Free Again! – Arnel Aquino, SJ

Matthew 28:1-10, Easter Sunday 2017

Aren’t you glad that the purple linen covers here at the altar are now gone? In the past, churches covered the crucifix and the saints only after Holy Thursday mass. Recently, however, the covers go up much earlier, for some strange reason that probably only liturgists know. Personally, I’ve found it unsettling to pray and worship where Jesus is (a) all shrouded up, and (b) all shrouded up even sooner. The Lord died on a Friday, didn’t he? So, why are we in a rush? Bakit ba tayo nagmamadali?

Back in the Lord’s day, they were also quite in a rush to bury the deceased—usually one day after the last breath. The body of the dead was a source of impurity. You didn’t touch a dead body. You didn’t touch whatever touched the dead body, like its clothes. You didn’t touch whatever issued from the dead body, like sweat or blood. In other words, Jews buried their dead very soon…which was pretty wise because: first, desert heat hastened decomposition; and second, Jews didn’t practice embalming or cremation. What they did before burial, though, was wash the dead body, then lavishly anoint it with fragrant oil like myrrh. They then placed generous layers of aromatic herbs and leaves and flowers from neck to ankle. But you needed to hold all of that in place. So they wrapped the body in burial cloths; first length-wise, from head to feet. Then with a second or third cloth, they wrapped the whole body like bandaging a limb—in a nice, neat, and tight bundle—like suman sa ibos (!) In the Lord’s case, this was all done in a rush. The Passover meal was not to be kept waiting that fateful evening.

Well, the Resurrection proves that God didn’t waste time in reversing all of that. Just as today’s liturgists couldn’t wait to cover Jesus up too soon during Holy Week, maybe we forget that the Father couldn’t wait to un-shroud, un-linen, unbind his Son either. No; no more pinning, fastening, or nailing on the cross after that. And no more shrouding, covering, locking up in a tomb. Not anymore, not for one more kosher-eating minute. Jesus had always been free. And the sweetest thing is that he also always set people free. So, after the most excruciating couple of days—the Father did not waste any time to set his son free. And free was what Jesus was going to be forever from now on. Freeing was what he was going to do again, just as he’d always done before, and just as God would always want us to be: free. You heard God’s biography last night at Easter Vigil, in all the readings: God setting people free again and again and again since the beginning of history.

How has your retreat been, sisters and brothers? Kumusta na? Do you feel more peaceful now than when you came in? Do you feel deeper joy now than when you started? Do you feel that a veil has been lifted, even just a bit, or something has been somehow unshrouded? I hope so. I hope and pray so. You know what, whenever I go on retreat, my default mode seems to be one of two things: either I am not being loved enough or I’ve not been loving enough. My retreats have always begun that way. But as the retreat proceeds, I realize that it’s not so much that I am not loved enough but rather that I’ve been unfree to see love and to give love away. And you know what, come to think of it, in the times I’ve accompanied people on retreat and spiritual direction, I cannot be any more convinced than I already am, that all of us are constantly searching not just for love that is true and deep, but also, and maybe even more so, for freedom; interior freedom, true and deep.

Kung tutuusin, hindi naman po talaga nagkukulang ang Dios sa pagmamahal sa atin.iniyakan na natin ‘yon sa retreat ‘di ba? Ang dakilang pag-ibig ng Dios. Sige, sabihin na nating medyo kulang-kulang ‘yung pag-ibig na galing sa ating pamilya, lalo na tayong mga lumaki sa mga dysfunctional families (tulad ko, di na lumaki, period!) But God has more than made up for the love we found wanting from the very people whose love mattered most to us. Bawing-bawi na ang Dios, kung tutuusin. Abunado pa nga. Kung magmahal ang Dios, sobra.

So, it’s not so much that we lacked love, especially from God. It’s more like we suffer the lack of interior freedom to taste and see how broad and high and deep and wide God’s love is. Kaya tuloy, tayo, matipid tayong magmahal. Hindi dahil hindi tayo inibig, kundi dahil hindi na tayo malaya.

We visit upon ourselves many unnecessary burdens. We mentally repeat sad memories, for instance. We engage in negative inner dialogues. We gag our affect and feelings by the brawnier intellectualizing and rationalizing. Inuutak natin ang mga bagay na dapat namang “pusuin”. We gird ourselves nice and tight with emotional padding, protecting ourselves from the worst that could happen…from the worst who could happen. Slowly but surely, we become as unloving as we feel unlovable; not because we’re not loved enough, but because we are unfree.

Who wouldn’t want more interior freedom, right? We thirst for it and ache for it. Who wouldn’t want more freedom of thinking, for example—to think of ourselves in a different way, this time from a more life-giving optic? Who wouldn’t want freedom of spirit, too—to see God wanting us to love him with delight rather than with dread? Freedom of the heart—to be joyful and grateful again and anew, because if only people knew how tired we are of being angry most of the time, of being critical for the good part of each day, or being clingy for affirmation and praise, so we self-reference and self-entitle and name-drop, it’s pathetic. Most of all, if only people knew how afraid we are deep inside…and how tired we are of being afraid. We really don’t want to be afraid anymore; afraid of uncertainty, afraid of our own inner goodness, afraid of forgiving and asking for forgiveness, afraid of loving.

Don’t you think Jesus wouldn’t only be too happy to set us free? He who wasn’t going to be suman sa ibos for one more minute in that tomb, wouldn’t he just love to promptly unshroud us of our un-freedoms? “But, Fr. Arnel, di ba Jesus Christ is in our un-freedoms, too, our desolations, our deaths, our tombs?” To that I must answer, yes. Jesus is always with us, even in our tombs. But we would be dead wrong if we thought that the tomb was the end of the story just because, anyway, Jesus is with us there…in the tomb. Well, to that, God must be saying, “No.”


Because remember what happened on the first Easter morning: the women came to finish preparing the Lord’s body? They couldn’t finish it the day before due to the Sabbath. So that morning, they meant to complete the job on what they thought was the finished Jesus of Nazareth. Ah, but what did they see instead? Loose, useless shrouds in an empty tomb. Because shrouds and burial cloths and tombs do not finish Jesus stories. Not then, not now. Jesus is Lord of the living and the loving and the free. The Resurrection is about a Risen Christ, and rising from the dead, no matter how we look at it, rising from the dead is all about freedom.

And so, the women of Jerusalem rushed home, their shrouds of loneliness tearing open as they hurried and ran like they’d never hurried and run before. But this time, not out of fear. Not for one more minute could they stay rolled up in burial cloths of fear, of grief, of feeling sorry for themselves, no. Their hearts were burning with joy because in some strange and mysterious way, they suspected that Jesus was risen. And their suspicions must’ve felt very powerfully true, because, wow, they weren’t afraid anymore! They sensed like something, someone, some power, some great love…had just set them free!

*Image by Walter Rane from the Internet

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