More than an Empty Tomb: Return of the King
Easter has come and Pascha is coming.
Of course, every Sunday is a miniature Pascha so all Christians celebrate the central fact of history: Jesus is alive. The empty tomb is, however, just where Jesus is not. Where is He?
Jesus is King of Glory and is coming soon.
Surely He is coming quickly for all of us. One hundred years from now, if time has endured, anyone reading this will know that Jesus came for every person who read this at the time it was written. At the moment of our death, we pass from the world of consent and contingency to eternity. Our next waking thought is Jesus: for joy and judgment.
The empty tomb filled a throne.
Denying this fact is one reason so much in politics, even church politics, goes awry. A person cannot deny reality for long and have things go well. His Kingdom was, is, and is to come. No present nation or government can be the Kingdom of God.
As a result, our journey to death is a journey to the fullness of the true Kingdom.
When we are happy to point out the fact of an empty tomb, but ignore Jesus on the throne, we see only negation, death defeated, and not glory. The kingdoms of this world are not the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. Gaining, even for centuries, all the kingdoms of the world is the losing temptation of a devil, not the strategy of the Prince of Peace.
How can we be good subjects of the Kingdom of Love?
Consider the Example of Joseph
Joseph was in a tough spot: the woman he would marry was having somebody else’s baby. He wanted the whole thing to go away quietly.
The good news for history was that Joseph was a realist: he cared about physical and metaphysical truth. He was not naive, knowing very well how babies are conceived. He also knew that there was a God and that God was a person. The world was governed by a personality that while wise and not whimsical, allowing for an almost-law-like regularity to events, exceptions happened. The Personal God acts.
Joseph was a loving man and when the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, he was willing to see. He would become Mary’s husband and the father of the Baby that was coming. Joseph was a dreamer, but he lived out his choice in a world of a tyrant King Herod and Imperial Rome. Joseph was an oppressed member of a conquered nation whose choice to love and then see pushed him into exile with the Mother of God and Son of God.
The odd thing, of course, was that the more the “practical” men of power, the men of this world, fought the Baby and tried to drive His Mother into the wilderness, the more Joseph could trust the dream.
I am sure Joseph began with a “maybe” backed by love of Mary and God. The birth of Jesus, a stable, shepherds, a star must have all confirmed that something was up. By the time the magi came with gifts for the royal Baby, Joseph knew. And a good thing he did, because Joseph dreamed a dream again warning him to flee his homeland and go as an exile to Egypt. History backed up his decision to listen again and by the time he could return home, Joseph had learned to live in the fullness of reality.
Joseph the carpenter was no teacher, but the way he lived is a lesson in living in the real Kingdom. Jospeh took action, he was practical. He could marry or not marry. Jospeh had a shop to run and he ran it. He was able to get his family into exile and back again prudently using what the magi had brought. Part of his practicality was that Jospeh was open to God’s guidance. He knew it to be exceptional, but when the exceptional appeared to happen, Jospeh had heard enough in the synagogue and knew enough of the world to act. He was loving and prudent: marrying a woman like Mary was not irrational, fleeing Herod’s rule was not imprudent. Joseph’s actions were confirmed by events: he did not ignore history, he anticipated it by getting into the flow of God’s wisdom.
We are not given much of Joseph’s story. We only know what he got right and what he got right was right indeed. Learning to live well physically and metaphysically is hard and the lessons he learned are not mentioned. Sometimes (as with David) Scripture gives us the defeats, the false moves, as well as the victories, but with Joseph we only know that he was ready for the big moment.
He had learned to hear God and act. My experience says that this meant trying and failing. One way to know God is speaking is history: things turn out as promised. When one is in the flow of reality, things unfold. This flow of history can be into hard times: see Jesus in the Garden before going to the Cross. The visitations of angels, bursts of miracles, are rare, clustered around the great events of Scripture such as the Exodus and the life of Jesus. Most of sacred history is long periods of “normalcy” as we hear God in Scripture and in the still small voice that guides us.
Joseph grew up and got engaged. He faced one of the pivot points of history and was ready. He lived for a time in Egypt and then returned to Galilee. Most of his life he lived as a faithful son of Israel. This was the best preparation for the coming of the King.
We will probably never face such a moment in our lives until death. Every human faces that mystic moment when the angel comes and time for us is no more. We pass from this land of dreams into the hard reality of Paradise. Joseph was ready for this test as well, because of course he was. Joseph went to God where he saw his adopted son harrow the place of the dead, conquering death by death.
Saint Joseph lived in the reality of the physical world, making things with his hands, and the deeper reality that undergirds that world and gives it being. God make me like Joseph: a subject of the Heavenly Kingdom here on Earth now.
Soon the church, patiently following old rules as we have always done, will celebrate the great feast. The Son will be celebrated risen in the East where He was born, lived, died, and rose to Highest Heaven.