The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Homily: Easter Sunday, Year B

Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9

Today we come face-to-face with the Risen Christ, the very source of our faith and hope, for the Resurrection is the fuel for that Christian optimism that keeps us going even during the darkest moments of our lives.

When we consider again our Gospel passage from John, we note that the Resurrection is revealed first to Mary Magdalene. Why is Mary going to the tomb? Because Jesus died on the very eve of the Sabbath, prohibiting her from anointing His body immediately after His death. And so she returns at dawn on Sunday prepared to do her duty to the Master, the One she loved.

Like the Apostles, and like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Mary didn’t expect the Resurrection. Jesus, in Whom his disciples had all placed their hopes, had not only died, but died the ignominious death of a common criminal.

And yet, in a display of courage sorely lacking among the Apostles, it was the women who had been there, at the very foot of the Cross, joined only by the young John. Yes, Mary Magdalene knew He had died. She had heard Him take His last breath. She had seen the soldier's lance pierce His heart. She had grieved with our Blessed Mother as she cradled her Son's lifeless body in her arms. And she had seen that body placed hurriedly in the tomb.

Oh, yes, Mary Magdalene knew Jesus had died. And in her overwhelming grief, the grief of emptiness, a grief tinged with an underlying fear, she made her way that Sunday morning to the tomb of a dead man.

She wasn’t thinking of resurrection as she walked along the path. Indeed, none of Jesus’ disciples understood Him when He spoke of His Resurrection, and Mary was no different. Faced with the finality of death, her faith and her hope had all but disappeared. All that is left is her love. It is this love for Jesus that carries her along the path to the tomb on that morning we celebrate today.

But when she arrives, she finds that the huge stone no longer blocks the entrance. It has been rolled away. She confronts an empty tomb.

Both Mark and Matthew tell us that Mary was accompanied in that predawn darkness by other disciples, all of them women. None of them know what to make of it, but their hearts are bursting with a jumble of emotions: confusion, astonishment, fear.

Then, in the tomb, a young man appears and tells them not to be amazed, for the One they seek, the One Who was crucified, the One Who had died before their very eyes, is risen. In the shock of this sudden revelation, they realize that death has not had the last word, but that the Word has overcome death. Faith and hope explode into their hearts. Like St. Paul in today’s second reading, the meaning of this glorious event becomes crystal clear. They too will be united with Him in the Resurrection.

And just as suddenly, all of His teachings, every word He uttered, takes on new meaning. Now they know what He meant by the Kingdom of God, for it is in their very midst, catapulted into the here and now by the Resurrection.

Matthew, describing this same event, tells us that the women left the tomb "fearful yet overjoyed."  Fear and joy -- a rare combination of emotions that I suspect exists only in the presence of God.

Oh, yes, they were fearful, for they had just witnessed God's awesome power. For the first time they truly understand Who Jesus is. He is the Messiah. He is the Redeemer. He is the Chosen One. He is the Son of God.

But this same understanding, and all that it brings with it, also makes them joyful. He is risen! And so too have all of His promises, that suddenly make such perfect sense. Indeed, they are overjoyed.

Overjoyed that their trust in Jesus had not been misplaced.

Overjoyed that they, like all of us, are the object of God's overwhelming love.

Overjoyed because pessimism has turned to optimism, despair has turned to hope -- and that tiny kernel of faith, almost lost during the dark hours after the crucifixion, has blossomed into a sure knowledge of redemption.

Perhaps Mary Magdalene understood this best. In Mark’s Gospel we read that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene. This had always puzzled me. Why had our Risen Lord appeared first to Mary? But then one day my eldest daughter explained it to me.

Mary Magdalene, she explained, had once been dead in the slavery of her sin, sealed in a tomb of her own making. And she had been given new life through the healing power of God's love and forgiveness. Jesus knew that she, who had experienced this power in her own spiritual resurrection, would believe. Mary, who had been enslaved by sin, had been set free by God’s forgiving love. Who better to break the news, the Good News, to a sinful world?

Mary Magdalene is living proof of the power of God's redeeming love. She is the fruit of Christ's Resurrection. And she is just like each one of us. She is what every woman and every man is called to be. Mary is the sinner who became a saint.

You see, brothers and sisters, our God is not a God for just some. He is the God for every one of us. He is with us through it all, just as He was with Christ through it all: Life…Death… Resurrection.

And so today, as we kneel in adoration before Our Lord in the Eucharist, let us lift our hearts and minds in thanksgiving and celebrate Christ's victory over death and sin, a victory that resounds throughout the universe.

St. John Chrysostom, the great preacher, said it best:

Poor death, where is your sting?
Poor hell, where is your triumph?
Christ steps out of the tomb and you are reduced to nothing.
Christ rises and the angels are wild with delight.
Christ rises and the graves are emptied of the dead.
Oh, yes, for He broke from the tomb like a flower, a beautiful fruit: the first fruit of those already gone.
All glory and power be His, through every age…forever and ever. Amen.

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