If my schedule ever frees up, I’m going to write a book entitled Father Goes To The Airport, where I will recount all of my experiences wearing my collar in airplanes and airports. I guarantee it will be a best seller.
About this time last year, I was catching a short flight from Minneapolis to Bismarck. Since Delta often flies those routes with the old CJR jets, with my upgrade I usually get to sit in a single seat in business class with just the window to my left and the aisle to the right. When I fly for work I’m very anti-social, I like to settle into my seat, sip my coffee and mind my own business, but I knew I was in for trouble on this flight. As I sat down in my single seat, the man across the aisle starts talking. Yes, you know the guy. The guy who clearly doesn’t know social cues, as I have my headphones in, my iPad out, yet he still insisted on talking across the aisle as the rest of the passengers are stopped in the aisle between us while everyone tries to cram their stuff into the overheard bins.
Finally, he got to the point. He asked me “Father do you really believe this whole religion thing?” He went on to ask if I ever stopped to think that maybe this whole religion thing was just a big hoax. By this point I’m thinking to myself you see the collar around my neck, so you should at least pick up the social cue that I’m a priest, and as a priest, I most probably believe this whole religion thing.
This is where my own human weakness kicks in. Once you poke me, its game on. So, I decided to take my headphones out, put my iPad down and order some baileys for my coffee. I asked to him what he meant and he said “well isn’t it crazy to you to think that God would send His own Son into the world to suffer and die for us?” So, playing along I said, “Ok, but let’s play the facts out. History tells us that there was this man named Jesus who lived around the year 33 AD. No one really disputes the fact that this Jesus guy existed and went around what is today modern day Israel, teaching, preaching, curing people of leprosy, feeding 5,000 men with just 5 loaves of bread and even raised His friend Lazarus from the dead. Then they welcome Him into Jerusalem as a king only 4 days later to hand Him over as a criminal, to suffer the most extreme death possible on the cross. A death so painful that the Romans eventually outlawed it. Most of His friends abandoned Him. But there were a few that remained and they gave him an honorable burial.”
I explained that even for all of those events it is what came next that convinces me. You see we are told they rolled a stone in front of the tomb and then they put Roman guards to watch that tomb and two days later they come back to that tomb only to find the stone gone and the tomb empty. The only explanation is that He rose from the dead.
When I finished the guy looked at me and very nonchalantly says, “they could have just stolen the body.” This was the flight it was going to be. So, I looked at him and said “put yourself in the position of those Roman guards. They have one job and I think it’s fair to say that based on what they did to Jesus, the Romans are not nice people. If the Romans loose that body or it gets stolen, those guards are going to lose their heads. I guarantee they guarded that body.” I then said, “O yes, don’t you think the Jews who had Jesus put to death would have wanted to find His body. They certainly would have gone looking everywhere for it. Even today, no one has claimed to have any bones from Jesus. The only logical explanation then is that He did what He promised He was going to do. He rose from the dead and then for 40 days the Gospels recount that He came and visited with His followers and then finally ascended.”
I told this man I agree there are two options. Either Jesus is the greatest fraud this world has ever seen or He is the greatest gift that has ever come into this world. If He is a fraud, you are going to have to explain how He has been able to trick people for 2,000 years and even today has 2 billion people on this earth convinced of a lie. So, I said, “I think I’ll side with the 2 billion over the 1 of you on this airplane.” (I did warn you, I like to get my jabs in.)
I could tell by now that this man was not enjoying this conversation as much as I was, so I said, but let’s keep going. There were 12 people who followed Him everywhere. One of them betrayed Him and 10 of the others died as testimony that He did really rise from the dead. They saw it and they were convinced and I don’t know anyone, let alone 10 people, who would die for a lie. There is no other explanation. Either Jesus rose from the dead or this whole thing is a lie, and o by the way, my whole life as a priest is a waste at which point the man sunk down in His seat.
I’ll admit this is my weakness, I needed to get one last jab in so I said to this man, “look we are all going to die someday, you’ll probably die before me, but we are all going to die. There are only two options. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, when you and I die, that’s it, lights out. Our bodies turn to dust and the second people forget about us, it’s as though we never really lived. But if Jesus rose from the dead, you and I have hope. There is something far greater.” I went on to say, if I was going to go to the Amazon, I would not try and navigate myself. I would try to find a guide who knew the Amazon very well. I would find someone who had walked through the Amazon before. Same thing for us. We are going to die someday and here is the one guy who has raised himself from the dead. Why wouldn’t I follow Him?
Let’s go a little further. This man who professed to be the Son of God and proved it by rising from the dead was willing to die a horrific death on a cross for us. If there is love, that’s what it looks like; Jesus hanging on the cross. And if He loves us that much, He certainly wants what is best for us. I’ll admit it, there are things in our Catholic faith that are hard; there are teachings that are hard to comprehend, there are rules that are hard to live out. And, let’s be honest, if we live out the Christian life as we are supposed to we will probably be ridiculed at times. (Read other chapters in Father Goes to the Airport) But that is the choice we have to make. If we actually believe the story that we celebrate today, the only option is to say is I’m willing to jump in full force. The only option if we really believe the empty tomb is to admit that He is God and we are not. We have to admit that God knows what is best for us and He has left us a Church and a faith to follow which can bring us home to Him in eternal life.
Easy, no. Do we fail, yes, I’ll be the first to put my hand up and admit I fall short of that. But that is the only thing that makes sense. If you want the definition of stupidity it would be to say God, I know you are real, God I know you love me, God I know you have a plan for me, but no thank you I’ll try and do it on my own. The choice is ours. Today we gather here and we stare at that empty tomb and we are challenged to profess that Jesus rose from the dead.
In just a moment we are going to stand up and renew our baptismal promises. Having encountered that empty tomb we are going to be given a chance to make a response. But this response can’t just be a once a year thing. We can’t just get up once a year and profess our faith. It has to be done day in and day out, following after Christ who can lead us through death to life.
And so the empty tomb begs of us to ask how are we living out those baptismal promises in our lives? What are the steps we have to take to ensure that in our own lives we are following those teachings that Jesus shows us leads us through death to light? The good news is that Easter is a chance to start anew. Regardless of what has happened in the past, Easter is an opportunity for us to return to our own baptism, to seize the hand of truth which reaches out to guide us towards eternal life. My friends the tomb we encounter today is a reminder that Jesus didn’t come just as a great teacher or inspirational prophet, He came to save us. He has shown us the path to rise from our own death. You see God has died in the flesh and heaven trembles, before it. The empty tomb demands that we become disciples, so that in following Him we might rise with Him to eternal life.