Ampleforth Abbey

24 February 2018

Easter Monday: Homily

 Some of you may remember that I closed the last conference on Saturday with the observation that if we truly want to find out who we are, truly desire to find ourselves, we cannot look just at ourselves, cannot look inwards in the expectation of enlightenment. We must turn our eyes rather to Jesus Christ, for it is in coming to know him that we come to know ourselves most fully, in coming to know him as he is, that we find our hidden selves, find that new life which – since the events of the Paschal Mystery which we celebrate today – we know is hidden with Christ in God.

Perhaps that thought was still rattling round in my rather tired mind, but I was very struck during Easter Vespers yesterday by the fourth antiphon. The text runs as follows “The angel replied to the women: Have no fear; I know you are looking for Jesus, Alleluia”. It is an antiphon I have sung more than 300 times I guess, but it has never struck me as important before. In my head, I had always “finished the sentence” as it were, for the text is an incomplete quotation from the Resurrection accounts: “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen”.

What struck me very forcibly yesterday was that incompleteness – the unfinished nature of the text. For in a sense, that very incompleteness frees us from the constraint of the gospel seen only as a purely historical narrative. After all, we are not the sad friends of Jesus looking for his body, we are not those coming to bury Jesus, nor those who first hear of the news of his Resurrection. We are not bound into that event in the way that they were, even though it is an event which has changed all our lives. No. We no longer seek Jesus amongst the dead, even if they did on that first Sunday morning. We seek the living one, the first-born from the dead, the Alpha and the Omega, our beginning and our end. Without fear, we now seek Jesus, and the angels rejoice at our search.

It is in this light that I read this morning’s Gospel, and I think there are two brief points I would like to make. In all the Gospel readings we hear this week, we hear of unexpected encounters with Jesus after the resurrection – whether it is Mary, looking for someone else and mistaking Jesus for the gardener, or the disciples walking to Emmaus who are too self-obsessed by their own disappointment to look at Jesus and recognise him, until he breaks bread with them. I think this is important – for in our search to know Christ, we are going to encounter him in unexpected places, in unexpected people. He is going to catch us unawares, just when we least expect to meet him – and like the women in today’s gospel – we must be ready to meet him in love and adoration when he comes to us.

The second observation is that Jesus gives a command for his disciples. He tells them to go on ahead to Galilee, and that they will see him there. It is an unusual command. Jesus, as we have reflected often in these past days, is the one who normally says to us: “Follow me” – but today, he sends us on ahead, just as he sent the 72 to be his heralds during his earthly ministry. So Jesus sends us back too – sends us back to Galilee, to the places we came from, to the humdrum and ordinary routine of our daily lives. But not only does he send us out, like those first disciples, as his heralds, to tell of what we have heard and seen in these days, he makes us too a promise: When we return home, we shall see him there. Wherever we go, whatever we do, he will be Emmanuel for us, God-with-us to the end of time. More than that, his promise means that our seeking will never be in vain: We shall see him there – we have his word for it.

So then, as we go on our way, let us take the message of the Angel seriously, let us take Jesus’ promise seriously. Let us have no fear. The heavenly powers rejoice, sing Alleluia, because they know we are seeking the Lord – and the Lord himself has promised that we will find him, we shall see him. And each time he is revealed, each time we encounter him and find him in the coming days and years, we too will be revealed to ourselves as the precious children of God, in all the fullness of life and glory he longs to share with us.