Risen Christ - Source of Light

Why do you seek the living among the dead?

 Fr. Raymond Lafontaine  April 1, 2018

It’s been a long Lent this year, and spring has seemed awfully slow in coming. Throughout these past 40 days, we have journeyed with Jesus, sent by the God “who so loved the world that he gave his only Son.”  In our Lenten mission, we responded to the invitation to be drawn into the mystery of God’s friendship with Christ through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. We discovered ourselves to be loved and forgiven sinners, called to discipleship of Jesus, united to him in his death and Resurrection, and embracing the call to love in word and deed.  As a people standing on the Holy Ground of God’s creation, we recommitted ourselves to work “Together for Peace” in solidarity with those whose lives have been disrupted by war and those who are persecuted for their commitment to faith or justice.

We have longed for spring.  We have longed for peace: an end to war, and discrimination, and injustice.  Peace in the world – in our nation – in our neighbourhoods – in our families. Peace between women and men.  The suffering, broken body of Christ is all around us – in the world and in the church.  In the words of George Harrison, “It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter,” and now we want to be able to say, “Here comes the sun – it’s all right.”  

Signs of life are appearing.  We have seen a vibrant group of young people traumatized by yet another terrible mass shooting in a Florida high school not give way to their fears, or pressure from politicians and gun lobbyists to keep quiet, but instead to launch a nation-wide movement: a call to turn away from the violent gun culture which threatens the lives and safety not only of students and teachers, but an entire nation. 

On the very same day these teenagers marched on Washington, Pope Francis preached in Rome to the youth gathered for WYD:

The temptation to silence young people – especially joyful young people – has always existed. The Pharisees themselves rebuked Jesus and asked him to silence the children.  Indeed, there are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible: to anaesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat, dreary, petty and plaintive.    

Dear young people, you have it in you to shout. It is up to you to opt for Palm Sunday’s “Hosanna!”, and not to fall into Good Friday’s “Crucify him!”  It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders – so often corrupt – keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out? Please, make that choice!

Just this past week, we witnessed the generous and heroic gesture of a young French gendarme, Arnaud Beltrame, who offered himself in exchange for a young woman taken hostage by armed terrorists in a supermarket in the French town of Trebes, and who was killed in the subsequent attempt to liberate the hostages.  We have learned since then that the young officer was a man of deep faith, who like so many in this parish, embraced the faith as an adult and was confirmed at the Easter Vigil two years ago, and who was preparing to be married in the church this May.  Like Jesus, he laid down his life freely, out of love. 

It is easy to get cynical, to lose hope.  But Easter comes every year to remind us that the Risen Christ is the source of our light, and our life!  Think of the beautiful words and images from the first part of our Vigil:  Christ our light!  Thanks be to God!  Rejoice, heavenly powers! Exult all creation around God’s throne!  Jesus Christ, Your King, is risen!  Christ has conquered!  Glory fills you!  Darkness vanishes forever!  Heaven is wedded to earth, and we are reconciled to God!  Christ, the Morning Star, who came back from the dead and shed his peaceful light on all people: our God who lives and reigns forever!”

This mind-blowing news of Christ’s Resurrection comes as the climax to a great story: that of God's loving and life-giving covenant with his people Israel.  As Christians, it is our story too.  As we listened to the Creation reading, I found myself hoping that Stephen Hawking, who spent so much of his life pondering the mysteries of the origin of the Universe, is now in communion with the one who set Creation in motion! In the words of the old spiritual “Go Down, Moses”, we walked the journey from bondage to freedom with the people of Israel, symbolizing all the oppressed peoples in the world who continue to struggle for freedom.  Then with prophets old and new – Isaiah and Ezekiel, Madeleine Delbrel and the late, beloved Pops, Fr. Emmett Johns – we were reminded of God’s special love for the poor and outcast who wander the streets of our city, young and old.  And how we are called to overcome what Pope Francis has called the “globalization of indifference” and truly become a Church that is not afraid to get our hands dirty, going out to the peripheries – as he did on Holy Thursday in washing the feet of prisoners at Regina Coeli in Rome. 

Now, with fragrant flowers and dazzling light, with resounding Glorias and Alleluias, we proclaim Good News beyond our wildest dreams: Christ is risen! Alleluia!  Truly, he is risen! Alleluia!

This is what we proclaim.  But do we really believe in the Good News announced to us today?  That because of the Resurrection of Jesus, we too rise to new life with him? Have we let this message penetrate our minds – our hearts – our families – our politics – our culture – every fibre of our being?  When people look at us, do they see us as an Easter People?  If we are joyful, have we let our faces know?

This evening’s Gospel ends on a strange note.  All four Gospels report the story of the first witnesses who arrive at the Empty Tomb, and who experience a vision of angels announcing that Jesus is not there, that He is risen.  But Mark concludes with the rather unnerving report that the women “fled in terror, saying nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”  Not exactly a happy ending to the story, is it?  But it is realistic. 

It probably took some time for the disciples of Jesus to get over the grief, the anguish, and the guilt connected to the events surrounding Jesus’ passion and death, before they could fully believe in his Resurrection.  These women were rightly afraid that their story would be dismissed as an “idle tale,” a fantasy of hysterical women, “too good to be true.”

Luckily for us, they did not give up.  Eventually, they overcame their fears; they refused to be silenced by the disbelief of their fellow disciples.  Magdalene and Mary and Salome continued to bear witness to this Good News.  Eventually, Peter, and John, and the rest of the apostles, met and saw and touched the risen Jesus themselves.  Word continued to spread.  People came to believe, whether from personal experience or the account of trustworthy witnesses, the Good News signified by this empty Tomb: Jesus was alive.   

And the rest, as they say, is history. As we renew our baptismal promises this evening, we will recall that the same Jesus who rose from the dead ascended to the Father’s right hand and sent forth the promised Holy Spirit to his timid and frightened disciples.  From this Pentecost experience, the Church was born.  No longer cowering away in upper rooms behind locked doors, Jesus’ disciples were empowered to speak, and speak they did!  With confidence and conviction, they proclaimed God's great love, the healing power of forgiveness and mercy offered in Christ.  Everywhere they went, they spread the message of Jesus’ life and death and Resurrection.  (If you get a chance this week, see the movie Paul, Apostle of Christ, which beautifully portrays how this happened in the early Church.)

That message has come down to us.  We are called on this night to receive it: as sacred trust, as source of joy, as call to ongoing conversion and transformation, as Good News to be lived and shared. Not just to believe that it happened then, but to allow it to make a difference now.  For it is only when we receive the Good News of the Resurrection by appropriating it for ourselves that we can also become His witnesses, sharing with the next generation the reason for our hope.  

At his Easter Vigil homily a few hours ago, Pope Francis proclaimed:

Christ is risen, and with him he makes our hope and creativity rise, so that we can face our present problems in the knowledge that we are not alone.

To celebrate Easter is to believe once more that God constantly breaks into our personal histories, challenging our fixed ways of thinking and acting that end up paralyzing us. To celebrate Easter is to allow Jesus to triumph over the fear that so often assails us and tries to bury every kind of hope.

The women of the Gospel shared in this, and now the invitation is addressed once more to you and to me: an invitation to break out of our routines and to renew our lives, our decisions and our existence. An invitation that must be directed to where we stand, what we are doing and what we are. Do we want to share in this message of life or do we prefer simply to continue standing speechless before events as they happen?

He is not here... he is raised! And he awaits you in Galilee. He invites you to go back to the time and place of your first love and he says to you: Do not be afraid, follow me.

As we renew our faith this evening, let us pledge to live as an Easter People, baptized into the death of Jesus and so sharing in his Risen Life.  Because Christ is risen, we live in hope: free to grow, to trust in the goodness of life, the power of love.  The One who is our source, our guide, our lasting home, lived and died and rose again that we might share in the fullness of his life and love.  What is Easter all about? Unconditional, mind-blowing, death-defying, life-giving love!  May each of us know the depth of this love. May each of us become Spirit-filled witnesses to its power to transform our broken world.  For Christ is risen! Alleluia!  Truly, he is risen! Alleluia!