Homily for Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord
Dear Brothers and Sisters, once again Holy Church has placed before us a Gospel passage recounting the historical facts and then two supporting readings that shape our understanding of that Gospel. I ask you to imagine what it felt like on that first Easter morning. After his death on the cross the followers of Jesus had been mourning his death. Then Mary of Magdala went to the tomb early in the morning after the Sabbath, but she found the stone which had blocked the entrance rolled away and the tomb empty. She ran back to the Apostles. Simon Peter and the disciple the Lord loved run in their turn to the tomb. They, too, find the stone rolled away, the linen binding cloths on the ground, the cloth that had been around the Lord’s head rolled up by itself in another place. What does this empty tomb mean? Although Elijah and Enoch had been taken up into heaven at the end of their earthly life no one, not even Abraham or Moses, had risen from the dead and so the notion that the man who had died and been pierced through on the cross might be risen to new life took some understanding. We are very fortunate that we have the additional text from the Acts of the Apostles to help us to understand the empty tomb for by itself it would present us with an enigma, a profound puzzle – precisely the same puzzle that it presented to Peter and John on that first Easter morning.
In the Acts of the Apostles we discover again and again the affirmation in the Apostolic teaching that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day after his crucifixion and that in the days that followed he appeared to a number of witnesses. Our passage this morning comes from the tenth chapter when Peter is preaching to Cornelius – and by that point we have already heard in eight different passages precisely the same message. For the followers of Christ the account of the empty tomb denotes the beginning of new life – both for Christ and for them; for how could anyone continue to live their old life once it is clear that there is a life after death. This is precisely the point that Paul makes in his letter to the Colossians that we heard just a few moments ago. Once we believe in the resurrection of Jesus, once we have been baptised into his death and resurrection, we are no longer bound into a way of life which is limited to this world alone but rather we look beyond this life to the life which is to come.
In the coming weeks we will hear a lot about the experience of the early Church. We will learn about the transformation of lives, many lives – and it is important for us to realise that this transformation of lives has continued in the life of the Church and it continues even today. This transformation of life is not primarily something intellectual, not simply something we can read about and so come to know and possess: it comes about by the entry of a person into the mystery of Christ. Our entry into this mystery and the deepening of our understanding of the demands of the mystery are brought about by the development of a personal relationship with Christ which is mediated through the prayerful reading of the Scriptures, especially the Gospel; and through prayer, through the sacramental life of the Church, and, finally, through the service of our fellow human beings. It is this deep personal relationship with Christ which enables men and women, even today, to remain faithful to Him even at the cost of their own lives.
It is not likely that those of us who live in England will be called to be faithful to the shedding of our blood: it is far more likely that we will face the challenge of remaining faithful in the face of indifference which is, I suggest, more corrosive that the occasional public criticism of the tenets of our faith or of individual failures among Christians to live the Gospel they have professed. For this reason I suggest that on this Easter morning we are being called to reflect on how we will live the Gospel way of life in the year which lies ahead of us – when we leave this time of blessed retreat and return to day-to-day life. This year we have the great good fortune to have a clear message given to us by Pope Francis. He has reminded us that our world stands very much in need of the experience of God’s mercy and he has asked us first of all to expose ourselves to the healing effects of that mercy and then to draw others into the experience of God’s mercy.How can you and I draw others into the mercy of God? There is so much that each one of us could say, but I would like to suggest that we should pray and put into effect the prayer of St Francis of Assisi. Let me remind you: “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. Amen.” Dear Brothers and Sisters, in the year that lies ahead let us take the blessing of this Easter morning out into our world and let us try to make the aspirations of St Francis a reality in our lives.