectives

4/5/2018 9:00:00 AM
A God who knew His way out of the grave

Until recently, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Russian city of Moscow was the tomb of Vladimir Lenin, an early communist luminary and rabid enemy of religion, especially of Christianity.

Today, his embalmed body is housed in a mausoleum in the vicinity of Red Square. His preserved body has been on public display there since 1924. More than 10 million people visited Lenin's tomb between the years 1924 and 1972. His tomb is guarded by Russian soldiers.

As an enemy of the Church, Lenin made every attempt to extinguish the light of faith in the motherland. Church doors were bolted, the voices of Christians were silenced and many Christian faithful suffered a martyr's death. In his lifetime, he fully expected the Church to die, never to return to life again. He wanted the Church dead and buried.

As we close in on the 100th anniversary of his death, we can say that Lenin failed in his objective to make Russia an atheistic state. Though wounded, Christianity is alive and well in Russia.

As strange as it may seem to us, the tomb in which Christ was buried seemed to preoccupy the Jewish leaders. In Matthew's Gospel, we read, "The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, "Sir, we remember that this imposter while still alive said, 'After three days I will be raised up.' Give orders, then, that the grave be secured until the third day, lest his disciples come and steal him and say to the people, 'He has been raised from the dead.' This last imposter will be worse than the first. Pilate said to them, 'The guard is yours; go and secure it as best as you can.' So they went and secured the tomb by fixing a seal to the tomb and setting a guard" (Mt 27:62-66).

In his splendid book, "Life of Christ," the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote, "In the history of the world, only one tomb has ever had a rock rolled before it to prevent the dead man within from rising. What spectacle could be more ridiculous than armed soldiers keeping their eye on a corpse....The most astonishing fact about this spectacle of vigilance over the dead was that the enemies of Christ expected the resurrection, but His friends did not."

One of the lessons of Easter Sunday is that the leaders strove to keep Jesus imprisoned in the tomb, but Jesus shows Himself. He is risen.

We worship a God who affirms life in the face of death, light in darkness and the divine presence over absence. To quote famed author G.K. Chesterton, "Christianity has died many times and risen again. For it had a God who knew His way out of the grave."

In the Holy Land, one of the most popular places to visit for pilgrims is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. According to ancient tradition, it was the very place where Jesus was buried, the place "where they laid Him." If the current members of Israeli security are on hand today, it is not to protect a lifeless corpse of one who had died two centuries ago, but to shield the pilgrims from sectarian violence.

There is no corpse. Christ's body did not remain in the tomb.

"They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus" (Lk 24:2-3). The astonishing words of Scripture ring out: "He is not here! He is risen. Why do you look for the living among the dead? The Apostles bore witness to the resurrection by what they had heard and seen and touched" (Acts 1:21-22).

During Holy Week, Christian pilgrims from all over the world come to Jerusalem and rejoice together in the Good News of Christ's passion, death and resurrection. Large numbers gather at the grave of Jesus to celebrate the memory of His resurrection.

For those who are unjustly persecuted for their faith in the crucified and risen Christ in our modern, unbelieving world, a famous artwork by Italian master Piero Della Francesco may be a consolation and source of strength. It dates back to the 15th century. It depicts Christ emerging from the tomb attired in a radiant white garment and carrying in one hand a victorious white banner with a white cross.

Christ is triumphant over death and evil. The painting serves as a reminder that we are an Easter people and "Alleluia" is our song.

(Father Yanas is pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Troy.)

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