Not far from the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's old city, pinched on all sides by the bustle and noise of urban life, sits a small, well-tended garden surrounding an ancient empty tomb.
The Garden Tomb dates from the time of Christ. As a lovingly cared for archeological site, it possesses many of the elements of the tomb described in the New Testament as the resting place for the body of Christ following his crucifixion.
Some question whether the Garden Tomb is the actual spot of Christ's entombment. But none can dispute the power of the message of hope conveyed by the symbol of this empty tomb.
It requires faith to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected following his brutal and inhumane execution. It requires faith to believe that his resurrection paved the way for humankind's immortality. But once that seed of faith is planted, the message of the empty tomb places significant requirements on us, requirements of hope and charity.
Each day this newspaper prints the news of a broken and fallen world. Far too many contemporary events entail tragedy, betrayal and loss. Each day we publish obituaries, acknowledging the profound loss of loved ones.
But because of what led to an empty tomb on that first Easter Sunday, all can have genuine hope that what has been lost in this world — even life itself — can be lustrously restored in a better world.
Some have felt that this transcendent message of hope, that the soul will live forever, can somehow justify mistreatment and exploitation in this life. What a strange contortion of the message.
If anything, the message of the empty tomb intensifies one's obligations to behave ethically by universalizing and making eternal the reverberating consequences of behavior here and now.
If existence ended with the natural biological span of the body then the span of ethical obligations would feel similarly truncated. Although it might make sense to improve the immediate material and moral conditions around oneself while the body lives, why think beyond immediate kin and community?
But Jesus Christ, understanding the immortality of the soul, taught that being a neighbor was not about the proximity of our dwellings, but about how we treat and care for one another. He taught that charity was not about community recognition, but instead about quiet genuine acts of love to the least among us, and even to enemies.
If the soul lives forever, then what genuinely matters is how souls relate to one another, not what they possess or command. If the soul lives forever, then not only might we have to account for our indifference to strangers or mistreatment of enemies, but we may actually have to interact with them as distinct beings, then with the recognition that they possess the same worth and dignity as friends and family.
Christ, knowing that he would break the bands of death and hell and wanting all to follow him, wore out his life trying to teach the heavenly law of charity so that men and women could begin to live and love after that pattern here and now.
This Easter Sunday, as we contemplate the message of the empty tomb, may we all gain a brighter hope of the better world to come. But let us not forget the world we now inhabit. Indeed, let us improve upon it by embracing our obligation to live with greater faith, hope and charity.
This editorial originally appeared in The Deseret News on April 24, 2011.
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