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Searching for the one who lives forever
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With the discovery of the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene panicked.  “The Lord has been taken from the tomb!” she told the disciples, hidden as they were for fear behind locked doors.  “We don’t know where they have put him!” (John 20:2).  She who had loved Jesus so intensely now at least had desired to pay his mortal remains the respect which they clearly deserved.

Later, once again alone at the tomb, she beheld the vision of two angels, seated at the head and at the foot of the place where Jesus’ body had lain.

“’Woman’, they asked, ‘why are you weeping?’ She answered them, ‘because the Lord has been taken away, and I do not know where they have put him.’” (John 20:13).  If her profession before knowing Jesus appears to have taught her a love that was less than holy, with her deliverance she began to love with an intensity that burned away every impurity and gave her courage to withstand the criticism she must have received, to stand with compassion beneath the cross, and to risk so much by visiting the tomb of a condemned man.  Yes, her love for Jesus drove her to the limits of her world.

But Jesus was no longer there.  According to Luke’s account, angels ask the women who’d arrived early with embalming spices, “Why do you search for the Living One among the dead?” (Luke 24:5).  Their question echoes down to our day, even as we honor the graves of our loved one who now rest in peace.  Their bodies are entombed, but their spirits are soaring free.

The Incarnation of the Eternal Word in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4) has given tremendous dignity to the whole human person, not just to our souls and our spirits.  God’s love and wisdom are enfleshed in all of His Creation.  Though formed from the dust, we humans hold the highest place.

For this reason, one of the Christian works of mercy is to show reverence to the human body, which through faith, baptism, and the indwelling of the Holy Trinity, becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit.   In our funeral liturgies, we usually keep the deceased front and center, showing respect for his or her body through careful preparation, a time of viewing, an appropriate casket, holy water and incense, and finally a proper Christian burial.

We do all this, knowing that our bodies are destined, one day, to be raised up in glory (1 Corinthians 15, etc). At the same time, if circumstances deprive us of the consolation and closure of being able to honor the body of a loved one who has died, we rest our confidence in the God of Mercy.  He who sent us the Good Shepherd to rescue His lost sheep would never leave His beloved children in limbo, much less in the darkness.  We are His forever.