Easter Sunday

Do not be afraid! Jesus is risen, just as he promised!

 Fr. Raymond Lafontaine, E.V.  April 11, 2020

We hear these words spoken on Easter morning to the women who went to anoint the body of Jesus, but found his tomb empty.  This empty tomb is the foundation of our Easter hope.  Christ is risen, just as he has promised.  Because Christ is risen, we share in his Resurrection, we too can live in hope.  In Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we are told:

“If you have been raised up to new life in Christ, you must seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at God’s right hand.  Set your minds on what is of God, for you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God, sharing in his glory.”

What do these words mean to us at this time in history, as the Covid-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, as we find ourselves “entombed” in our houses, our movements limited, our regular connections to family and friends disrupted?  To die with Christ, to rise with Christ, to live in and with Christ, to be a member of his crucified and risen Body, to share in his glory?  The suffering, broken body of Christ is all around us indeed – in our parishes, our neighbourhoods, in a special way in the nursing homes and hospitals where the sick and dying are being cared for.  As the Church, as a global community, as nations and cities and families, we share in that brokenness.

But there is Good News also: we also share in Christ’s promise of renewal, of restoration, of rebirth: of the victory won by his Resurrection, his triumph over death.  And this is what Easter, ultimately, is all about.

Our beloved Pope Francis has reminded us of this reality, in word and gesture, throughout this Holy Week. (…)   

Easter is about a God who promises to fulfil our hopes – and who delivers on that promise.  In the words of Jesuit Fr. Jim Martin, Easter Hope knows that, even in the worst of situations, the darkest times, God is still powerfully at work.  Even if we can’t see it clearly at the time, God is there. The disciples’ fear after Good Friday was understandable.  We, who know how the story turned out, who know that Jesus rose from the dead, who know that God is with us, who know that nothing will be impossible for God, are invited to wait in faithful and joyful hope. We are called to be on the lookout for signs of new life, right around the corner.  Because change is always possible, because renewal is always waiting, because hope is never dead.”

We must remember, though, that hope is not a passive virtue: folding our arms in prayer and just waiting for God to do something about it.  Christian hope is active Hope: rolling-up-our-sleeves, working hard, reaching out to those in need, laying a solid foundation, so that when God chooses to act, we will be ready to welcome his plan, and to be ourselves the willing instruments through which he does his work.  In the words of St. Teresa: “Christ has no body now but yours.”

Back to the Easter story!  Matthew, Mark and Luke all report the Easter story in more or less the same way: women disciples arriving at the Empty Tomb, a vision of angels announcing that Jesus is not there, the women sent off to report the good news to the apostles.  The initial reaction of the Apostles is disbelief: to treat the women’s report as an “idle tale”.  John’s Gospel, which we proclaim every Easter morning, tells the story from a different perspective – that of Mary Magdalene. 

Mary Magdalene finds the stone rolled away, and immediately runs to tell Peter and John.  They find the empty tomb; but then they go home.  They tell no one.  They have seen the empty tomb, but have not yet experienced the Resurrection.  Holy Saturday has not yet passed into Easter Sunday for them.   

This is realistic. As we are deprived this year of the physical presence of our families and friends, our church communities, I understand wanting more than just “an empty tomb.”  Obviously, it took some time for Jesus’ disciples to recover from the shock, grief, anguish, and guilt connected to the events surrounding Jesus’ passion and death, before they could fully believe in his Resurrection. 

A few years ago, I was here at St. Monica’s. celebrating a funeral Mass for a beautiful little six-year old named Matteo, who had died in a tragic accident. You could feel the devastation, the sadness, the incomprehension, the aching loss of all those – parents, grandparents, extended family, teachers, schoolmates and friends – whose lives had been touched by this engaging, loving child, full of personality. Though his life had been short, his impact was wide. 

A few weeks later, Matteo’s parents and family went to visit his school and gave every child a green bracelet with an “M” engraved on it.  Later on, they went outside and with the children, released a bunch of green balloons into the sky.  Green was Matteo’s favourite colour.  Green is also the colour we as Christians traditionally associate with Easter hope: the grass, the green shoots springing forth from the dead earth, announcing that winter is over and spring has arrived, with its promise of grass and flowers and fruitful harvests.  It is an image captured in a beautiful Easter hymn, “Now the Green Blade Rises”:

Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain.
Love lives again, that with the dead has been,
Love is come again like wheat arising green.
When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
Your touch can call us back to life again.
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again like wheat arising green.

It was not Peter and John who went back to the tomb, but Mary Magdalene.  She who had loved Jesus so much, who had personally experienced his tenderness, his mercy and forgiveness, was the first to meet Jesus, to hear him call her by her name: “Mary!”  And it was Mary Magdalene who was sent by Jesus as an “apostle to the apostles”, to share with Jesus’ other disciples not just the report of an empty tomb, but to bear witness that Jesus was indeed fully alive: “I have seen the Lord”!

It must have been hard for Mary Magdalene and the other women to have their experience of the Resurrection dismissed as an “idle tale,” a hysterical fantasy, as “too good to be true.”  Luckily for us, they did not give up.  They overcame their fears and refused to be silenced by the disbelief of their fellow disciples.  They continued to bear witness to this Good News.  Eventually, Peter and John, the rest of the apostles, and many, many others, met and saw and touched the risen Jesus themselves.  Word began to spread.  People came to believe, from personal experience, or by believing the testimony of trustworthy witnesses, the Good News signified by the empty Tomb: that Jesus was alive, that death was conquered by life.   

The rest, as they say, is history. Jesus ascended to his Father and sent forth the promised Holy Spirit to these timid and frightened disciples. From this Pentecost experience, the Church was born.  No longer hiding 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.  No longer captive to their fears, they became hope-filled people spreading an empowering message of hope, of faith, of love.

We are the bearers of that hope today.  We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!  On this Easter Sunday, we mark with special solemnity the very same message we celebrate here Sunday after Sunday: that in a personal relationship with the Risen Christ, we find the fulfilment of our hopes, a source of true joy, an inspiration to work for the transformation of the world.

 Jesus’ Resurrection is Good News: to be lived and shared.  Listen to these words of hope spoken by Pope Francis in a recent Easter homily:

Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future; he is the everlasting “today” of God. This is how the newness of God appears to us: as victory over sin, evil and death, over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human.

This message is meant for me and for you, dear sister, dear brother. How often does Love have to tell us: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness… and that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive!

Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.

In a few moments, we will renew the promises of our baptism.  In a secular world which marginalizes and even ridicules our faith, we will accept the call to live as an Easter People, baptized into the death of Jesus, sharing in his Risen Life. 

Because Christ is risen, we live in hope: free to grow, free to trust in the goodness of life, in the power of love.  Christ is our hope.  He lived and died and rose again so that we might share in the fullness of his life and love.  Easter celebrates the unconditional, mind-blowing, death-defying, life-giving love of God, given to us in Jesus Christ.  May each of us know the depth of this love. May we become Spirit-filled witnesses to its power to transform our broken world.  Christ is risen! Alleluia!  Truly, he is risen! Alleluia!