Dear friends, Happy Easter!
This is the day, of all days, that we must celebrate: the day that Jesus triumphed over sin and death; the day that God says “Yes” to humanity and grants us new life; the day that all Jesus said of himself came true, and we were given access to eternal life as well. Today, Jesus Christ rose from death, and an ending became a new beginning.
Perhaps there are various reasons that you are here today – now, in this place, listening to me. Maybe you have not been here in a while; maybe you are here all the time; maybe this is habit; maybe this took a lot of effort. Whatever the reason, I want you to know how welcome you are, and how happy I am that you are here to celebrate this wonderful day! Today, we encounter the Risen Lord, who calls us not only to be believers – not only to show up – but to be disciples – followers.
This is a challenge – and not just for the casual Easter Mass attendee. Rather, the call to be a disciple might still ring as something new to even the most faithful churchgoers. You see, Jesus asks for more than just this hour here; He asks for our entire life! This moment now – this encounter with Jesus, who is present among us – is only the beginning.
In the First Reading we find St Peter, an eyewitness to the events of Holy Week, powerfully proclaiming the Gospel in the face of intense persecution. He speaks in Acts 10 as an eyewitness, but also as one speaking to, and calling on, other eyewitnesses. “You know what has happened all over Judea.” In essence, Peter was saying Jesus’ words and deeds were not done behind closed doors. You were there. You heard what he said. You saw what he did. He didn’t do evil things, he didn’t say evil things, and yet, we put him to death as if he were an evildoer!
Peter says something significant we need to pay attention to: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.” In the OT it says, “Cursed be anyone who hangs on a tree.” The jealous leaders were discrediting Jesus, trying to prove that He couldn’t be the Messiah because, look, he’s accursed! And yet, powerfully and ironically, this very notion is the hinge of the Gospel!
Brothers and sisters, I hope you can hear with fresh ears what the Apostle is saying. Peter is being a realist, which should appeal to us modern listeners. He’s saying: “Look. You all saw him. You all heard him. And we all witnessed his brutal murder. And I’m telling you, as sure as you’re standing here in front of me, I saw him raised from the dead. There’s hope for humanity.”
Peter and all the people of his time knew the power of death – probably better than we do. It was all around them. Infant mortality rates were very high; a single cut could end up killing a man; and the Romans – well, they were very good at executing people. People knew death, and they knew that it was pretty final.
That’s why the Resurrection is so wonderful. It takes our expectations – all the things we become accustomed to, all the things we do habitually – and turns them on their heads. We know death, too. We know sin. It is part of our lives, whether we like it our not. Our news is full of it; our world is full of it; it is everywhere. We know, like St. Paul in our Second Reading, that “all have fallen short of the glory of God.” So, how do we regain that glory? Is there some way to enter into this glory so we can know peace?
There is: Jesus Christ.
Today, we celebrate this victory over death. This is not simply some quaint tradition: “We’ve always done it this way.” No. Today is as new as the Easter shoes our kids have on. Today is a reminder that Jesus Christ is alive, and because He is Risen we too share in that life.
Remember: Mary Magdalene went to the tomb that first Easter morning expecting to encounter a corpse. She went to anoint the dead Body of Jesus. She had her tradition, and she had her expectations. It was certainly a routine.
Perhaps this is true for you too. Maybe you’ve been coming to church here week in and week out; maybe this is your first time back in a long time. Maybe you expected to see everyone in their Easter best; maybe you expected to pray the prayers that you have all your life; to sing “Alleluia” with some vigor – and it is SO GOOD that you are! – but you are also encountering the Risen Lord, who calls you our of mindless recitation and routine. Jesus asks us to give ourselves to Him fully – to be followers. It is now our turn to respond.
So there is no reason to hold back today. Give your heart to Christ today, on this Easter Sunday, the Day of Days, the Day Jesus triumphed over sin, death and darkness in the world, but especially over the sin, death and darkness in your heart and in mine.
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb expecting lifelessness. Maybe you came to Mass today expecting the same thing! But the promise of the reality of Easter transcends our human expectations. St. Paul in that short Second Reading says it best, “If you were raised with Christ...” You cannot be raised with Christ without a living faith in Him as your Lord and God, your King, your Savior.
So on this great day of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are you willing to give up your expectations and be amazed by what God has in store for you?