The Empty Tomb

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene went to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. Then she ran and came to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.” John 20: 1-2

But Mary stood outside by the tomb weeping, and as she wept she stooped down and looked into the tomb. John 20:11

Today I found this particular Easter story especially relevant to our experience here. We tend to focus on the Resurrection whenever we read this story. The discovery of the empty tomb was followed by personal agony and desperation. The apostles decided to give up and go home. Mary just broke down and cried. There was nothing else to do in this moment of desperation except to cry. The empty tomb was a place of desperation or hopelessness before it become a symbol of the New Creation. We cannot understand the hope of the Resurrection unless we are willing to peek into the desperation found in the empty tomb.

In my last entry, I tried my best to describe Cracolândia. It was our first visit.  It was like taking a peek at the empty tomb. However, a peek was not enough. We went back and entered the empty tomb.

We met a young woman, Simone who made us feel sad and happy at the same time. We met Simone twenty years ago when she was just seventeen years old. She was a beautiful girl then. She was intelligent and proud. She gave birth to a young baby girl named Vanessa. Simone and Vanessa stayed in our missionary community for almost six months. We took care of Vanessa sometimes. We even have some photos of baby Vanessa. Vanessa must be 20 now. Simone looks like she is 20 years older than she really is. She has been in the streets too many years. Her face looked haggard and scarred. She is still proud. She recognized us first and she remembered meeting us even before we were married. We were happy to see her but it was a sad reunion.

An older homeless adult (maybe in his forties but looks like he is in his sixties) asked if we would do first aid on his feet. His feet were filthy and black from all the dirt in the streets. He had been walking barefooted for weeks, maybe months. He had some cuts that needed some medical attention. Melanie, one of the missionaries, cleaned his feet with water and started dressing the wound. I was standing beside her and watching this sacred moment. It was like the liturgy of Maundy Thursday being played out in practical service. I wasn’t the only one sensing the sacredness of the moment. I saw the man whose feet were being cleaned close his eyes and tears were rolling down his cheeks. Melanie was not aware of this. She just kept her focus on cleaning and dressing the wound. After she was done, the man shook our hands in deep gratitude. He asked for our prayers. His name is Josias.

By the end of the day, we cleaned and dressed wounds of 30 people. We ran out of gloves and gauze. Walking around Cracolândia is very intense. We were there for three hours but it felt like we were there for ten. Everyone is there for specific reasons. They will tell you upfront that they are here because they want to be here. No one blames anyone here. No one expects anyone to help them. They don’t want anyone’s help. They don‘t want any pity. They are here for a specific reason. They know why they are here. We know why we are here. You cannot come to a place like this without a reason. No one should come to a place like this without a reason.

For those who come to this place for crack, they consider this place to be their tomb. We are here following the footsteps of Mary Magdalene. We are here to look for Jesus. Like Mary Magdalene, the desperation and emptiness of the tomb hits us strong and hard. However, we know that beyond these desperation, there is hope. The empty tomb becomes a symbol of hope because of one person. He is here and He is our reason for being here.

The words, He is Risen, sound more powerful to me in Cracolândia.

Thank you for being with us through your prayers. We are privileged to represent you in this place.



4 thoughts on “The Empty Tomb

  1. We are privileged to be able to see a little through your eyes because of this blog. Thank you so much for sharing this mission with us. I give thanks to God that the empty tomb does not mean all hope is lost, but rather that He is Risen! Praying for you and your ministry there, and thank you for your willingness to venture into Cracolandia and love the people there.

  2. Thank you for your moving posts! You and your team carry the most beautiful light in a very dark place. The story of Josias is evidence of that. Josias met Christ in the washing of his feet. Sometimes you can help someone to the extent that you see a life change, and that is glorious…but sometimes it is not that broad…sometimes love just helps to lighten someone’s load for one day… puts a smile on a weary face for just one moment… and restores dignity to a person who had lost respect, through just one action…and that has a beauty all its own! You are walking on holy ground. God bless you Fr. Stephen and Mary! God bless you!!!!

  3. Our heart grieves with you, yet we see a bit of light in this tomb. It is you allowing the light of Jesus Christ to shine through you. Maranatha!

  4. Such a poignant analogy – a very painful discovery (the empty tomb) but to see the light of Christ glimmering in the face of Josias gives one hope which is what it is all about finding Jesus Christ in the most unexpected and dark places. God Bless You both-be safe and strong!!!

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