Being Risen with Christ, Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fr. Roger J. Landry

St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA

Easter Sunday

April 24, 2011

Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9

 

The following text guided today’s homily:

BEING RISEN WITH CHRIST

  • Today we mark, with Christians throughout the world, the greatest day and most important event in all of history. Today the Son of God made man, who loved us enough to become one of us, and who loved us even more to give his life for us, rose from the dead, defeating death once and for all. Today all Christians can jubilantly shout with St. Paul, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55). Because of this day, evil does not have the last word. Because of this day, death is not a period, but a comma in a book without a final chapter. Because of this day, dying is just a change of address, in which those who are and live as God’s children move to an eternal mansion full of love.
  • But the significance of this day of days is not merely supposed to be future, in terms of what it means for life after our death — as if we were just dealing with an eternal retirement plan. It’s also not merely supposed to be past, looking back to what happened to Christ nearly two thousand years ago. The most important thing for us is to consider what it means for our PRESENT, for you and me, today. The celebration of Easter today is supposed to have the same dramatic impact on us as it did on Jesus’ first disciples then, because the Jesus who arose that day is still ALIVE and he wants to fill us with the same life-giving joy that he did to his beloved disciples 20 centuries ago.
  • To capture the transformation the Risen Jesus wants to work in us, it would be good, briefly, to reflect on what it was like for Mary Magdalene, Peter, John and the rest of his disciples on the day of the Resurrection. To call them dejected, lost and profoundly saddened only begins to describe what they were going through. Their whole universe had been turned upside down. Not only had they witnessed Jesus, their friend, brutally tortured and massacred, nailed naked to a cross as a common criminal, but they also had believed deeply that he was the long-awaited Messiah, that he was God. Therefore, not only were they mourning the death of a loved one — which is already hard enough, as any of us who have lost a loved one recognize — but they were also trying to come to grips with whether God indeed had died and whether their friend, in whom they trusted, was, despite all his gifts, ultimately an impostor. Despite the fact that Jesus had told them on three occasions that he “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10:34), the words hadn’t penetrated. When his critics had asked him for a sign, he told them that “no sign would be given it except the sign of Jonah” (Mt 16:4), meaning that he would spend three days in the belly of the earth just as Jonah had spent three days in the belly of the whale. But that didn’t register. Even when Jesus identified himself as the “Resurrection and the Life” (Jn 11:25), they didn’t capture what those words meant: in order for him to be “resurrection personified,” he needed to rise again, which means that he first needed to die.
  • When Mary Magdalene, Salome and Mary, the mother of James went to the tomb on Sunday morning, they were going reverently to anoint Jesus’ corpse. Little did they realize what a great transformation had already occurred and what a great personal transformation awaited them. The stone had already been rolled away. The tomb was empty. A dazzling angel told them that Jesus had been raised. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene in the Garden and filled her with exhilarating goose bumps when he pronounced her name! He appeared to the ten in the Upper Room, filled them with his joy and peace, and gave them his own mission — “Just as the Father sent me, so I send you,” bestowing on them the Holy Spirit so that they could forgive sins in God’s name. He appeared to the disciples on the Road to Emmaus and made their hearts burn as he described how the Son of Man had to suffer, and then revealed himself to them in the “breaking of the bread.” THEIR WHOLE UNIVERSE, which had been turned upside down two days before, was now turned RIGHT-SIDE UP AGAIN. And what incredible joy must have raced through all the cells of their body, the type of joy to which words cannot even do justice! Everything for them would have forever changed. The resurrection was the answer to all their questions, the resolution to all their doubts, the definitive peace to all their angst, the joy to all their sadness, God’s ultimate response to the mystery of all suffering and death. Life in general — and their life in particular — not only was no longer a tragedy; their life now had immeasurable meaning. They were the disciples and intimate friends of the one who had conquered even sin and death — and they were now empowered and emboldened by him to take that greatest news ever told to the ends of the earth. No amount of disdain, threats, persecutions, torture or even death could dissuade them, because the resurrection taught them, unmistakably and unforgettably, that God is in charge and makes good on all his promises.
  • Jesus wants to bring about the same type of revolution in us today. He wants to give us the same joy he gave his first disciples, because he loves us no less than he loved them. The only thing that will stop him from doing so is if we don’t let him do what he wants to do. He who is the “Resurrection and the Life” wants us to experience in the presence the full meaning of that resurrection and that life, but for that to happen, we have to recognize and structure our lives in correspondence to the fact that Jesus truly is ALIVE. Almost every Christian knows that Jesus is alive theoretically, but many Christians do not behave as if Jesus is alive practically. We can treat Jesus like a distant relative, someone whom we respect and care for, but whom for the most part in our day-to-day lives we ignore. Or we can treat him like our best high school teacher, who has obviously had an impact in making us the people we are today, but who is no longer practically involved in continuing to guide our decision making. Or we can treat Jesus like a good doctor, to whom we go when we have problems, but, outside of those times, with whom we really have no relationship at all.
  • The point is this: Few Christians treat the Risen Jesus as if he is DEAD, but many Christians treat Jesus as if he is BARELY ALIVE. Today, on this Easter, Jesus wants to change that. He came, as he himself said, “so that [we] might have life and have it to the full” (Jn 10:10), but for us to come fully alive, we need first to allow Jesus to become fully alive in us. We need to rise with him, and live a resurrected life with him! We need to stop treating him as a concept, or as someone we turn to at our whim and convenience — or only at times of great inconvenience — but rather base our whole lives on him. For the first disciples, the joy of that first Easter didn’t end the day after Easter, because they knew that Jesus, risen from the dead, would be with them “until the end of time” (Mt 28:20). And they structured their whole lives on a deep personal relationship with the Risen Jesus, grounding all of the aspects of their lives on the basis of this living communion of love. We’re called to do the same.
  • Paul tells us in the beautiful second reading how practically to bring this new relationship about. He tells us: “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:1-3). He tells us that if we are to have a resurrected life with the risen Jesus, we need to seek the things that are of Christ, the things are above, the things of heaven, the things that last forever. Our minds must be focused on those things above. Our hearts must be focused on those same things and therefore our treasure must be in the things above, because, as Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Mt 6:21). So often our goals, desires and ambitions are all on the things of earth, without any reference to the things above. We worry about our bodies and physical appearances, our jobs and salaries, our many material possessions, the success of our favorite sports teams, the travails of various celebrities, but we’re not really concerned with becoming holy, with deepening our friendship with Christ, and with bringing our friends to Christ. We can become more concerned with pleasing others than pleasing God. We can spend more time hoping that gas prices will go down than we can about whether we are ready for the Lord’s second coming. We can expend more effort in helping our kids or grand kids to get a good job or get into a good university than we can trying to help them become a saint.
  • In 2008, Pope Benedict described how the early Church liturgically tried to emphasize this change that’s supposed to occur in us, what they did in the Mass then and what we do in the Mass now. He said,
  1. “In the early Church there was a custom whereby the Bishop or the priest, after the homily, would cry out to the faithful: ‘Conversi ad Dominum’ — turn now towards the Lord. This meant in the first place that they would turn towards the East, towards the rising sun, the sign of Christ returning, whom we go to meet when we celebrate the Eucharist. Where this was not possible, for some reason, they would at least turn towards the image of Christ in the apse, or towards the Cross, so as to orient themselves inwardly towards the Lord.”
  2. “Fundamentally, this involved an interior event; conversion, the turning of our soul towards Jesus Christ and thus towards the living God, towards the true light. Linked with this, then, was the other exclamation that still today, before the Eucharistic Prayer, is addressed to the community of the faithful: “Sursum corda” — “Lift up your hearts”, high above the tangled web of our concerns, desires, anxieties and thoughtlessness — “Lift up your hearts, your inner selves!” In both exclamations we are summoned, as it were, to a renewal of our Baptism: Conversi ad Dominum — we must distance ourselves ever anew from taking false paths, onto which we stray so often in our thoughts and actions.
  3. This means, Pope Benedict continued, that “we must turn ever anew towards him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We must be converted ever anew, turning with our whole life towards the Lord. And ever anew we must allow our hearts to be withdrawn from the force of gravity, which pulls them down, and inwardly we must raise them high: in truth and love.
  • As we conclude this homily on this beautiful Easter morning, let us all “Conversi ad Dominum,” turn toward the Lord, lift up our hearts, seek the things that are above. To do this does not mean just to look toward the sky, but to look toward the Lord, who himself comes among us today in his Risen Body and Blood in the holy Eucharist. As we prepare to receive him who is our Resurrection and our Life, we ask him to give us the grace this Easter Mass truly to lift up our hearts to him in prayer so that we might experience the joy of the Passover from earth to heaven, from death to life that Easter and indeed every Mass is meant to bring. We ask him to help us to turn to him, to lift up our hearts to him so that we might always seek the things that are above, the things that he seeks, the things that are truly valuable, so that one day HE MAY LIFT UP our hearts, our souls, our bodies to SEE those things that are above, in the kingdom he won for us by his passion, death and resurrection that we celebrate today.

Christ has truly risen. And this changes everything Alleluia!

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1ACTS 10:34A, 37-43

Peter proceeded to speak and said:
“You know what has happened all over Judea,
beginning in Galilee after the baptism
that John preached,
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth
with the Holy Spirit and power.
He went about doing good
and healing all those oppressed by the devil,
for God was with him.
We are witnesses of all that he did
both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.
This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible,
not to all the people, but to us,
the witnesses chosen by God in advance,
who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commissioned us to preach to the people
and testify that he is the one appointed by God
as judge of the living and the dead.
To him all the prophets bear witness,
that everyone who believes in him
will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Responsorial PsalmPS 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

R. (24) This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.
or:
R. Alleluia.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
R. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.
or:
R. Alleluia.
“The right hand of the LORD has struck with power;
the right hand of the LORD is exalted.
I shall not die, but live,
and declare the works of the LORD.”
R. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.
or:
R. Alleluia.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
R. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.
or:
R. Alleluia.

Reading 2COL 3:1-4

Brothers and sisters:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.
Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.
For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
When Christ your life appears,
then you too will appear with him in glory.

Or1 COR 5:6B-8

Brothers and sisters:
Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough?
Clear out the old yeast,
so that you may become a fresh batch of dough,
inasmuch as you are unleavened.
For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.
Therefore, let us celebrate the feast,
not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Sequence — Victimae Paschali Laudes

Christians, to the Paschal Victim
Offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems;
Christ, who only is sinless,
Reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of life, who died, reigns immortal.
Speak, Mary, declaring
What you saw, wayfaring.
“The tomb of Christ, who is living,
The glory of Jesus’ resurrection;
bright angels attesting,
The shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen;
to Galilee he goes before you.”
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining.
Have mercy, victor King, ever reigning!
Amen. Alleluia.

AlleluiaCF. 1 COR 5:7B-8A

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed;
let us feast with joy in the Lord.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelJN 20:1-9

On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead.

OrMT 28:1-10

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning,
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.
And behold, there was a great earthquake;
for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,
approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
His appearance was like lightning
and his clothing was white as snow.
The guards were shaken with fear of him
and became like dead men.
Then the angel said to the women in reply,
“Do not be afraid!
I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified.
He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.
Come and see the place where he lay.
Then go quickly and tell his disciples,
‘He has been raised from the dead,
and he is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him.’
Behold, I have told you.”
Then they went away quickly from the tomb,
fearful yet overjoyed,
and ran to announce this to his disciples.
And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them.
They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.
Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.
Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee,
and there they will see me.”