Easter Sunday

See Commentary on Luke 24:1-12

Homily 1 - 2010

I’ll tell you two reasons why Jesus’ resurrection is important to me. 

Firstly: It’s the ultimate vindication of Jesus’ approach to life. Jesus was killed by the power groups of his time – the guardians of the status quo and of law and order. 

Jesus saw the need for profound social and ultimately personal change. In his world, poverty was endemic, and, accompanying it, widespread sickness and disease. (They inevitably go together.) I presume that the power elites simply took the status quo for granted. It was so familiar, they simply didn’t see it.  It suited them that things remained as they were. The religious leaders were as oppressive and as blind as everyone else.

Over the centuries, the usual path to radical social and political change has been violent revolution. Jesus followed another path. He resisted oppression, and relentlessly preached an alternative way of seeing, appreciating and respecting persons – everyone. He actively challenged the endemic injustice of his time. He was totally convinced of the God-given dignity of every human person; and, consistently, he insisted on the path of non-violence in every personal and social interaction.

In the last century we saw some wonderful advocates of non-violence: Gandhi, Martin Luther      King, Nelson Mandela. Eventually, their way won out. There were other similar attempts in eastern Europe under Communism, and in Tienanmin Square in China.

Were it not for Jesus, perhaps we could say that the jury is still out. Resurrection was the response of God to the option of Jesus. Resurrection was God’s affirmation of the way of

non-violent, but totally committed action for justice, motivated by love, and animated by a deep  insight into the God-given dignity of every person.

The second reason why resurrection is important to me is more personal. Through what happened to Jesus by virtue of his resurrection, he is no longer constricted to a single, brief historical moment or a limited geographical location – Palestine, 2000 years ago. I can relate to him now, personally. I can be in contact with him.

As he said to his disciples: I go to prepare a place for you. That place is not spatial, but his own risen humanity. He prepared it through his dying and rising. Because of that I can be in him, and he can be in me. I can abide in him.

Is this all “airy-fairy”, woolly, wishful thinking? I don’t think so. I believe I see the effect of that mutual presence in love – in my sense of myself, in my behaviour, and in my growing freedom to become and to be the kind of person that I long to be.

Without resurrection, we really would be “in the dark”. Jesus allows a whole other insight into human dignity and into the possibilities of constructive, respectful human interaction.

And not only insight. His love provides the power to bring it about – if only we would trust him and follow his way.

Homily 2 - 2013

I feel different this Easter from the way I have felt for a number of years.  I have always believed, and Easters have always been good occasions to refresh my faith. But this year I feel hope stirring as well - and it has surprised me.

Not that there has been no hope.  Indeed, lots of things happen locally - in the local Church and in people; and seeing them recharges my hope-reserves.  There are wonderful initiatives happening here and there, and there are wonderful people, often popping up in unexpected places – and these experiences nourish me.

But I had not quite realised the extent to which things happening at the centre have been depressing me, until I noticed the hope now bubbling around inside me.

I feel a bit like how I used to feel when Pope John XXIII was Pope.  It is early days yet, and I tell myself not to get carried away – but my feelings have a life of their own.  I remind myself that Pope John had an old-fashioned spirituality, and an old-fashioned theology.  Yet he proved to be beautifully open to the action of the Holy Spirit, and great things happened.

The recent change began to happen within me when Benedict XVI resigned.  That was something new, virtually unprecedented.  Where did the idea come from? I read that one of the Cardinals thought that the precedent would be unsettling – "destabilizing" was his word. To him, that was worrying.  To me, it began to enkindle hope.  But not too much hope – all the cardinals, after all, were appointees of either Benedict himself or of John Paul before him.  And then came the Conclave; and then the election of Pope Francis, whom I had never even heard about.

Now I gather that his theology is pretty much straight down the wicket.  But his behaviour has continued to destabilize, simply because he himself seems to be "down to earth".  Suddenly, his theological leanings don't seem to matter so much.  What are the bloggers on the Internet going to argue about now? You can hardly argue about poverty, simplicity and concern for those at the edges.  Already in a couple of weeks he has brought things into focus.  What matters above all is Jesus' way of non-selective love.  Everything else is secondary.

In today's Gospel passage, Mary Magdalene had no hope; but her disappointed love for Jesus drew her to the tomb.  Her love had not been able to save him.  Could she have done more?  No hope.  At this stage, no faith.  Just love - that would not die.  Finding the empty tomb was totally destabilizing – and her imagination was running riot.  In no time, everyone was running – she ran back to the disciples; Peter and the other disciple ran to the empty tomb.  No hope, just confusion, fear and panic.

Empty! What was it about the cloths that had enwrapped Jesus' body, and particularly the cloth that had covered his face, by itself and rolled up?  The Gospel doesn't say.  Peter saw them; the disciple Jesus loved saw them – and then, suddenly, for him the penny dropped.  The evidence wasn't much, but he believed, perhaps not knowing what he believed.

I wonder if that is what hope is? The sense that somehow all is well, all will be well.  The determined reaching out to mystery, beyond escapist optimism.  It wasn't quite that Jesus was alive.  The disciple would not find that out for sure until later in the day.  But already he felt himself alive – uncertain, but alive.  That is what hope does to you.  The Spirit of the risen Jesus was stirring within him.  The impossible could happen.  The impossible had happened.  And something had happened in him - and he knew it.

I have the hope that something like that first Easter morning is happening in the Church; is happening in me; and, I hope, is happening, too, in you – which is one reason why I heartily wish you Happy Easter!

Homily 3 - 2016

If we listened to today’s Gospel carefully, it is clear that no one expected Jesus to be raised on the third day. Today’s Gospel even seems to question whether the disciples expected Jesus to rise at all, even whether Jesus himself had talked about it. “Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead” – which makes the beloved disciple’s act of faith even more remarkable. He had not seen the risen Jesus, only the empty cloths, and we are told, “He saw and he believed.” The eyes of love can “see” what the unaided human eye cannot. Might that suit your situation, and mine, vis-à-vis the reality of our faith?

Resurrection is good news. It is great news. It was great for Jesus. As Paul put it in  today’s Second Reading from Colossians, Christ is now “sitting at God’s right hand.” In scriptural code, that means, sharing in God’s divine power, of which, until now, he had totally emptied himself when becoming human and dwelling among us. The resurrection of Jesus is not the same as Jesus, as it were, becoming divine. The resurrection happened to Jesus’ humanity; it happened to Jesus, the man.

The resurrection is great news for humanity, for you and me. As Paul said regarding us disciples, “Now the life you have is hidden with Christ in God.” That would be simply incredible – if it weren’t real. With Christ, human nature can now share in the life of God. We have been introduced into the furnace of divine loving that unites the three Persons of God. It is up to us whether we choose to draw on that capacity; and we need, as it were, to learn how to. But the possibility is there. It is what God dreamed of for humanity when he created the cosmos 13.7 billion years ago.

Do you remember the beginning of John’s Gospel? In the old days, it used to be read at the end of every Mass, In the beginning, the Word was, and the Word was towards God, and the Word was divine.  He was in the beginning towards God. The Word is the Second Person of the Trinity, the consciousness of God, or the expression of the incomprehensible mystery that is God. It was the Word who eventually became human as Jesus.

With the Big Bang, 13.7 billion years ago, the process of creation began; and the process of evolution has been moving towards Resurrection ever since. Everything came into being through him, and nothing that came into being came into being without him. For billions of years, the cosmos was bursting with energy but it was lifeless. It did not stay that way. In him was life, and the life was the light of humanity. Eventually human life evolved – and things got interesting. Actually, humanity came on to the scene comparatively recently. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him, and the world did not recognise him. Scriptural time was even more recent. He came into his own and his own people did not accept him… And the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. And then, about thirty years after he pitched his tent among us, came the Resurrection of Jesus. We beheld his glory, his glory as only son of his Father, full of love and truth.

With his Resurrection, has come also the possibility of our sharing in it. The long evolutionary process has finally flowered, and creation has all but reached its goal. Some did receive him; to them, to those who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God… from his fullness we have all received.    

There is more to it still. Where does our natural environment fit into all this? But that is enough for now. No wonder we can meaningfully wish each other, “Happy Easter!”

Homily 4 - 2019

I went for my walk around the lake this morning. It was still dark when I set off, no distractions, and I began thinking of Easter and the risen Christ. Before I got back home I had feasted my eyes on a beautiful dark-orange, crimson eastern sky, and a brilliant sun magically rising over the horizon. A line from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins came into my mind: “Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.”

This year we celebrate Easter under the dark cloud of a hurting, bewildered world. I still see the grieving face of Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand prime minister, as she hugged a devastated Muslin woman in Christchurch after the heartless massacre there a couple of weeks ago. We Catholics here in Australia have had a deeply troubling year so far, and there is more distress to come.

I think of the confusion and utter incomprehension of the women disciples who went to the tomb of Jesus early on the Sunday morning to anoint the dead body of Jesus, only to find it was not there, and then to hear the preposterous message that he had risen, whatever that could mean. Only later that same day, when the risen Jesus appeared personally to the group of disciples, did their confusion turn to joy. May we see our confusion turn to joy.

Currently we are in the middle of preparing for next year’s Plenary Council. Hopefully it will bring a number of needed changes to the ways we do things together. It has been the corporation dimension of the Church that is largely responsible for the mess we have got ourselves into – the structures, the laws and customs, the leadership and management. Fortunately, the Church is more than an international corporation. We are the body of the risen Christ, the People of God.

“Let him easter in us”. God knows we sorely need him. But nothing will happen if we just believe in him, or barrack for him, as it were. We need to get to know him personally, genuinely to become friends, to let him really love us. What we need is faith shot through with love. Only faith shot through with love can give birth to hope; and only hope can nourish joy and release the energy we need to work for change. He must do it all; and we must do it all – together.

Last Thursday, Holy Thursday, we remembered the institution of the Eucharist. It gave us a chance to think about what perhaps has become too familiar to many of us. I think that the most significant moment of the Eucharistic celebration is the “Amen” we say as we receive the host and the chalice. Each host is broken off from the larger host, which is the symbol, the sacrament, of the broken Body of Christ. The bread had to be broken so that it could be shared. The body had to be broken because it was the price of loving. Each sip of wine is a sip of the Blood from the broken body shed as the cost of Jesus’ commitment to his mission.

That mission was to save us from each other, from our over-riding self-interest, our habitual mutual competitiveness and hostility, our instinctive violence. Jesus came to teach us, and to exemplify the way of love, the way to love. His tortured and utterly de-humanising death showed the depths to which we too easily descend in defence of self-interest, group interest, national-interest. He hoped we would see and convert.

Our “Amen”, said as we receive the host and the cup, expresses our commitment to the project of Jesus, our readiness to share in his mission, whatever the cost. It is the way to risen life, to life to the full. It is the assurance of a truly “Happy Easter”.