Easter 2017

     Around the year 33 AD, a man called Jesus, roamed modern day Israel professing to be the Son of God. As He preached and worked unthinkable miracles like feeding 5,000 men with just 5 loaves of bread and two fishes[1], curing people of leprosy,[2] and raising people from the dead[3], many people came to believe that He was really the long awaited Messiah. After three years, Jesus was welcomed into the city of Jerusalem as a king only to be handed over to the Roman authorities as a criminal 4 days later. After being brutally tortured, He was sentenced to die on a cross, a punishment so severe it was eventually outlawed in the Roman Empire. As He hung dying on the cross most of His followers deserted Him, yet a few faithful followers remained to take His body down from the cross and give Him an honorable burial. With the tomb sealed and guarded by Roman guards, they went off to observe the Sabbath. Two days later they returned to find the tomb empty. Skeptical at first they searched for Jesus only to discover that He was searching for them.

     For as unbelievable as this story may seem, the resurrection is a historical fact. With the tomb sealed and guarded it would have been impossible for anyone to steal Jesus’ body. While some people may claim that the apostles fabricated the story about the empty tomb and Jesus’ appearances to them over the next 40 days, 10 of the apostles gave up their lives as martyrs rather than deny the resurrection. Someone might fabricate a story for their own gain, but no one in their right mind would die for a lie. So for as unbelievable as this story may seem, all the evidence proves that it really happened.

     Once again today, nearly 2,000 years later, we gather here to celebrate this historic truth, the truth that Christ “was dead and is alive again.”[4] Today’s celebration of Easter thus boldly proclaims that God exists, for only God has the power to bring life out of death. Not only does God exist, He exists for us. “In resurrecting Jesus after his shameful death on the cross, the Father delivers his judgment on Christ’s mission and work.”[5] Jesus’ resurrection is proof that He is who He says He is, the Son of God, who humbled Himself to become one of us so that we could be like Him. So then, “Easter can be understood as the feast, so to speak, of evolution, of life that transcends through all catastrophes and also sustains us and gives us hope.”[6]

     Today’s feast of Easter is the culmination of a love story. A love story of the God who created us, not for His own good, but out of pure love for us. It is the culmination of a love story whereby our God searches after us even after we have rejected Him through sin; a God, who, in His thirst for us, sent His only Son into the world to die a brutal death on the cross, that we might be lead from slavery to sin into the freedom of grace. This story of God’s love for us has no end, for it continues until the end of time into eternity in the sacraments of the Church. Thirsting for our love, Christ now comes to us in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. In Holy Communion, His glorious Heart is pierced and opened to receive our hearts, in order that He may lavish upon us His Divine Mercy and Love. Yet the price of this love was not cheap. It cost the Father His Son; it cost our heavenly Father His Perfect Son and this love cannot be forced on anyone. So this love story, the empty tomb we encounter today, demands a response and it invites us to recommit ourselves to the Church which Christ left us to lead us to Him who will bring us to our own resurrection.

     In just a moment, we will stand and renew our baptismal promises. Having encountered the empty tomb we are given a chance to make our response, but this response is not just a one-time deal. Christ rose to bring us salvation and has invited us to follow Him to eternal life. So standing at the empty tomb, this morning, we are challenged to ask ourselves how will I live out these baptismal promises in my life. What steps must I take to follow the teachings of Christ and His Church, so that I might rise with Him to eternal life?  This annual feast of Easter is then “an invitation to us to return to our own baptism, to size the hand of Truth which reaches out to us to lead us to the light. To renew our baptism, and hence genuinely to celebrate Easter, the feast of liberation means that we renew our acceptance of the truth of faith; it means entering into the light of this truth and, as believers, overcoming the darkness of truth’s absence.”[7] “The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there waiting for us with open arms.”[8]  The empty tomb reminds us that God became a man not only to teach us and to inspire us but primarily to save us. “God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles.”[9] Out of love for us He commands all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened and all who are sleeping to arise because He did not create us to be held a prisoner.  No, His empty tomb calls us to be disciples, so that in following after Him we too may follow Him through death into eternal life.

[1] Mk 6:30-44

[2] Lk 17:11-9

[3] Jn 11:38-53

[4] Luke 15:24

[5] Christoph Cardinal Schonborn. God Sent His Son: A Contemporary Christology. San Francisco: Ignatius (2010). Pg 218.

[6] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.  Pg 307.

[7] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Behold The Pierced One. San Francisco: Ignatius. (1986).  Pg. 126.

[8] Pope Francis. Evangelii Gaudium. Washington DC: USCCB. (2014).  Pg 1

[9] From an ancient homily quoted in the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday.

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