“When the women returned from the tomb, they told all this to the Eleven and to the others, but this story of theirs seemed pure nonsense, and they did not believe.” “Pure nonsense”, that’s what we are celebrating tonight, “pure nonsense”. And thank God it’s the Gospel that says so. It’s plain to see that, from the beginning, the apostles and the other disciples found the news of the empty tomb and the message of the angels to the women, that the Lord Jesus had risen from the dead, simply impossible to believe, unbelievable, in fact “pure nonsense”.
So it doesn’t come as a surprise anymore when we read and hear all sorts of disparaging remarks about Jesus, the Resurrection, the Gospel, the Christian faith and, above all, the Catholic Church. We’ve heard it all before, so why get upset? For us Christians, the more we hear foolish things said about Jesus, the more we love him and want to be counted among his disciples. The more we hear his Church, our Church, criticised and insulted, the more we love her and try to be faithful to her teaching and way of life. Persecution, whatever form it takes, certainly separates the men from the boys, and I mean that inclusively.
But let’s return to tonight’s Gospel and focus our attention on Jesus. We all learn by making mistakes and reflecting on personal experience. The same happened with the apostles. They listened closely to what the angels had told the women. “Why look among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here: he is risen. Remember what he told you; that the Son of Man had to be handed over into the power of sinful men and be crucified, and rise again on the third day.” But they were not convinced. They had to see and hear for themselves. These men weren’t dumb – they asked intelligent questions and thought things over seriously. Think of Thomas – “Unless I see the holes in his hands and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.”
Then, early in the morning on the first day of the week, something finally twigged in Peter’s mind. Hadn’t he heard Jesus talk about this very moment many times before his Passion? So he went running to the tomb and, seeing it empty, came back home, amazed at what had happened. His doubts began to evaporate in the first light of dawn. He was beginning to believe. Only gradually, as Jesus appeared first to one, then to another, then finally to all of them, did the disciples come to believe that he had risen from the dead. To see is to believe, yet “blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe.”
Tonight we give thanks to God for the gift of faith. It might still be “pure nonsense” for many, but for us Christians, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the source of our joy and the key that opens the door to the meaning of life and the meaning of death, the meaning of suffering and God’s ultimate purpose in creating all that exists.
We leave the final word to St Paul, writing to the Romans. “When we were baptised we went into the tomb with Christ Jesus, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life. When he died, he died to sin once for all, so his life in now life with God. So too you must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.”
On behalf of the monastic Community I wish you all a joyful and holy Easter. Christ is risen; he is risen indeed. Alleluia, alleluia.
A TALK GIVEN BU DOM ALEX ECHEANDIA, MONK OF PACHACAMAC, GIVEN AT BELMONT
Christ is risen! Alleluia, Alleluia !
The meaning of the word “gospel” reaches its fullness today: “Good News” We began our preparation by following Christ through Lent; then, we moved towards the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, followed by these last days in which we experienced the sadness of the loss and suffering of Our Lord, His crucifixion, His agonising death and finally His burial. It was very sad, indeed. However, as you know, crucifixion without resurrection brings just sadness and disappointment, as the two disciples experienced on the road to Emmaus. They did not understand what was going on because they did not understand God’s plan of salvation. They, like the Apostles before them, experienced the loss of their beloved Master and Messiah.
Today we heard in the Gospel how Mary Magdalene, Peter and John went to the place were Jesus was buried. They in different ways experienced the Risen Lord. Mary of Magdala who went before dawn on first day of the week recognized the Lord who she first thought was the gardener. Is it because she did not know that the One was talking to her was Jesus himself? I prefer to say that what she was looking for was the dead body of his Lord. It did not occur to her that her Lord was already risen from the dead. If we look at other stories about Christ's crucifixion, we may find that the religious leaders of the Jews were already suspicious of what was going to happen. They were suspicious that somebody else, one of Jesus’ disciples perhaps, may take His body and hide it in order to fulfil Jesus’ promises he made when he was still alive.
Peter, on the other hand, running with John the beloved disciple, went right into the tomb and saw the clothes on the ground and other cloth that was over Jesus’ head. Peter did not understand what Jesus said before. He also was looking for Jesus’ body. The Lord Himself needed to appear to him and to the other Apostles so that they could experience the promise of their Master and Lord. The Apostle John saw and believed. He reached the tomb first, before Peter and found the entrance open, just as Mary Magdalene had told him. He need to see first in order to believe. Blessed are those who cannot see and yet believe. Even if he believed that Jesus rose from the dead, it was a surprise for him.
Every event now makes sense in the light of the resurrection. But though we followed the last week of Jesus’ life, it was not the same for us as for the Apostles and other disciples. As we went through the whole story of Jesus’ life, passion and death, we knew how this story would end. The disciples did not know it. We experienced Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, even Palm Sunday, knowing that on the third day Christ would rise again from the dead. They did not wait for his resurrection as we did after the celebration of Good Friday. For them the burial of their Master and Lord was the end of the story. I am sure that like the friends going to Emmaus, the Apostle Thomas, Mary Magdalene and other disciples, thought they would never see Jesus again. They suffered the pain of separation. They also were mortified that they could not ask forgiveness for having left Christ alone after his arrest in Gethsemane: Jesus was not with them any more.
As we know, the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead and angels, but, like most Jews, they were thinking of the resurrection from the dead on the Last Day. We remember the answer given by Martha, talking about Lazarus, her brother: "I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day”. They were thinking of a general resurrection in the future when the righteous ones will be gathered together by God in eternity. For us, it is the Parousia, when the risen Christ will come again in glory. So, what they experienced in Jesus’ time was the lack of any belief that a single person can rise ahead of all the rest. We have the advantage to know what Judas Iscariot did not.
So what they experienced after the resurrection was surprise, terror, amazement; rather than joy, gladness and rejoicing. They did not do what we are doing now, proclaiming that the Lord is risen. They kept hidden, fragile, without their Master who they always accompanied and with whom they ate. So, the Good News brought first by Mary Magdalen was for them something that could not enter their minds, as Thomas later manifested.
After the resurrection, what we see in the gospels is a combination of belief and unbelief, sadness and joy, recognition and incredulity, insecurity and certainty, reality as they were use to and yet a reality transformed. Examples of that are all over the place. The disciples on the road of Emmaus were talking to Jesus about the same Jesus. They did not know who He was until the second Eucharist took place, in the breaking of bread; but suddenly he disappeared. His eucharistic Presence was enough for them. This is a good example of how Christ interacts with us, now and here. First, He listens to the struggle going on in our minds, then He brings us an understanding of Scriptures, of Himself as the Word of God. He reveals Himself to us; then, He offers Himself in the Eucharist, He gives us His real presence, and finally he leaves us alone in order that we can move forward. He wants us to realise what our minds cannot understand. Very often, we pay too much attention to our own feelings, and this hinders the growth of our faith, just like Peter whose feelings conquered his faith, and he began to sink in the sea as his trust in Christ crumbled before the force of the wind and the unfamiliarity of walking on water. So, what Christ did to the first Christians and what he does to us today is to introduce to his followers a new reality through an open door., It is an experience that Peter, John and James had on Mount Tabor when He was transfigured before them. The entrance to the tomb was another door: John saw and believed.
Our experience of the Risen Lord is not like that of the disciples before the first Easter Sunday. Ours is more like the ones who knew how the story ended. Paul, for example, was one of the first who experienced the risen Lord, as he was lying on the ground near his horse. He knew what happened on the first Good Friday, he knew that the converted Jews were following a New Way. He heard about Him whom the people acknowledged as the One risen from the dead. He becomes an example of what it is for us to be Christians here and now. Nevertheless, Paul could only see the Risen Lord after three days of blindness. This blindness means more than a physical impediment. He was blind to what God did through his Son. He could not see what happened after Jesus' life, passion and death. It took time for him to realise that the One who spoke in the light was the One who was with him and who acccompanies everyone throughout the whole human history of Salvation. Who are you, Lord?, Paul said. That is what we ask every time we get stuck, when others or circumstances interrupt our ways, either by a great light of joy or by difficulties, suffering and spiritual blindness. Without that light that left Paul blind for so long and made him realise what had just happened, he probably would not have been able to listen to God’s plan for him. Sometimes, we need to be interrupted in our way in order to listen to what God wants to say to us.
The resurrection of Christ happens continually in us. The light that Paul saw is also poured on our faces all the time. God is calling us to ask: "Who are you Lord?" Jesus through his resurrection questions us to open our eyes, to stop being blind, as Paul and the disciples of Emmaus experienced. This joy of knowing that Christ is with us after his passion and death invites us to hope in Him, even if resurrection is still awaiting for us. From death to life, from darkness to light, from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, our lives also move towards the One who opened for us the door to Paradise. It is for us to walk on this open way. What happened on this day is too good to be real, but it is real!
So, today we celebrate the defeat of death in order that we may live a new life. We know for certain that we all will die one day, but it is unknown when and how. However, after our death, what will happen? Is it that we are going to experience an easier life than the one we have now, like being on a sabbatical year or permanent holidays to Spain in a very warm and nice weather, accompamied by a very good wine? In one occasion I heard someone saying: Oh, thank God in heaven I don’t need to do anything or to deal with difficult situations”
The Gospels don’t tell us what the resurrection is about. What the narration after the burial tells us is that the relationship of Jesus with his followers is renewed. The terrified women received the message that Jesus will go before them to Galilee and there he will meet his disciples. So, eternal life is not a prolonged holidays from our duties. It is a renovation in our relationship with Christ. Christ is the centre of our lives and through him we make sense of our own lives. As we mentioned Martha’s affirmation about resurrection on the last day, we then contemplate Jesus answer to her: “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” Those who believe in me even if he die, will live.” This explanation given by Jesus Himself allows us to understand within our limitations what resurrection means for us.
It is that through this relationship that the good thief experienced the resurrection in Christ. It is through the resurrection of Christ that many rose from the dead with Him on that very day, as the Gospel tells us. It is that through the intimate relation of Mary with her Son, she was lifted up to heaven. It is through our relation with Jesus that we begin our journey in this life that we may resurrect with him on the last day. The close relationship was initiated by the same Jesus at the very first Eucharist where His Body and Blood allows us to become one with Him. Thus, even if we die one day and in some place, our relationship with the Risen Lord allows us to defeat death and to enter into a new way of existence.
All of us have experienced death of our relatives and friends. Death remains a painful experience because it takes away people we love and care. Death has in its definition an end, end of physical abilities and of sounds of communication. People who die cannot eat, drink or say anything. But our relationship with friends and family remains. In Christ, this relation becomes unique He is the one who makes this relationship possible. We believe that our friends and family will rise as well, and in Christ we can become united with them again. On this day of Easter Sunday, Christ allows us to see further, to look up and meet others in Him: “I am the resurrection and the Life”
When we see the One who is the Resurrection and the Life, we face death. We become free to love, free to do what is right, free to give our lives away. This is what the Apostles experienced at martyrdom; this is what Christians for centuries understood about death. Now, we are called to do the same thing. Let us allow ourselves to be free to love, to do what is right, to give our lives away. The door has been opened by Jesus, in order that we may receive and hold on to the One who is the Resurrection and the Life.
ABBOT PAUL'S HOMILY
Easter Sunday 2013:
“Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in; he saw and he believed.” What did the other disciple see and what did he believe? He saw nothing but an empty tomb with the linen cloths lying on the ground. At the end of the gospel we are told what he believed, “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” and that we have life in his Name. On that first Easter Day, St John has the Beloved Disciple come to faith in the risen Lord on the evidence of an empty tomb alone.
The Letter of the Hebrews says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The joy and beauty of our Easter celebrations do not alter the fact that the true significance of this day is far harder for us to appreciate than the meaning of Christmas. We believe that God stepped into our world at Bethlehem to become part of human history and this causes a ray of light to fall even on those who do not share our faith. Passion and death are also easy to accept. They reflect the world in which we live and our own experience of suffering. Much as we try to avoid the thought, we know that death awaits us all and that one day we will give in to a force far greater than ourselves. So we celebrate Holy Week, especially Good Friday, without difficulty, grateful that God has shared with us the anguish and pain of suffering and death. But Easter is different. In his resurrection Jesus has not entered into the ordinary life of human beings; rather he has broken through its limitations and entered a new realm beyond our understanding. This is unknown territory for us all. God leads us into a vast, uncharted expanse and encourages us to follow him. Since we are only acquainted with things on this side of the grave, there is nothing in our experience that connects us with the news that Jesus is risen from the dead. Easter centres on something unimaginable and, in human thought and language, inexplicable and indescribable.
The doubts of the disciples and their confusion cry out to us from every page of the resurrection accounts, culminating in the words of Thomas, “Unless I see the holes that the nails made in his hands and can put my finger into the holes they made, and unless I can put my hand into his side, I refuse to believe.” Then, like Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus, there is their inability to recognise Jesus. Only when he was at table with them were their eyes opened when they recognised him in the breaking of bread.
One of the strangest features of the resurrection narratives is his otherness or unrecognisability. For most of the disciples, an encounter with the risen Christ begins as a meeting with a stranger and Jesus often condemns the inadequacy of their earlier understanding. Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener and asks where he has put Jesus. Rowan Williams writes, “Jesus is not what they have thought him to be, and thus they must ‘learn’ him afresh, as if from the beginning.
Once again, John crystallises this most powerfully by presenting the disciples in their fishing boats, as if they had never known Jesus: they must begin again.”
Neither the disciples nor the evangelists, nor has the Church ever tried to iron out the differences between the various accounts of the Resurrection. The risen Christ was not a projection of the hopes of the first Christian community. The Resurrection of Jesus remains the greatest of all mysteries and yet it lies at the very heart of the Christian faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
The Church has always translated the Easter message into symbols, which point to things that words cannot express. The Paschal fire and the Paschal candle, for wherever light conquers darkness, something of the Resurrection takes place. Water, which can be both life-giving and life-threatening, is blessed for baptism so that we might die to sin and rise to new life in Christ. We bless people and things with holy water in order to establish oases of life and hope in the desert places of our world.
With the constant singing of Alleluia, we join the song of the angels and saints in heaven, where every tear shall be wiped away and every sorrow and lament be ended. Like the beloved disciple we have seen and have believed, and we live in hope. We do not ask to see more than an empty tomb and we must be content to recognise Jesus in the breaking of bread and to hear his voice as he explains the Scriptures to us. Every day, encouraged by the celebration of the Easter mystery, we learn anew what it means to be a disciple of the Risen Saviour as we walk in faith.
Faith is the greatest adventure there is, an invitation to go much further than we had anticipated or foreseen. It is a window that opens out into eternal life. Jesus asks us not to be afraid, but to trust in him and to follow him through darkness into light and from death to life. To Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, be glory and praise of ever. Alleluia. Amen.
(thanks to Irenikon & Mary Lanser)
From the Easter Sermon by Saint John Chrysotom:
Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God? Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival! Is there anyone who is a grateful servant? Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!
Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages! If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.
For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden! Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one. Let no one go away hungry. Partake, all, of the cup of faith. Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free. He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hades when He descended into it. He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh. Isaias foretold this when he said, "You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with. It was in an uproar because it is mocked. It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed. It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated. It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive. Hell took a body, and discovered God. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see. O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory? Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated! Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down! Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice! Christ is Risen, and life is liberated! Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead; for Christ having risen from the dead, is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!