Easter 2009 has a special sense of emptiness not felt by most Americans for many decades. Why? Because our deteriorating economic reality is not just broadcast by radio, TV, and newspapers. It is deeply experienced by everyone — you don’t have to turn on the radio or TV to grasp the seriousness. It’s in the air. And it’s in our hearts.

In my Lenten Message this year, I pointed out that we have actually been living a protracted Lent since 2007 as one financial hurdle tumbled onto the next one. No one has been spared in what is now being called the Great Repression.

How are we to understand our feelings of emptiness, fear and anxiety as we approach the great feast of Easter? By standing at the very entrance to the empty tomb of Jesus. There is no image as stark as that of a dark, chilly, empty tomb. Its only purpose is to hold the remains of a person no longer alive, never to breathe in the air of life and of future.

Until Jesus Christ was laid in the tomb near Calvary.

Three days later he would be raised up from the dead by the Father. Tombs would never again be able to capture and lock in the human spirit.

The amazement experienced by Peter and John as they stood inside the empty tomb slowly began to turn into disbelief, then confusion, and then into cautious joy. Gradually, all of those first disciples entered into the power of the empty tomb, and like John, “saw and believed.”

This Easter, I invite all of us to hasten to the empty tomb with a new and fresh eagerness, and to stand there in hope and in joy. For so many of our brothers and sisters, these past months have been an agonizing way of the cross, a sharing in the sufferings and death of Jesus. Too many have given up hope and have despaired — claiming that no one and nothing can give them a new tomorrow, something to live for, a belief that this agony will gradually diminish.

Standing before the empty tomb in faith helps us to drink in fully the joy and hope of Jesus’ defeat of suffering and death. Let the power of the Risen Christ take your woes, agonies and desperate tears. Let this power roll them up and set them aside in the tomb. And then walk past the rolled back stone at the entrance to the tomb and breathe in the new life that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ brings us.

Parents, share this vision of a brighter Easter tomorrow with your children. Don’t let the meaning of Easter be blurred by the hollow chocolate eggs and rabbits lying in fake grass. Open their eyes to the deeper meaning of Easter: let them color Easter eggs in a new way this year; show them how to write on the eggs while they are being dyed. Suggest some words for them to write on this year’s Easter eggs — words like “joy, hope, wonder, bright, future” and similar. If they have relatives and friends who are out of work, out of house and out of hope, let them place their name on an Easter egg with the word “hope” next to the name.

When we go to Easter Mass this year, go up with your family to the glorious Easter Candle in the sanctuary and look up at the candle light, the symbol of the Risen Jesus. Offer a brief prayer together — especially for those most in need of Easter hope.

Then, turn and walk from your parish Church with hearts and spirits uplifted. The tomb is empty. Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead!