Easter Homily – 17
Acts.10:34a, 37-43, Col.3:1-4, Mt 28:1-10
I wish everyone a Very Happy Easter. May the risen lord bless you today, as well as all those in your family whether they are near to you or far away.
A new candidate was being baptized at the river near the church. The minister said to the candidate, “Now before I baptize you, I want to know if you believe in God the father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” “Yes, I do,” said the candidate, and the minister pushed him under the water.
He came up sputtering and gasping. Then the minister asked, “Do you believe in all that the church believes?” “Yes, I do, he replied, and the minister pushed him under the water and a second time, holding him a bit longer than before. When he came up, he was choking and spitting out water.
“Now,” said the minister, “I want you to tell this assembly in your own words what you believe.” The candidate looked at the minister for a moment and replied, “I believe you are trying to drown me!”
Where to begin? There are so many readings to choose from, a real embarrassment of riches. A preacher can almost “pick a text, any text,” and just start talking. There are, however, certain phrases that jump out at me this year. Let’s see where they lead.
In Romans, Paul declares emphatically: “Death no longer has power over Jesus.” A famous poet has expressed it even more powerfully and absolutely: “Death shall have no dominion.”
That is what the women in the Gospel story found out. There they were, on their way to pay their final respects by completing the anointing of Jesus’ corpse. And then, out of the blue, an angel says, “He is not here… he has been raised!”
The message is the same as in St. Paul: death no longer has power over Jesus. So, following the angel’s instruction, the women hurry off to tell the other disciples, and then, out of the blue, “Jesus met them on their way!”
Now they saw for themselves that what the angel said was true. Jesus had really shattered the bonds of death.
In Ezekiel, the issue is another kind of death, namely, exile. Here God seems more concerned about his own reputation: “Not for your sakes do I act, house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name.”
In other words, God wonders what people will think of him when they realize, “These are the people of the Lord, yet they had to leave their land.” They might wonder what kind of God this “Lord” is, to let his own people languish in exile.
But God also has a plan to preserve his reputation in the future: “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you.” Worship of alien gods will no longer be a temptation, exile will no longer be a threat.” He will shatter the bonds of sin, and his reputation will be safe!
The Lord had earned his reputation in Genesis and especially in Exodus. After the crossing of the Red Sea, Moses and all the people sang: “I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant.”
But some 700 years later, Isaiah (long before Ezekiel), witnessed the damage being done to God’s reputation by his people. He foresaw a time of punishment, but he foresaw also a time of reconciliation.
And here we find the blessed, heart-easing words, “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back…, with enduring love I take pity on you.” Tenderness, not punishment, will be the last word. Enduring love, not exile, will be the bottom line.
Which takes us back to Romans: Death no longer has power over Jesus. And so it no longer has power over us. This is true first in the literal sense, for St. Paul writes, “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.”
And it is no less true in the figurative sense. Nothing that we think of as a kind of death has power any longer. Not the loss of loved ones. Not the loss of friendships. Not the loss of our most precious possessions. Not even the loss of health. Death shall have no dominion!
Death’s reputation is forever ruined. In one of his “Holy Sonnets” the poet John Donne mocks death with these words:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;…
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
It’s all so wonderful. Where to begin?
And where does it end? (Hint: It doesn’t.)
We cannot live Easter without entering into the mystery. It is not something intellectual, something we only know or read about. It is more, much more!
“To enter into the mystery” means the ability to wonder, to contemplate; the ability to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper amid great silence by which God speaks to us (1Kgs.19:12).
To enter into the mystery demands that we not be afraid of reality: that we not be locked into ourselves, that we not flee from what we fail to understand, that we not close our eyes to problems or deny them, that we not dismiss our questions.
To enter into the mystery means going beyond our own comfort zone, beyond the laziness and indifference which hold us back, and going out in search of truth, beauty and love. It is seeking a deeper meaning, an answer, and not an easy one, to the questions which challenge our faith, our fidelity and our very existence.
To enter into the mystery, we need humility, the lowliness to abase ourselves, to come down from the pedestal of our “I” which is so proud, of our presumption; the humility not to take ourselves so seriously, recognizing who we really are: creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness.
To enter into the mystery, we need the lowliness that is powerlessness, the renunciation of our idols. in a word, we need to adore. Without adoration, we cannot enter into the mystery.
The women who were Jesus’s disciples teach us all of this. They kept watch that night, together with Mary. And she, the Virgin Mother, helped them not to lose faith and hope. As a result, they did not remain prisoners of fear and sadness, but at the first light of dawn they went out carrying their ointments, their hearts anointed with love. They went forth and found the tomb open. And they went in.
They had kept watch, they went forth and they entered into the Mystery. May we learn from them to keep watch with God and with Mary our Mother, so that we too may enter into the Mystery which leads from death to life. Amen.