HOMILY FOR EASTER SUNDAY YEAR B
HOMILY THEME: THE EMPTY TOMB
BY : Fr. Gerald M. Musa
People from different cultures around the world have attempted to explain the mystery of death and life after death through myths and ancient stories. Some of these stories pointed to the reality of resurrection in imperfect ways. Some of the interesting stories about life after death include the story of the death and rebirth of the Greek Dionysius; the story of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, deity of harvest and growth, who had the opportunity to shuttle between the world of the living and world of the dead. Other myths about death and afterlife include the story of Osiris of Egypt, the story of Ganesha among the Hindus, the story of Tammuz, the Sumerian god of vegetation and the Indian story of Krishna, who was an incarnation of Vishnu.
Long before the coming of Christianity, Africans believed in re-incarnation. According to Igwe Amakulo, the Igbos expressed this belief in the names given to their children, “Nna-nna (the father of his father); Nne-nna (the mother of his father); Nne-ji (my brother or sister); Nna-ji (my half brother/half sister); and Nwa-nne Daa (the brother or sister of my mother). None of these names is repeated in the family because they specify the ancestors. Relations in this life pay the child the same high respect they were accustomed to pay to the deceased grandparent or relation of their father. Some people in Igboland are bearing their pre-incarnation names and enjoying the high level of respect due to a grandfather /mother.”
One of the interesting stories about life after death comes from Angola. It was about Chief Katamba who lost his favourite wife Muhungu. He passed an instruction to his people saying no one should eat or speak until his wife comes back to life. A native Doctor (Medicine man) was ordered to go into the world of the dead and bring back Muhungu. The native Doctor instructed the people in the village to wash themselves clean with a certain herb. Afterwards, the native Doctor descended into the world of the dead with his son and there he met the Queen Muhungu. The Queen showed the native Doctor the lord of the underworld Kalunga- Ngombe, the one who consumes everyone through death. Further, she showed him a faint image of Chief Kitamba in chains, because the chief was to die soon. She further explained to him that no one who enters Kalunga (the world of the dead) could ever come out. She handed to the native Doctor a bracelet put around her wrist at her burial to show the world as a sign that he actually visited the world of the dead. What I find interesting in the Angolan myth is the message of Queen Muhungu who testified that no one who gets into Kalunga (the world of the dead) could ever come out. In the Old Testament, the grave signifies darkness (Job 17:13) and a place of loneliness (Psalm 31:17-18) and so it was considered such a negative place where no one longs to go, much less remain there forever. The resurrection of Jesus broke the jinx of permanent sojourn in the tomb. This is why the empty tomb defines Christianity and the empty tomb is what we celebrate at Easter. Long before the birth of Jesus, God asked the Prophet Ezekiel to make this prediction about the empty tomb: “Look! I am going to open your graves; I will make you come up out of your graves…” (Ezekiel 37:12) After his death, Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb where no one had yet been laid (Luke 23:53).
Since Jesus predicted his resurrection, the Chief Priests and the Pharisees desperately wanted to prevent that from happening and “So they went and secured the tomb by fixing a seal to the stone and setting a guard” (Matthew 27:66). When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body. . As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. "Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here (Mark 16:1, 5-6)
Jesus transformed the negative image of the tomb, the grave and the underworld into a world of hope. First, he looks at the body as a grain of wheat that falls and dies and yields a rich harvest. Second, he asserts his power and gives his followers the assurance of sharing in his resurrection, I AM the resurrection and the life; he that believes in me, though he is dead, yet shall he live. Third, his resurrection lends credence to the fact that the victory of evil over good is temporary. The killers of Jesus thought they had eliminated him forever, but at his rising they were utterly disappointed. The Kirundi people of Burundi have a proverb which says, "When an enemy digs a grave for you, God gives you an emergency exit " We pray that at this Easter celebration the Lord will give light and life to all of us who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Let us rise from the graves of loneliness, failure, defeat and frustration and despair.
I wish you a very happy Easter celebration