Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Francis Xavier Church, Hyannis, MA
Easter Sunday 2004
April 11, 2004
Acts 10:34, 37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9
1) On one level, Christians have always had a very easy time making the transition from Lent to Easter. We naturally prefer eating to fasting, focusing on rejoicing more than on sacrificing, beholding our statues rather than having them draped in purple, singing Alleluia, filling the Church with flowers, and the countless other changes that normally occur as we leave the 40-day season of Lent and enter the 50-day Paschal season.
2) But on a deeper level, Christians — all of us — generally have great difficulty making a genuine transition from Lent into Easter. As Lent culminates we have a day of great fasting and abstinence, we focus on intensely on the passion and suffering of the Lord, we have two Mass-less days, the Blessed Sacrament is removed from our midst and our holy hours and then, almost out of nowhere, the Easter Vigil comes and, basically, Lent and all its practices seem just to disappear. Psychologically and physically, such an abrupt change can make them seem like two completely unrelated liturgical seasons, one of penance, one of joy. And in this situation in which the seasons are considered so unrelated, it’s natural that Christians start to choose which one of the two they consider best symbolizes Christian life. We have countless Christians who say that “we are an Easter people!,” but strangely enough, their understanding of Easter often is one without the Cross and therefore does not really ring true to those people in the world and in the Church who are experiencing great suffering. Moreover, it sometimes doesn’t even ring true to the reality of the Lord’s call to continual conversion, he came to call sinners and forgive the contrite. On the other hand, we have many “Good Friday” Christians, those who are live a joyless Christianity full of often voluntary penitential practices, who proclaim by how they live and often by their words themselves that life in this world is supposed to be miserable in order to enjoy heaven later. They live the faith as if it’s “bad news” rather than Good News.
3) Both get it wrong. The fact is that the Christian faith, and therefore, our Christian spirituality, is meant to integrate both of these elements, the purple and the white. And if we really hope to be able truly to understand EITHER season, we have to come to grips with the connection between them. Lent helps us to interpret Easter and Easter Lent. And so today, to help us make the transition, so that the Lord can bring to fulfillment in Easter all of the good work the Lord has done in us during the season of Lent, so that our Easter joy can be complete, we will focus on the integral connection between Lent and Easter, between our sufferings and Easter joy.
4) We see the connection very clearly in an image, an image that has unfortunately been one of the most neglected aspects of Christian reflection throughout the centuries. When Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday morning nearly 2000 years ago, he rose WITH HIS SCARS! In the resurrection, in glory, Jesus STILL BEARS THESE GLORIOUS WOUNDS of his crucifixion. It would have been possible for God the Father to have raised him in a resurrected body without the scars. After all, many other aspects of Jesus’ appearance had obviously changed, which is why Mary Magdalene thought him to be a gardener, why the disciples on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize him, and why it took St. John a while to recognize Jesus cooking fish on the seashore of Galilee. But God wanted Jesus to rise from the dead bearing the scars of his passion.
5) What a mystery! And what a tangible sign of a connection between pre-Easter sufferings and Easter joy. The scars of Jesus are the greatest signs of how much Jesus loved — and these signs of love were therefore the greatest sign that the permanently transfigured Risen Jesus was actually the same Jesus the apostles knew. When, on this night nearly two millennia ago, the other apostles told St. Thomas that they had seen the Lord, Thomas responded “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” The following Sunday Thomas had the chance to pierce Jesus’ side and hands again with his finger and then dropped to his knees in the greatest confession of who Christ is that we have in Sacred Scripture, “My Lord and My God!” These scars are the permanent, now eternal signs, of Jesus’ love. But the scars are not still bleeding. They, too, have been transformed through the resurrection.
6) So what about our sufferings? What about our wounds? The Risen Lord wishes to transfigure them all in glory with him. He wants them to be, like his scars, signs of how great OUR love is, for him and for others. All of our sufferings are therefore not just to be united with the Cross of the Lord, but with the Resurrection! These sufferings are gifts of the Lord both to sanctify us and help to co-redeem others. When on that day, we hope, that Jesus raises our mortal bodies to be like his own in glory, we will bear the scars of our love. And it is on the basis of these scars of love that others will be able to recognize us in our transfigured state! When Jesus waves his scarred hand, God-willing, toward the right to send us into the sheepfold of the blessed, we will see there so many people bearing the glorious scars of how much they sacrificed for us, hopefully our parents, those who sacrificed in promoting and guiding our vocations, those who did random acts of kindness to us throughout this life; and we will also be recognized by all those whom we loved enough to sacrifice for over the course of our lives.
7) St. Paul says to us in the second reading, “If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. … When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” We have been raised with Christ through baptism and now — in an extraordinary exchange — we bear his wounds and he ours. We are sanctified by his wounds and he sanctifies ours. He has no scarred hands on earth but ours to give his loving touch to others. No scarred feet but ours to visit the sick and the lonely, to bring the Good News to a world that so desperately needs to hear it. No slapped and abused mouth but ours to speak his truth. No heart to be pierced but ours in loving compassion. If we have been raised with him, we should seek the things that are above. Therefore, no matter WHAT WE’RE SUFFERING FROM NOW in body or in spirit — and please pause for a second to call to mind what you are are suffering from now — there is an eternal purpose to it. These sufferings, if borne out of love as Christ bore his, lead not just to the Cross but to the eternal kingdom of love where he still bears his glorious scars!
8 ) So as we rejoice on this Easter Sunday morning, let us also rejoice in whatever sufferings we bring out of Lent into this Season. St. Paul said in his letter to the Colossians, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” In our own flesh, in our own soul, we can mysteriously complete what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings for the sake of all those he died to save. When Jesus died on the Cross, he united us and our sufferings to him on the Cross so that we could be co-redeemers with him; and when he rose three days later, he rose with his scars transfigured so that our scars can be transformed as well in glory.
9) There’s no better place to start this rejoicing than here at this Holy Mass on Easter Sunday morning. In this Mass, we are made actual participants in the Upper Room, on Calvary, and on Easter Sunday. We receive the Risen Body of Jesus. And hence we receive his gloriously scarred flesh. Let’s unite all of our physical, psychological and moral scars with him, putting them on the paten, so that Jesus can raise them up with him forever in glory as an everlasting tribute and offering of love! Jesus has truly risen! And this changes everything! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!