Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Homily

Because I am often on the road, I don't have responsibilities at a local parish. However, when I am free, I try to help out. On Easter Sunday I celebrated Mass at Clare Hall, a retirement community for the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. They own the building, a former high school for girls, in which the national office of the Apostleship of Prayer is located. Here are some of the thoughts I shared with them on Easter Sunday:

For years I wondered about the "three days" that Jesus' body lay in a tomb before His resurrection. If you count from just before sunset on Good Friday until just before dawn on Sunday you certainly don't get three days, three twenty-four hour periods of time. What are we to make of this? We have to remember that in liturgical time, the day begins with vespers, evening prayer. Thus you can count the time from Jesus' burial, before sunset on Friday, as one day; the time from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday as a second day; and the time from sunset on Saturday to whenever Jesus rose as the third day. What it means is this: Jesus was so eager to rise from the dead that He used the shortest possible amount of time to cover the three days that had been prophesied. He was very eager to show us that He had conquered death and that we too are made, not for death, but for eternal life.

When Peter and John went to the tomb on Easter Sunday they saw the cloths that had covered the body of Jesus there in the tomb. The gospel says that the beloved disciple, whom we identify with John, "saw and believed." He didn't see Jesus yet. He saw the burial cloths, vague signs of the resurrection. If Jesus' body had been stolen from the grave, the cloths would have been carried away as well. And the way they were positioned in the tomb indicated that the body wasn't stolen, but had been raised up. As Jesus would later appear suddenly in a room behind locked doors without going through the door, so, it appears, He mysteriously passed through the cloth that covered His body and He neatly "rolled up" the cloth that covered His head and placed it "in a separate place." These were vague signs of the resurrection.

Hope is a necessary virtue for life. We all need hope to get through life. Pope Benedict recognizes this and wrote about it in his second encyclical "Spe Salvi":
"Let us say once again: we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day" (#31). Then the Holy Father went on to write that these earthly hopes are not enough: "But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God.... His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect."

In other words, we need a hope that transcends this imperfect world. We need a hope that goes beyond this life. And so Pope Benedict concluded this thought with: "His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is 'truly' life." This earthly life of ours is temporary, as it was for Jesus. We are made for eternal life--body and soul united--the risen life that Jesus won and prepared for us. This is "a life that is truly life" and as we journey through our earthly life we "vaguely sense" that it exists.

Just as John saw vague signs of the resurrection in the burial cloths left behind by Jesus, so do we see vague signs of the resurrection. These signs are seen in water and in bread and wine. The blessed water which we use as a remembrance of our Baptism is a "vague sign" of risen life. We believe that in Baptism we died with Christ and rose with Christ to a new life. This means that death is a doorway for us, not an end. The bread and wine which we use as a remembrance of the Last Supper and Jesus' words--"This is My Body. This is My Blood."--are also "vague signs" of risen life. We believe that in the Eucharist we eat the Bread of Life and share in the life of the Risen Body of Christ.

Vague signs that point to "a life that is truly life." We renew our faith in the resurrection and the hope it gives. Like the beloved disciple, we see and believe.

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