Easter Sunday

See Commentary on Mark 16:1-8

Homily 1 - 2012

I love the ending to tonight's Gospel of Mark.

In the way Mark tells the story, I suspect that he is more interested in challenging us to reflect than in simply telling it as it was.

When we read the story symbolically, we can find that it engages very much with our personal experience. There is the young man in a white robe, seated at the right hand side.

What might Mark have intended by that young man? Perhaps, we was the symbol of any later Christian disciple. Whatever about that, his role was to give insight into mystery that we could otherwise never know: to give the women insight into the way things are: Jesus was crucified. Now he is risen.

Whereas crucifixion is a matter of history, resurrection is a matter of faith.

As a little boy, it was others, Christian disciples, who told me the story of Jesus, and particularly that Jesus was alive: my mum and dad, and the whole extended family of grandparents, aunts and uncles. As I grew older, their assurances were confirmed by the delightful man who was my parish priest, and by the nuns who gently taught me in primary school. I took their word for it; and I believed easily. Perhaps, because they also loved me, I wanted to believe them.

Things have changed over the years. I no longer believe simply on the word of others. As the young man in white assured the women: the disciples would see Jesus in Galilee. I can relate to that. I have seen him myself – though "seen" may not be quite the word. The knowledge is less defined than that – more like "experienced" or "encountered", but real. A relationship has developed, even an intimate relationship.

I could never prove it to an unbeliever; but I have noticed myself change, and change because of that relationship. The process has been unspectacular, happening just in the everyday unfolding of life: through persons I have met, books I have read, things that have happened, and periods of silence and reflection.

The disciples would meet Jesus back in Galilee: back home, where they grew up, their familiar, unremarkable world. I have met him in this rural world of Western Victoria, and, more recently, in Portland.

In the past, there were times when I was afraid of the alive Jesus – times when I felt ashamed, remorseful, scared – times when I felt that he was probably offended by me and likely to reject and even to punish me. Over the years, as I have grown to know him better, I see that my adolescent fears of Jesus and of his Father, are not appropriate. Jesus is not all that interested in our past, but very interested in our present and our future.

According to Mark's Gospel, Jesus wanted to meet again - particularly - the disciples and Peter. Not a word, not a care [apparently], about their former cowardice, their loss of hope and of faith, or their abject abandonment of him in his moment of need. Jesus simply wanted to reconnect with the disciples in friendship, in the present, and to be with them as they reshaped their future.

It was not just the disciples who failed, of course. Humanity's endemic hostility killed Jesus. And we are all saturated with that hostility.

Yet, as with the disciples, so with us. Jesus does not condemn us; he wants to set us free. That is why he wants to meet us in our Galilees. Indeed, he has already met us there - which is the reason why each of us is present here tonight. We may not be able to define accurately what resurrection means – but we have all, in our different ways, experienced the touch of the risen Jesus.

Homily 2 - 2015

I love the simplicity of Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection. It is clear, succinct; and says enough.

The three women who went to the tomb that Sunday morning had lost their faith - they intended to anoint the corpse of the crucified Jesus. Love was there, but not faith. The last thing they expected was an empty tomb. 

All the other disciples had lost faith, too. You might remember the young man mentioned in last Sunday’s Gospel, the one in Gethsemane after Jesus was arrested and carted off. He was wearing a linen cloth, but when grabbed by one of the guards, left it with him and fled naked. The anonymous young man was Mark’s poetic way of symbolising all the disciples. From the point of view of faith, they were left totally naked when Jesus was led away under guard.

So, on the Sunday morning, the three women disciples came to the tomb. It was opened, so they went in. Jesus’ body was not there, but there was a young man in a white robe seated on the right-hand side. Mark was back to his poetry. This time, the young man was a symbol of every post-resurrection Christian disciple, with the white robe indicating faith, and the right-hand side simply a state of dignity and intimacy. He knew the mystery: Jesus is risen! and he would tell whoever would listen.

Mark had begun his Gospel with the opening line: The beginning of the Good news of Jesus, Christ, Son of God. With today’s Gospel passage, he put the final full stop to the Beginning of the Good News of Jesus. That was Book One. Book Two is still being written, and you and I are significant actors in the plot – as have millions of others been, all those disciples who have believed in the risen Christ over the last two thousand years, and those who continue to do so today.

Jesus’ resurrection took place on the first day of the week, just as the sun was rising – the beginning of a new week, indeed, of a new creation. The sun is still rising. 

The task of the young man was to declare that Christ is risen. Christ is risen … ! What does that mean? We take it so much for granted that we have possibly thought very little about it. At least it means that he is no longer confined by time and space. He can be in us, and we in him – again, whatever that means. But if we reflect, I think that most, if not all, of us can assent to that. 

The young man in white told the women to tell the disciples, He is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will find him. Galilee was the place where the disciples were at home. Our “Galilee” is wherever we are at home. We find Christ in life wherever we live it. 

We have met him in our Galilee; and through those meetings, Christ has become progressively real. And we have changed. Life takes on a different meaning when we know where we have come from, why we are here, where we are headed, and have some idea about how to get there – especially if we have found the courage to give his way our best effort and have learnt to rely on each other.

Since he has risen, Christ is alive in our world – wanting to be for us an inexhaustible source of inspiration, wisdom, vitality and courage. Sin, sadly, is still powerful; and we are confronted with its effects every day in our newspapers and on our TV screens. But it is not the whole story. And it will not win. If we learn to fine-tune our antennae, we become increasingly more aware of Christ in the most unexpected places.

On which note I wish you all a truly Happy Easter!

Homily 3 - 2018

Christ has risen! or, as the young man in the white robe and sitting on the right hand side, said in today’s Gospel, “Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he is risen!”

So what? Most of our contemporaries seem to think make that challenge, even if they do not verbalise it. Perhaps, even some of your own family, or one or other of your close friends. So what? What can we answer - that has some chance of catching their interest? that in some way seems relevant to them?

I wonder if the young man’s next line is the significant one, “Tell his disciples .. He is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him”. It bears pondering.

But first, a little background. The disciples in question were the men who had fled for their lives in the garden when he was arrested on the Thursday night – cowards, who were still hiding in absolute fear. They were nowhere to be seen as he slowly and agonizingly died, abandoned but for a few women disciples looking on from a safe distance. One of their friends had betrayed him; one had denied under pressure from a little servant-girl that he even knew him. In the forty hours or so since he had died, had they lost their faith in him? 

It was to these the risen Jesus gave the message that he was going into Galilee; there they would see him. Might that mean that, despite their abject failure, it would be business as usual? nothing had changed? he was still their friend?

I believe that. But I struggle to come to terms with it. It sits uncomfortably with my habitual, almost instinctive, reactions. But if it is true, everything changes. If it is true, it changes my whole approach to life.

What we are talking about is acceptance, unconditional acceptance, in the face of deep, wounding hurt. Call it forgiveness. How can you forgive and not betray your own dignity? How can you forgive and not deny, or minimize, the awful, destructive, on-going hurt done to others? In today’s world, is forgiveness responsible? What message does it give?

I believe that forgiveness on the one hand and the recognition, condemnation and active opposition to evil on the other hand are two quite separate activities. Rather than cancel each other out, they invite each other to an ever-greater fullness. Ideally, we forgive because of who, and how, we are. Forgiveness flows from our experience of personal inner peace. That has to be worked at; it is chosen. Yet it is more than a choice – somehow it becomes us/me. It is expressed in an attitude of spontaneous benevolence to the world. Our usual reaction to the world, flowing from our unconscious insecurities and inner brokenness and wounds, is to see the world with low-level but constant criticism or hostility. That is why we have to work to find genuine inner peace. It is also why people cannot/should not be pressured into forgiving. But once that inner peace is found, we can look at the world and interact with it in freedom.

Despite first reactions, we become free to look evil in the face, as the professional, confident, medical specialist can look at cancer, name it for what it is, see its potential destructiveness, and know the best way to work for its cure or its alleviation. In the medical field it is called diagnosis. Its moral equivalent is judgment. When God judges, God diagnoses, understands, and moves to heal. Punishment does nothing for diagnosis, and is often counterproductive with healing.

There is so much more that needs to be said about forgiveness. So much confusion surrounds it. There is too much counterfeit forgiveness; just as there is too much futile vindictiveness.

“Tell his disciples .. He is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him”. They had so much more to learn. Things had just begun.

Perhaps, “Happy Easter!” goes on hold until we plunge further into the mystery of forgiveness. We all need someone who asks, “So what!”