Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
April 1, 2018 10:30 AM
Acts 10:34A;37-42 Psalm 118:1-2;16-17;22-23
Colossians 3:1-4 John 20:1-9
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.
What exactly do we celebrate on Easter Sunday? In the secular world, we associate Easter with the season of Spring. We have Easter bunnies, Easter chicks, Easter baskets full of colored hardboiled eggs, and children hunting eggs. What do all these things have to do with the biblical account of the resurrection of Jesus?
The answer is, plenty. Spring is a time of new life. We see buds on trees, flowers arising out of the ground, and many animals giving birth. Bunnies, eggs, and chicks symbolize new life. Rabbits are among the most prolific reproducers of all the animal species. One female rabbit and her male partner will produce about 72 rabbits a year or more if left alone. And how about eggs? Eggs symbolize the beginning of all life. All of us came from eggs, not just birds, fish and reptiles. Chicks come from eggs, and grow up to be hens and roosters. Humans and other mammals are conceived and born through the union of egg and sperm. Eggs universally symbolize new life.
Easter celebrates new life. What is new life? In his resurrection, Jesus took on a new existence. As explained in First Corinthians, Saint Paul tells us what is sown as a physical body is resurrected as a spiritual body. Traditionally, Easter was a time for baptism. Baptism encapsulates Holy Week and Easter. In Baptism, we die to sin as we go down into the water, and rise to new life in Jesus as we come up out of the water. In Baptism, we take on a new existence as a member of Christ, a child of God, and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven. I’m really hoping one day we will celebrate a baptism at Easter Vigil to drive home for all of us the connection between Baptism and Easter.
The trials of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate, the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, and the crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus were, indeed, sad and troubling events. But they were the necessary precursor to the joyful Easter we celebrate today. Without cross and grave, there is no Easter. We must go down in the water before we come up out of it.
The Resurrection is the triumph of Jesus over sin and death. Death came to humankind through Adam as the price paid for Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden. Adam brought us death and separated humankind from God. Yet, God did not abandon us. Despite Adam’s sin, God continued to love us. God sent Moses, the lawgiver, and numerous prophets, all in an effort to restore the previous relationship between God and humanity. But humanity kept on sinning, that is, missing the mark, in not meeting the expectations God had of humanity. Finally, God sent Jesus, to once, and for all, to conquer sin and death, and raise us up with Jesus to a new life with God. And that’s what salvation is, new life with God. That new life is what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like in the here and now. Throughout his teaching and preaching during the short time Jesus was on earth, Jesus showed us the dimensions and characteristics of that Kingdom. The task of the Church is to continue that reconciliation of the relationship between God and humanity which Jesus started at Easter with His resurrection and was intended to animate the life of the church and its relationship to the world.
The newness of life that comes with the Resurrection was intended to give us a new life with God. The Resurrection reminds us of the preciousness and value of life itself. The earthly phase of our lives is most precious and all too short. So many of us have so much to accomplish in the time we have to do it. That’s why it’s important to not necessarily work hard and long, but instead, work smart, that is, work productively.
We hear a great deal of criticism of welfare recipients as being on the dole because they’re lazy. Nothing could be further from the truth. To work, to be productive, is an essential element of human dignity. The vast majority of people want to make something out of their lives. Your work defines you as a person. To work is to live, and to live is to work. Yet we denigrate work by measuring its value solely in monetary terms. Students, housewives and househusbands, and retired people who volunteer their time to church and charity, do not earn money for what they do, yet their work has value. Their work contributes to human life. Students discover not only existing, but new, knowledge. Children need care and attention in their formative years. And churches and charities need workers to accomplish their mission despite usually scarce monetary resources.
All of this leads me to think about what new life in Jesus ought to look like in the world around us.
What if our society directed its resources towards building up the Kingdom of God for the overall benefit of the community rather than lining the pockets of a few select individuals to facilitate their luxurious existence? Isn’t that what new life in Christ Jesus looks like?
What if instead of competing amongst each other so that only the fittest survive, we instead cooperate with one another so that all not only survive, but thrive? Isn’t that what new life in Christ Jesus looks like?
So much of the public policy that leads us away from the Kingdom of God is driven by fear, like fear of immigrants, fear of people of color, fear of the indigent. Our conservative sisters and brothers fear that these groups will take away from them what they view as theirs. The Resurrection of Jesus, however, changes all that. In the account of the Resurrection found in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the women who came upon the empty tomb were scared. The angels there responded to their fears, “Do not be terrified.” The Resurrection of Jesus delivered us from anxiety and terror. In the Resurrection, love is openly shown to be stronger than hatred, and life stronger than death. Because Jesus is risen, we need no longer be afraid of any evil or dark force in the entire universe.
On Easter Day, we celebrate the contrast between death and life. Physical bodies can and do die. Spiritual bodies cannot die and do not die. The resurrection began a new form of life for Jesus, one that the forces of evil that killed his physical body cannot kill his spiritual body. Jesus lives. The Resurrection was possible because Jesus was both perfect humanity and perfect God. Jesus died a fully human death, but because Jesus was also divine, Jesus was able to conquer death in the Resurrection.
What this says for us is that what seems like an end may really not be an end after all. Good Friday was not the end of the life of Jesus. While that was a significant event in his history, it was not his endgame. On Easter morning, the evil forces that put Jesus to his earthly death ultimately lost. God won. The Resurrection conquered death. The Resurrection conquered evil. In rising, Jesus showed the devil that he was boss, that Jesus was truly the King of Glory who opened the gates of Hell and freed those held captive by death. Jesus is here to do that for us, too.
On Easter Day, we celebrate freedom from death to enable us to restore the close, intimate relationship humanity once had with God before Adam and Eve shared the apple from the Tree of Life. On Easter Day, we celebrate our freedom from the forces of evil in our lives, like, greed, lust, anger, envy, gluttony, and sloth, known as the seven deadly sins. But those sins, bad as they are, aren’t the biggest sources of evil behavior. The number one sin of the people of Israel was idolatry, and it is the number one sin of people today. Idolatry is putting people, locations and things in place of God. That’s the sin that the prophets called out again and again from the time of Abraham to the time Jesus. We see that even in the Church, which from time to time, and place to place, practices idolatry of the bible, idolatry of the institutional church, and even idolatry of ceremonial, putting all these accoutrements of religion in place of God. The Resurrection, however, leads us away from idolatry and back to God, because the Resurrection, in and of itself, is an incontrovertible statement of God’s power and glory that supplants whatever humanity may think it gains from its idols.
What is it about the Resurrection that leads us away from idolatry once and for all? It is the joythat comes from the Resurrection. Christians have been called an Easter people. We are the only major religion that celebrates a Resurrection, as such. The Jews don’t. The Muslims don’t. The Eastern religions don’t, although some of them believe in reincarnation, but that’s not the same as a dead person becoming alive. That is why the Resurrection is the most important feast of the Church year. All of what we do as Christians in church both leads to, and flows from, the joy of the Resurrection.
Christianity is a joy-filled religion. Joy has been what has made Christianity the most successful religion in the history of the world. Joy started and ended the entire life of Jesus, beginning with the birth of Jesus when the angels proclaimed to the shepherds, “behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy” until his Ascension, when his followers “worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” But Easter is when Christians experience the greatest sensation of joy, because the Resurrection gives us hope that our lives will continue beyond physical death.
The continuation of life beyond death is the message the Resurrection brings home to us at Easter. The new life we experience in celebrating the Resurrection is a preview of our ultimate destination, where will become like God and participate in the divine life of God in fellowship and communion with saints and angels. In the Resurrection, Jesus, the person, shows the unity of his humanity and divinity by his transformation from a physical, human earthly body into a divine and spiritual existence.
Transformation is what we celebrate on Easter Sunday. Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians to transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to the glorious body of Jesus. Yet like the women at the tomb of Jesus on Easter morning, we fear change, we fear the unknown, even when the unknown is a positive future. The idea of a resurrected body, a spiritual body, was as much outside the everyday experience of those women as it is outside ours. But it is that notion of change, of transformation, that underlies the very fact of Easter. The Resurrection is a slap in the face to those whose world is governed by the commandment of, “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” which is not found anywhere in scripture. And nowhere is our discomfort with change more true than when we go through transitions in our lives, where suddenly the ways in which we’ve always done things no longer works.
Our lives are filled with transitions, of adjustments to new realities, where one phase of our existence ends and another begins. We change careers, as Sharon and I have both done, multiple times. We leave one job and take another, as Sharon has done many times. We leave the area where we grew up and move, as I did in 1976 when I moved from the East Coast to the West Coast and Sharon did when she moved from Texas to California in 1993. And our biggest transition was when we were married on April 20, 1996. In each of those cases, one part of our existence ended and another began. Something dies, something else arises.
Behind those transitions, however, are spiritual as well as physical changes. Changing careers, changing jobs, and moving to a new location require us to reorient how we see ourselves, how we go about our lives, and our future vision. Change requires us to expand our realities, to move beyond what is customary for us, to acquire more knowledge, to develop new skills and engage in new behaviors The Resurrection was the message of God to us that we can continue to expect experiences that are beyond our customary level of understanding, that of the purely physical world in our science text books and laboratories. The Resurrection, however, calls us to a new reality, a reality where we are filled with the fullness of God, a reality that brings us closer to experiencing God, whose essence is truly beyond our level of understanding.
The Resurrection of Jesus is ultimately a mystery. It is a reminder that we do not truly understand how God works, and it invites us into closer union with God as we continue to explore what God is, a quest that will never end. Whenever we react to new ideas with, “that’s the way we’ve always done it,” we are telling God, “we don’t really want to get to know you better,” when we really should be saying, “God, tell us more about you.” Jesus came to us for the specific purpose of enabling us to know God better. Jesus did that by taking our humanity upon himself so he could feel what we feel. In the Resurrection, Jesus shows us the possibility of the bright future ahead of us. The Resurrection is a positive statement about our destiny.
The take away from all this is, do not trouble yourself with whether or not Jesus experienced an actual, physical Resurrection. Instead, open yourself to the meaningof Resurrection. Concentrate on what the idea of Resurrection means for you in your situation. Just like the Jesus who died and took on the new identity of a spiritual body in his Resurrection, be open to the possibilities of resurrections throughout your life by allowing some parts of who you are to come to end to be ready to accept new possibilities and new identities. Don’t allow the notion of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” to spoil your life. The very act of the Resurrection declared, “how about we try something new?” What is new for the world will be the complete coming of the Kingdom of God.
As you come to church here at Saint Cecilia’s throughout the rest of the year, you will hear a little bit each week about the Kingdom of God. It will be exciting for you, I assure you, and each week you will leave here dancing with joy. Isn’t that a good reason to come to Mass here every Sunday? AMEN.