It is the week of Easter. The birds sing love songs, the scent of lilies floats on rather cool winds, the sun saunters in and out of clouds, and children are riding bikes and playing ball. Where do I find myself, but sitting outside an empty tomb, huddled and hugging my knees close.
Throughout Lent, my daily fast was to empty myself of something. So I really am not surprised to be making a vigil at the consummate empty—the tomb.
Shall I back up a bit? Last Thursday—the Holy one—was spent tying up loose ends at the parish in which I minister. That evening, we brought our love, our aches, our hopes to the opening of the Triduum. My husband and I washed feet that evening. In that ritual, as I observed the families who bathe each other’s feet and the strangers who care for each other, I knew another empty-ing of self. My back ached, my knees screamed, but the tenderness I witnessed drew forth the ego that had so stubbornly refused to exit in the previous weeks.
Good Friday evening arrived and with it, a bit of resistance on my part to leaving the comfort of my home to attend one of the most profound of services. [Apparently not all of my ego emptied out the previous night.] In quiet, I drove the twenty minutes to Church and felt the call to empty stir anew.
I love this service—the proclamation of the Passion, the suffering servant of Isaiah and the Veneration of the Cross.
During the Veneration, I was drawn to the wood of the Cross like metal to a magnet. Grabbing the cross, I hugged it, hugged it tight. The big empty began—the week of painful news for several friends, the times of sitting with folks and hearing their wounds and difficulties, my own fatigue—all of it, wrapped around that piece of wood.
Holy Saturday and the Great Vigil of Easter finally dawned—such joy! Singing, dancing, fire and water, oil and scent, flowers and banners and celebrations of new life! Tears flowed, laughter poured forth.
Nature abhors a vacuum. What was emptied cried out to be filled copiously.
Easter Sunday night, I settled into bed, exhausted from the long and busy weeks and days that had brought me to this moment of rest. I prayed by recalling the story of the women coming to the tomb on Easter morning. I employed an Ignatian prayer imagination technique and inserted myself into this story:
I watched from a little bit of a distance as first the women discovered the empty tomb, and then, as the men found the same. When all were gone, I crept to the space where the stone had been and peeked in. I noticed the linens and wrappings, but I mainly noticed the emptiness. And so, not knowing what else to do, I sat outside the tomb, huddling and hugging my knees close.
At several points during the night, I awoke, and continued to play out this story. But all I recall clearly is waking up this morning, and finding myself outside the empty tomb.
I guess that is appropriate. All of my prayer for emptiness brought me to an empty space.
Some might say that this is a sad ending to the spiritual work of a season. I would disagree.
The birds are singing. The children playing. The sun and wind vacillate between winter and spring. And I have been given a place to rest. To refuel. To breathe in and receive.
The work lies ahead, always. But this week, there is peace, rest and the gift of Easter life.