One lazy summer afternoon a grandfather took his grandson fishing out in the middle of the lake in a rowboat. After they talked for a while, the grandfather drifted off to sleep, and the boy looked over the side of the boat and noticed some water beetles just beneath the surface, playfully flitting around. Then one of the beetles crawled up on an oar and began climbing. About halfway up, it attached the talons of its legs to the wooden oar and then died. The boy awakened his grandfather and showed him; they then went back to fishing. Three hours later the boy looked down at the oar and, to his great surprise, saw that the beetle had dried up, and its shell was starting to crack open. Both the boy and his grandfather watched in silent awe as there emerged from the shell a beautiful dragonfly, which slowly moved its wings, and then took off into the air and hovered over the water beetles flitting at the surface; none of them, of course, recognized it as being the same beetle they had played with a few hours earlier. As the dragonfly flew off, the boy nudged the dried-out shell, which was now just an empty tomb (Brian Cavanagh, More Sower’s Seeds—Second Planting, #39). The world around us is filled with signs of life— and Easter celebrates the greatest such sign of all. The empty tomb is an invitation to us from Jesus to follow Him through death into a joyful and glorious new existence.
Mary Magdalene had a very deep love for Jesus, for early in His public ministry He had driven seven demons out of her (Mk. 16:9), in effect giving her back her life. She couldn’t believe that her Lord would remain dead in the tomb, and her faith in Him was rewarded: the tomb was empty, though she did not yet realize what this meant. Simon Peter and the other disciple summoned by Mary Magdalene were also confused, but— just as life often reveals itself very gradually in our natural world—these three followers of Jesus slowly began to realize something momentous had happened, and that life would never again be quite the same. As Acts of the Apostles (10:34, 37-43) describes, the early Church began to grow and spread as Peter and the other apostles preached to the people in the name of Jesus, and in the Letter to the Colossians (3:1-4), we’re reminded that for now our “life is hidden with Christ in God,” but that one day “when Christ [our] life appears, [we] too will appear with Him in glory.” As St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 5:6-8): just as a little yeast leavens all the dough, so Christ’s life within us can have a lasting effect, making us like “a fresh batch of dough,” and preparing us to live forever in His presence.
Those who place their trust in Jesus are transformed; by living in the spirit of His grace, they become a new creation and are made worthy of eternal life in the Lord’s presence.
Almost 100 years ago a British archaeologist entered a tomb in one of the pyramids in Egypt and discovered a mummy some 2000 years old, which he carefully unwrapped. The ancient corpse held in one of its hands a small root, and the English scholar took it and planted it in a fertile spot. He watered it every day, and in a few weeks the root took hold and later blossomed into a beautiful flower (Msgr. Arthur Tonne, Stories for Sermons, Vol. 8, #381). Whether it’s a case of a root coming to life after 2000 years, or a water beetle being transformed into a beautiful dragonfly after three hours, nature reminds us that our Creator is a God of life, and Scripture and the Tradition of the Church teach us our Lord is the Victor over sin and death.
Our lives, however, don’t move along on auto-pilot; our values and decisions determine our direction in life and our final destiny. A dragonfly that refused to flap its wings, and a root that refused to grow, would be examples of the gift of life being wasted. In the same way, Christians who refuse to practice their faith by worshipping God each week as part of a parish community, to obey the Lord’s commandments, and to actively follow and serve Jesus even when doing so is difficult or inconvenient, are in danger of withering and of becoming spiritually weak and even dead. Following Jesus is never a passive process or a part-time commitment; we must be actively engaged in living out our faith, letting it become our highest and constant priority in all we say and do.
Easter is truly good news only for those who take its meaning seriously—and this is what Jesus is today inviting each one of us to do. He is risen, and He offers us a share in His wonderful and amazing new life. As we now renew our baptismal promises, let us also recommit ourselves to knowing, loving, and serving Our Lord in and above all things.
REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.