This is the text of the homily I gave at the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday morning Mass at St. Stephen. Of course I “ad-libed” a bit, tweaking as I gave it, depending on the movement of the Spirit.
May you have a blessed, grace filled Easter!
Based on the Gospel of Matthew 28:1-10
Assigned to the Easter Vigil in Cycle A
Easter – 2011
St. Stephen Catholic Church, Caseyville IL
Author: Rev. Joseph C. Rascher © 2011
A few weeks ago, the world heard of a devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit Japan. TVs brought the world images of destruction. Pictures of people in shock as the victims surveyed their whole world destroyed. (Now what? Now how will we live?) Last night, tornadoes ripped through parts of north St. Louis County unleashing their destructive power. Again, people’s lives were upended. Life won’t be, cannot be the same for the tornado victims. These powerless folks are stuck in an in-between time: Life as they knew it is gone, but what now? Life will be different for sure, but what will it look like, how long will it take before I can live my new life, in a new home? These folks can only wait and hope.
Tonight’s/Today’s gospel account opens with a violent earthquake, too. A force beyond the everyday experience of people causes the stone to roll back and reveal an empty grave. In scripture, an earthquake is a sign or kind of divine announcement that God is doing something cataclysmic so that the OLD ORDER of existence will be destroyed. The earthquake is a symbol of the destruction of the previous state of the world. Something new is going to take the place of the broke state of human life! Just as the debris left behind by an earthquake or tornado must be swept away to restart people’s lives anew – the stone of humanity’s rebellious nature against the will of God that blocks our way to life in its fullness must be rolled away by the selfless act of Jesus’ death to allow new life to burst forth from the grave humanity has dug for itself.
Now, there are two possible responses to the event of an earthquake in both the natural realm and in the world of scripture we’ve heard proclaimed.
NOT FEAR (or perhaps we could call it wonderment, marveling, or anticipation).
The soldiers represent the forces of death that have just seen their end. Forces like:
-The Military industrial complex: The realm of civil authorities who use armies to impose their will on populations, people who use violence to impose a false order on humanity of winner and loser
– Forces like: Disease and the body that breaks down in old age.
– Forces like: hunger, economies that deny the huge parts of the world the ability to feed and provide an adequate living for people.
The soldiers represent a false power trying desperately to keep order, to hang onto an order whose power will never bring human fulfillment, for this power is based on fear, the fear that one group can deprive the other of life. That order is over! No wonder the soldiers fall to the ground as if dead! Their day is over, their world destroyed.
The other response is “Do not be afraid!” Twice this phrase appears in the gospel. Do not be afraid!
You might be amazed at such a power;
You possibly can be confused wondering what is going on? What happened here?
But do not be afraid! This is a new day, a new ordering of creation. Death does not mean the end of the person’s story. All those forces that used fear to control people (war, sickness, governments) they cannot do anything to a person that will stop him or her from living!
Do not be afraid!
The women run from the tomb with mixed emotions;
Fearful yet overjoyed…Just as if standing on the threshold of a major life event like the birth of a child. Will I make a good parent? – But I am so happy that my child is here, this new life!
Such is the disciples’ experience this side of the re-birth into eternal life. I don’t know what it will be like, and it is kind of scary to think of eternity – I guess I’ll just have to wait and see how the story of new existence unfolds on this side of the empty grave, like the future full of potential laying open before a newborn child. We disciples are on the threshold. We have had an experience of the life we wait for through experience of the Church, Christ’s body on earth, like a child growing in the womb, but we’re not born to eternal life, yet.
Our companions in this experience of having experienced the earthquake destroying the realm of death, but not yet arrived at the day of life in the rebuilt city of God are the women on the road, leaving the tomb. Our companions on the way to discovering what kind of new life God has in mind for those whose life has been shaken up by the victory of Christ are the folks we see on the news even now saying things like, “Thank God, God got me through the terror of the tornado and protected me from harm even though my house is gone!” These companions remind us that God’s power will not be defeated, that God has a new life in store for us.
Sure, people claim this resurrection stuff is a hoax. They don’t see this Christ alive they say. Here’s the problem. Those unconvinced of the resurrection are looking for the Christ in the wrong place, in the tombs of this world where death still claims humanity. They chose to only see death when they say things like, “If this Jesus you worship is alive why does he let all this death and destruction happen?”
Christians cannot prove that Jesus rose, at least in any scientifically verifiable way. That’s using the wrong set of evidence. Christians’ eyes are not focused on the tomb. Their eyes are looking to the future “on the way, on the road” where they encounter other human beings in the midst of everyday life. Jesus is there when people choose to unselfishly help others live in the midst of a world where death is at work attempting to destroy people:
– Aid workers rushing into disaster zones
– health care providers healing and comforting the sick
– Food pantry and Soup Bus volunteers enabling people to eat
– Husbands and wives faithfully caring for infirm spouses
– Those who stand up in defense of persecuted minorities and the unborn.
This is no mere human altruism but the Christ who meets people through his Body he chooses to live in for the moment, his Church, who are “on the way waiting to see what new way of living will come on the other side of the destructive force of death.
Go, tell my brothers and sisters, the human family what you experienced in the life of the Church (my Body), says Jesus. Tell them the grave does not hold the Christ. Tell them a new life is possible. They will see me in the new day if they have the courage and trust in the power of God to destroy to old in order to make all things new.