15 April 2006

An Easter Homily

“And they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

So ends the Holy Gospel for the high feast of Easter. If ever there were an ending to the story that is all wrong, that is it. Fear shutting up the mouths of those who have the best news that could ever be uttered on the face of the earth. Fear locking fast the lips of those whose words could set free a despairing world to sing for joy.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Bad news spreads like wildfire, but the good news struggles to overcome the reluctant fear of the messengers. Why? What is that the women were afraid of? Afraid that they were losing their minds. Afraid that they would be laughed at? Afraid that they wouldn’t say it just right? What?

The text doesn’t even give us a hint. There might be a purpose in that. You see, it does not matter one whit what ties the tongue, what matters is simply that the tongue is tied. The message unspoken. The joy unshared.

My friends, we must see this in perspective. We must understand the setting. God made a world filled with life and love and joy. We changed all that. We made of God’s world a place of sadness, a place of death. We turned this home God gave us into a great cosmic cemetery. That is rock bottom reality. Death is. It devours the people of this world one by one and it enjoys the fear that its advent brings. It chews on little children and old men, on young people “in their prime” and on the middle aged. It is a hideous and hateful reality. Death is. And death devours us long before we actually expire. We die a thousand deaths for the loss of those we love, for the loss of our homes, our families, our friends. Death devours. Death is.

BUT! Enter Jesus of Nazareth. Enter the Man who does something about death. Enter the Man who was born of the Virgin Mother and sent into this world by God the Father to actually slay death. To undo its damage. To change it forever. To make it something it was not before. When Jesus is through with Death, you can’t even recognize it as the same thing. Jesus make death a passover, a passage into endless life. It was to overcome death and destroy its power that He came.

And you know how He did it. He did it by offering Himself up to death. Death took Him. On the cross, Death took Him. Devoured Him. Munched on Him till He was just a corpse. Never had Death eaten such a deadly meal. But the Lord Jesus was not just any man. He was at one and the same time true God and true man. Death tried to swallow down Life itself. Death tried to digest in its stinking gullet the very Author of Life. In the picture language of the early Church, Death began to feel quite sick on Holy Saturday and then on Easter morning Death itself keeled over, a gaping hole in its stomach from which the Prince of Life emerged alive again, never to die again, shining with His endless life and calling His people to follow Him into death and then out of it again. You see, He has really made of death a passage. It is not the End. It is not the final word. Life is the final word: “the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”

All of that the angel communicated to the spice-bearing women inside of the tomb. Mirth bubbled up from within him. He laughed as he spoke. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “Never be afraid again! You are looking for Jesus. Here in a tomb. Not the place, my friends. Why do you seek the Living among the dead? Why do you seek the Incorrupt among corruption? The Crucified One is not to be found among the dead, for He is risen. Living. He goes before you to Galilee, and you’ll see Him there just as He promised. Now run and tell Peter and the disciples!”

But what happened? “They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Thanks be to God, we know that that was not quite the end of the story. Mary Magdalene at least overcame her fear and finally went to tell Peter and John and the disciples. Jesus Himself appeared to them and charged them with telling everyone the good news of His resurrection and what it means. And what He told them, He tells us all. He sends us everyone out into a world where sadness reigns, where death terrifies, where despair is endemnic. He says: “Go and tell them that I have risen and that Death has been destroyed! Tell them to trust me and so have eternal life.”

But, “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Too often that’s the story today also. Who’s the last person you told about Jesus’ victory over death? When’s the last time the joy that Christ’s resurrection brings to your heart so shown on your face that people said: “What are you so happy about? What’s up with you?” When’s the last time you shared with a relative or a friend what it means that Jesus has risen from the dead and they don’t need to fret over sin or death? When? And why not? “For they were afraid.”

Such a silly thing that fear is. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen if you shared the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection? Well, the early Church soon found out that the worst that could happen to the sharer of the Gospel is that the messenger be killed. And when the early church thought about that, they laughed. Right. No problem. What a glorious way to die. To say to the world: “See, we are not afraid of death. Look! We go into it with confidence. We know that there is a hole in its side and our Lord will bring us through that hole to life everlasting.” Thus even by the way the early martyrs met death they preached powerfully about the resurrection. Their very dying was a proclamation: “Don’t be afraid of this Death anymore! Christ is risen! Believe in Him and be free!”

Now, I think I would be quite safe to say that the probability of any of you being killed for witnessing to Jesus is rather slim, at least as things stand now. So what else are we afraid of? Why don’t we shout our joy? Fear of what others may think of us? Fear of not getting it “just right”? Set aside all such fears today! We have good news that is too great to keep to ourselves.

So today, as the joy of the resurrection of Jesus fills our hearts, today as we know that our Passover has been sacrificed for us and so death must leave us unharmed, today as we sing the glories of His resurrection, as we keep the feast and eat His immortal body and drink His incorruptible blood, let His joyful presence overcome all fear so that we leave this place today so filled with His love and bringing to a sad and despairing world the most joyful news it could ever hear: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tomb, bestowing life.” Amen.

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