A scripture reflection for Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022
It was January 11, 2019. I had been back home only for two days, but that was the day I lost my beloved father.
Dad was buried in the local parish cemetery. In Kerala, one of the 29 States in India, Catholic cemeteries as you may know them in the United States are rare. This is because, from ancient times, parishes have maintained their own private but smaller cemeteries for their parishioners. But due to their limited size, this has huge implications for parishioners. They cannot own permanent individual graves for themselves or their loved ones. After three years, the remains of their loved ones are reverently and prayerfully removed and put in a common vault along with other people’s remains. Someone else is then buried in the same grave.
My family always knew that we would have my father’s grave only for three years. But then, the pandemic ravaged the world, and many people died—more than the cemetery space available. We barely had my father’s grave for two years. On my last visit home, I went to visit my dad’s grave; it was no longer there. Someone else had already been buried in the same grave.
No Grave is a Permanent Grave
Initially, the realization that I would not have my father’s grave after three years made me very uncomfortable. But it was merely a fleeting thought. I recalled that, because we are baptized and because we have already died with Christ, we Catholics are not uncomfortable or afraid of death. We live each day knowing that we have already embraced death. Let me reflect on this further.
Recall the Paschal candle, which is lit from the new fire at the Easter vigil. The Paschal candle is present on two occasions in a Catholic’s life: at Baptism and the Mass of Christian burial. At Baptism, the minister of the sacrament lights the baptismal candle from the Paschal candle and says to the person being baptized, “Receive the light of Christ!” And then the minister turns to the parents and godparents saying, “Parents and godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. He/she must always walk as a child of the light. May he/she keep the flame of faith alive in his/her heart. When the Lord comes may he/she go out to meet him with all the angels and saints in the heavenly kingdom. Amen.” Note that at the very initiation into faith we talk about the final coming of Christ.
And then at the funeral of that baptized person, the casket is placed under the light of this very same Paschal candle. This is because at Baptism the baptized person has already died with Christ. And now that the baptized person has died, they can rise to life with Him. The implication is clear and simple: not only is no grave a permanent grave, but no death is a permanent death!
Living to Die, Dying to Live
There is yet another reason in our sacramental rituals that shows that we Catholics are comfortable with death and dying. Perhaps you have been beside a loved one as they approached the end of life and witnessed the priest administer the sacraments for the last time. At this rite, the priest pours a little water on the forehead of the dying person saying, “In baptism, you died with Christ and rose to him with new life. May you now share in his eternal glory!” Afterward, he blesses the whole body of the person, signifying a preparation for burial.
It is not unintentional that during the last moments of our lives we are reminded of our baptism. We do this because the effect of baptism is realized at the moment of our death. It is when we die that we live. In reality, we live to die, so that when we die, we will live. Once again, we can remind ourselves that no grave is a permanent grave, and no death is a permanent death!
A Resurrection People!
Easter is the reason for our familiarity with life, death, and eternal life. The Easter Gospel reading recounts the story of what happened after Jesus had been buried in an empty, unused tomb. When the women returned after the Sabbath to care for His body, the tomb was empty (John 20:1-9). The tomb in which Jesus had been buried was no longer a gravesite. It was the site of the ultimate victory of God’s redeeming love; the site of the victory of life over death; the site of the victory of light over darkness; the site of the victory of immortality over immortality.
So what if I do not have a permanent grave for my dad? For that matter, so what if you do not have a permanent grave for your loved ones? Easter is not a celebration of graves, tombs, death, and mortality! Rather, it is a celebration of the reality that no grave is a permanent grave; that every tomb will be empty; that death is no more; that life is forever!
However, before we reach the end of our lives, we must live our entire lives witnessing to the reality that we are “dying to live and living to die.” The life we live now is already a life dead to sin and alive to the power of the Risen Lord. We already live like people who have no permanent graves! May this be true day after day until we are with the Risen Christ. This is the meaning of being a “Resurrection people,” or as they say, an “Alleluia people!”
In the Easter Eucharist, we celebrate the One who by His Death and Resurrection made every grave a temporary one; the One in whom we die to live and to live forever!
Image: Fra Angelico, “Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb,” Public Domain.
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Fr. Satish Joseph was ordained in India in 1994 and incardinated into the archdiocese of Cincinnati in 2008. He has a Masters in Communication and Doctorate in Theology from the University of Dayton. He is presently Pastor at Immaculate Conception and St. Helen parishes in Dayton, OH. He is also the founder Ite Missa Est ministries (www.itemissaest.org) and uses social media extensively for evangelization. He is also the founder of MercyPets (www.mercypets.org) — a charitable fund that invites pet-owners to donate a percent of their pet expenses to alleviate child hunger. MercyPets is active in four countries since its founding in December 2017. Apart from serving at the two parishes, he facilitates retreats, seminars and parish missions.