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!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Homily: Easter Monday

Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-33; Ps 16; Mt 28:8-15


Isn't it interesting that throughout most of the liturgical year, our first reading at Mass comes from the Old Testament, except during the Easter Season? At this very special time of the year, our first reading is taken from the Acts of the Apostles.

The Church does this for a very good reason. Acts really begins with Pentecost, that special day when the Church, promised and formed by Jesus, is born. The story of Acts is the story of the Church, the story of the Apostles who begin the task of going out throughout the world to fulfill the great commission given them by the Risen Jesus:

"Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" [Mt 28:10-20].
Make disciples, baptize, teach - all begun through the preaching of the first disciples. Before the Gospel, the Good News, was written down, it was preached. And it's in the Acts of the Apostles, during this season of Easter, that we encounter that early Gospel preached by Peter and Paul. Listen again as Peter begins to spread the Good News among the Jewish pilgrims on that first Pentecost:
"God raised this Jesus; of this we are all witnesses. Exalted at the right hand of God, he poured forth the promise of the Holy Spirit that he received from the Father, as you both see and hear" [Acts 2:32-33].

Notice that at the very core of that preaching is the Trinity -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit -- the foundation of our Christian faith.

Yes, "God raised this Jesus..."

In today's Gospel passage the two Marys went to the tomb, not to see a Risen Jesus, but to anoint His body. They knew He had died. They had heard Him take His last breath. They had seen the soldier's lance pierce His side. They had grieved with His Mother as she cradled her Son's lifeless body in her arms. And they had seen that body placed hurriedly in the tomb.

Oh, yes, they knew He had died. In their overwhelming grief, a grief of emptiness, tinged with an underlying fear, they made their way to the tomb of a dead man.

They, like all the disciples, hadn't understood Jesus when He spoke of His Resurrection. Faced with the finality of death, their faith and their hope had all but disappeared. All that was left was their love. And it's this love for Jesus that carried them along the path to the tomb that first Easter morning.

But the sight of the empty tomb filled their hearts with a jumble of emotions: confusion, astonishment, fear.

And then they encountered their Risen Lord. The One they sought, the One Who was crucified, the One Who had died before their very eyes, is risen. And in the shock of this sudden revelation, they understood that death had not had the last word, but that the Word had overcome death. Faith and hope exploded in their hearts, for they realized that they too would be united with Him in the Resurrection.

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

Matthew tells us the women left the tomb "fearful yet overjoyed" [Mt 28:8]. Fear and joy -- a rare combination of emotions that I suspect exist only in the presence of God.

Oh, yes, they were fearful, for they had just witnessed God's awesome power, and for the first time truly understood Who Jesus is. He is the Messiah. He is the Redeemer. He is the Chosen One. He is the Son of God. It's this same understanding, and all it brings with it, that made them so joyful. He is risen! And so too have all of His promises, that suddenly made such perfect sense.

Yes, they were 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 had turned to optimism, despair had turned to hope, and that tiny kernel of faith, almost lost during the dark hours after the crucifixion, had blossomed into a sure knowledge of redemption.

Perhaps Mary Magdalene understood this best. Mary -- she who had been dead in the slavery of her sin; she who had been sealed in a tomb of her own making -- had been given new life through the healing power of God's love and forgiveness. And Jesus knew that she, who had experienced this power in her own resurrection from the deadness of sin, would believe.

Who better to break the news -- the Good News -- to a sinful world; for Mary Magdalene was what every woman and every man is called to be. She was the sinner who became the saint. She was living proof of the power of God's redeeming love. She was the "witness" that Peter described as he preached in the streets of Jerusalem. She was the fruit of Christ's Resurrection.

Today, as we receive the gift of Our Lord's Body and Blood in the Eucharist, it is the Risen Jesus we encounter, the very source of our faith and hope.  Lift our hearts and minds in thanksgiving and celebrate Christ's victory over death and sin, a victory that resounded throughout the universe, and continues to do so today.

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