4-16-2017 Easter Sunday
Apr 17, 2017
Easter I / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
A welcome to all, and a Happy Easter! Christ is risen. He is risen, Indeed! We put behind us the 40 days of Lent, the sadness of Holy Week, the darkness of the tomb—and we rise with Jesus Christ, to new life. Last evening at the Vigil we welcomed 10 new members through Baptism and Reception into the Catholic Church, and we share their joy as we gather for this Easter celebration.
The short Gospel we heard proclaimed today—in contrast to the long Passion Narrative we heard on Friday—picks up where the Passion left off: at the tomb. But something is different. Something is quite different. 1) It is no longer night. It is morning. 2) It is no longer dark. It is light. 3) It is no longer filled with sadness, but with hope. 4) What seemed impossible has occurred—and life, and our world, will never be the same.
Still, I never want to presume that all of us know what Easter is all about—the media and advertising paint one picture, but the Church paints quite a different picture! So what is Easter all about? To answer that question we have to go back two thousand years, to first century Judaism, and ask the same question they did: what happens to people when they die?
There were a number of responses—not altogether different from today. 1) Some said that when you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s it. The end. 2) There was a belief, somewhat popular at the time, that the righteous dead (and only the righteous) would rise at the end of time. Remember the Lazarus story, when Martha says, "I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day." 3) Another view was that the "souls of the just are in the hands of God"—a Greek notion, that the righteous soul left the body and was at peace. 4) And then there was a belief by some in "reincarnation." Remember Herod asking who Jesus is, and the response, "Some say John the Baptist come back to life."
But the accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus in the Gospels have nothing to do with any of these views—the story of Jesus’ Resurrection is entirely new and different. The first witnesses to the Resurrection say that it was Jesus—the same Jesus who was put to death—who has come back NOW and not in the future, at the end of time. And he was a real body, not a "soul" or a "ghost." They didn’t just say that Jesus was "alive with God." Or alive in our hearts. They said that he is alive HERE, with us!
If the Resurrection were just a myth, or a story—something out of a comic book—it probably would have played out differently. Something like this: Jesus, the hero, was taken by the Romans, tortured, horribly killed on a cross, and buried. But Jesus the Hero came back, alive again—taking vengeance on the bad guys, standing triumphant before the enemy. This is the way of the world, and the way of power.
In fact, something quite different happened. On the morning of that first day of the week, the Risen Lord presents himself to his disciples. Their first reaction? Fear. Why? Because a dead man has come back to life? Not really. They were probably afraid of vengeance, because that is the way the world works. They had abandoned him, and now he has come back to punish them.
Instead, after showing his wounds to his frightened disciples, Jesus says, "Peace be with you." Peace be with you! Not an "eye for an eye." Jesus showed us 1) that peace, not war, restores order; 2) that love, not hate, establishes justice; 3) that reconciliation, not aggression, brings light to those in darkness and healing to those who mourn. Jesus became the best example of his own teaching: that there is nothing more powerful than love and forgiveness. It can even raise one from the dead! And it did!
And that, as Charlie Brown might say, is "what Easter is all about."