Fulness in emptiness

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The Lord Is My Chef Sunday Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Easter Sunday, Cycle A, 09 April 2023
Acts 10:34, 37-43 ><}}}"> Colossians 3:1-4 ><}}}"> John 20:1-9
Photo by author, sunrise at Katmon Nature Sanctuary & Beach Resort, Bgy. Binulusan, Infanta, Quezon, 04 March 2023.

Blessed happy Easter everyone! Rejoice, the Lord is Risen! I know it is very difficult to greet everyone with Happy Easter compared with Merry Christmas primarily due to our weather. Most of all, because Easter is so empty unlike Christmas so filled with many signs and symbols, even with gifts and other things.

But that is the mystery – and joy – of Easter.

Emptiness. Even nothingness.

Because when we are empty, when we have nothing, that is when God fills us with his abundance.

On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”

John 20:1-2

Photo from GettyImages/iStockphoto.

How amazing that we Filipinos are so fond of using the expression “wala lang” for nothing or empty. When a man texts a woman with a simple hi or hello plus the words, wala lang, do not believe him because that’s something! There is something in simply texting you out of the blue! Meron yun kasi di ka niya text kung wala talaga.

In the provinces if you come for a lunch or dinner, whether there is an occasion or none, it is common to hear the hosts especially the poorer ones apologizing for not having a lot of food when in fact there are more than two viands like the freshest fish and vegetables we urbanites miss most. They would always say, “wala po kaming nakayanan, mahina po ang ani/huli, pasensiya na po.” Such kind of superb graciousness among us Filipinos in the provinces is so ordinary.

Perhaps, it is a beautiful sign we have imbibed from our deep faith in Jesus Christ who was nowhere to be found inside the empty tomb.

His absence from the empty tomb meant he was present somewhere. That was what Magdalene implied when she said “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him” (Jn.1:2).

Though the tomb was empty, Jesus was not missing at all. He had risen from the dead! In fact later, they would meet him along the way and that very evening too until his ascension into heaven.

Emptiness and nothingness can be positive or negative.

Positive emptiness means nothingness for God who alone suffices. There is an inner feeling of emptiness for something or Someone bigger, greater. That is how a man feels when he texts a woman of his dream with wala lang: he feels empty and nothing without her! The same with God. St. Augustine perfectly said it, “my heart is restless until it rests in you, O Lord.”

Henry Osawa Tanner’s painting, “The Three Marys” (1910), photo from biblicalarchaeology.org.

Easter is positive emptiness: Jesus is no longer in the tomb because he is risen. It is the definitive sign we have been freed from the clutches of evil and sin, of death and decay. Death is not the final statement in life. The gospel at Easter Vigil is more picturesque when Matthew narrated how Magdalene saw an angel seated on the empty tomb of Jesus, a beautiful reminder of how suffering and death have become Christ’s crowing glory. From being a tomb to becoming a Throne!

Every time we experience pains and sufferings, of emptiness and nothingness in life that all we could do is surrender everything to God like Jesus on the Cross, that is positive emptiness. We know for sure and feel it inside us that there is something in this nothingness. That is why never say “walang-wala ako” (I got nothing) because we always have God in us.

Positive emptiness/nothingness is the virtue of hope which is not positive thinking that things would get better. In fact, to have hope in God is to believe and accept that things could get worst like Jesus during the days leading to his arrest and crucifixion because to hope is believe that even if everything is lost, there is always God loving us in the end.

Hope is positive emptiness because it is creating a space within us for God and for others in love. Positive emptiness and nothingness is seeking God right in that emptiness like Peter and John running into the tomb after learning it was empty because we love, we have a relationship that continues after one is gone and not seen.

That ultimately is what positive emptiness/nothingness is all about, love.

It is similar to that feeling at the end of a movie when we refuse to stand and leave the cinema because we believe – we hope – there is still another final scene, there is still a coming sequel to what we have seen. We are not totally saddened with the end of the movie as we strongly feel, there would be a part two, a part three, and a part four which has been the trend all these years of the great movies of our youth! How funny that after exhausting the sequels, there came also the prequels. Why? Because we have all established a relationship, a love among us the fans of a movie franchise like Star Wars or Die Hard and its creators.

Photo by Ms. April Oliveros, Mt. Pulag, 25 March 2023.

That is what Easter is all about. We do not simply give up for life’s many sufferings and pains, trials and tribulations because we feel and know deep inside we have Jesus Christ who have risen from the dead. We are emptied daily in order to be filled with Jesus himself every day too. There is no need to see much things. Enough to feel deep inside like what Peter explained to the people at the first reading. Their very lives proved amid the physical emptiness or absence of Jesus in the world that Jesus was present, was Someone with Something.

This is the great challenge for us these days. More and more people are spending the Holy Week and Easter in the beach or somewhere else to bond as family where they could see more of each other and see more sights than the ordinary we have during this time of the year at home and in the parish that are usually bland and dry. More people prefer to go somewhere here and abroad in the hope of still being able to pray and celebrate the sacraments there because they feel empty here at home. We really hope they have positive emptiness than negative emptiness.

Negative emptiness is feeling empty amid the plethora of things and pleasures in life. Many times these days due to mobility, it is so easy to go hiking to the mountains or to some exotic destinations to fill the emptiness we have inside, to search for our “lost selves” (hanapin ang sarili). But very often, after some time of relief, the same emptiness and nothingness occurs. Nothing happens because what we really have is positive emptiness, our desire for God, the most essential in life who cannot be replaced by anything at all.

Negative emptiness is seeking things, sights and sounds, things of the senses to fill up curiosities, to settle doubts, to find happiness not realizing it is totally different from joy and fulfillment.

Negative emptiness is insisting on holding on to what can be seen, to what is tangible despite the inner directions we have been feeling inside toward God. For some time, we can refuse to follow its directions but there are times, positive emptiness and nothingness impose itself on us like when there is death or serious illness in the family. At first, it can be scary, so frightening but eventually, liberating like in the experiences of the first disciples of Jesus.

May we heed St. Paul’s words this Easter from the second reading, “Brothers and sisters: If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1).

Dearest Lord Jesus,
grant us the grace to seek and find
you in emptiness and nothingness,
even in darkness;
many times, our senses blur 
our sight of you;
how sad that even in our celebrations
we are so fascinated with all the colors
and antics in the rituals and processions 
we keep in our cameras and cellphones
but never in our hearts and memories
that soon enough, they fade, we forget
and see them only as pictures
bereft of meaning because it lacked relationship;
let us see you more beyond 
to have sights and insights
as well as hindsight and foresight
of your loving presence
in emptiness and nothingness
because what we have and keep
is your relationship,
your love and mercy.

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