Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Easter Sunday, April 8th 2012, Fr. Dick Clifford, SJ



Today is Easter Sunday, the most exciting Sunday of the Church year. If you don’t believe it’s exciting, just look at the disciples Peter and John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

Look at how they behave! They too have caught the spirit or, are in the process of catching the spirit. Why do I say that? Because the mere suggestion of Mary of Magdala that something has happened at the tomb of Jesus sets them off. They race each other to the tomb, but the disciple whom Jesus loved, a.k.a. John, arrived first. And since he has the privilege of telling the story, he tells us no less than four times that he outraced Peter to the tomb: 1) “the other disciple ran faster than Peter”; 2) “[he] arrived at the tomb first”; (3) “Simon Peter arrived after him”; 4) “then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first.” Contrary to what we might initially think about male competitiveness, I suspect that the deep-down reason that John kept repeating he got to the tomb first was that he could never erase the magic of that morning.

He could not allow himself to forget the thrill of hearing that something had happened to Jesus’ body. From depression to exaltation in seconds, even if he did not know exactly what it was that got him running.

John is a good model for us all. (I don’t mean a model for winning foot races!) Rather he is a model for how to react to hints, even slight ones, that Jesus has been s raised from the dead and sits victorious at the Father’s right hand. At that moment, John’s heart was lifted on very uncertain evidence: “something had happened” at the tomb where Jesus had been buried. Today, we enjoy certainty: Jesus has indeed been raised from the dead. We know that in our heads, but we don’t always know it in our hearts. So we have to struggle to make it real to us, especially for times when evil and sadness seem to triumph and we seem helpless to do anything about it.

But resurrection is an event that sets feet running–and sets them dancing too. But we have to be realistic. The reign of God has indeed been inaugurated by Jesus’ preaching and guaranteed by his resurrection, but the “kingdom of the world” coexists with it, and sometimes make God’s reigning hard to find.

That’s where the reading from Paul to the Colossians come in. The letter was written perhaps in the second generation after Christ when Christians had gotten over their initial enthusiasms and settled down to living the same kind of life as ourselves. Like that generation, we haven’t seen, we’ve heard. We depend on the testimony of others. That’s not at all a bad thing; it just calls for realism on our part. “Brothers and sisters,” Paul writes, “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.” At first glance, Paul seems to be urging us to escape from this world into the stratosphere, to go to the “spiritual” rather than to stay with solid everyday reality. Such an interpretation, however, is the opposite of what Paul is saying. Paul here is “speaking to our condition.” He knows that his congregation is discouraged and confused because they have not completely discarded their old ways of thinking. They are half in and half out, still living by the ideas they had before they embraced faith in Christ and were baptized. So Paul tells them to clear out their minds, to do some spring cleaning of their souls. Forget those old ideals and goals, “seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” He tells them to think again about what happened when they were baptized: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Recall the baptismal rite practiced in those early days.

Adults shed their clothes representing their old way of life, stepped down into a deep pool of water that covered their whole body, and stepped up into the other side of the pool where they were immediately clothed with white garments symbolizing their new way of life. The theory was that when you descended into the pool, you died to your old way of life, and when you came up out of the water, you were reborn, and put on new clothes to symbolize it. That’s way Paul tells the people to seek what is Christ’s. You must, because after baptism you share his life! (I admit that our custom of infant baptism does not allow us to experience our new life so vividly, but we can imagine it.) Next, Paul says something very mysterious, but very consoling: “Your life is hidden with Christ in God.” What he means is that there is something hidden about our life with Christ. It has not yet appeared in a full visible way, in a way that we and others can touch and feel. That’s why he next says, “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” We believe it will one day appear fully, but not now.

This morning’s readings help us to see the excitement of Easter–its powerful presence in our lives and its possibilities. It made two fishermen into long-distance runners and it has set countless pairs of feet dancing. But the readings also enable us to see how the resurrection powers us everyday, inspiring us to entrust our lives exclusively to Christ in whose company and friendship we delight. And the readings let us see we are not done yet with the resurrection. Christ’s glorious presence will lead us even further forward and we will appear with him in glory.

Our prayer: God of undying life, / by your mighty hand you raised up Jesus from the grave / and appointed him judge of the living and the dead. / Bestow upon those baptized into his death / the power flowing from his resurrection / that we may proclaim near and far the power and peace you have give us.

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