EASTER CHANGES EVERYTHING!
Catholic Homily/ Sunday Reflections/ Sunday Worship Guide EASTER SUNDAY (B) April 12, 2009
There is no skirting around it. There is a big jump from Good Friday to Easter Sunday – a big divide, a giant traverse, a monumental leap. And I don’t refer to the utter silence and dignified sorrow of Black Saturday in contrast to the subdued joys of Easter that, for many people, have been reduced to anemic “happy Easter” greetings and not-very-exciting Easter egg hunts, for whatever they are worth. Neither do I refer only to the fact that the resurrection has to do essentially with life flowing from death; victory from defeat, laughter and joy from the depths of ignominy and shame, and light issuing forth from darkness. Easter Sunday is all this … and a whole lot more!
In popular religiosity-prone Filipino culture, Easter Sunday does not seem to be the high-point of the Paschal Triduum. The popular “pabasa” is (a two-day long reading or singing of the popular version of the Passion account – a literary work introduced two centuries before). The long-winded procession is, too, especially on Good Friday, replete with life-size statues and representations of scenes and personages in the Passion accounts of the gospels. So, too, in recent years, is the popular Holy Week “get-away” – the beaches, the boondocks up north or down south – just about any place far from the madding crowd, far from the stifling heat, far from the enervating noise of city and commercial places.
But no matter the big jump from Friday to Sunday, Easter as the holiest time of the year, simply falls flat on its face in many a place all over the world. The drama, the color, and the pathos attached to Holy Thursday and Good Friday, have all but eaten up what little energy there is left for us to figuratively “roll out the tombstone” of our culturally bland Easter Sunday celebrations.
We need to allow the Scriptural readings to speak to us of how big a jump there really is from Friday to Sunday. First of all, Easter Sunday is a story of dramatic changes. For one, the first reading (Acts 10:34a,37-43) would have us see a dramatically changed Peter. From a coward who betrayed the Lord three times, we see and hear a courageous and highly spirited preacher of good news. “He commissioned us to preach to all people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.” I can see no better example of a total turn-around than what Peter shows us today.
Secondly, the readings today are overflowing not just with joy, but with enthusiasm. The psalmist is quoted to give an idea of this outburst of joy: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” All this, is in marked contrast to the plaintive cry just two days ago: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Thirdly, something more than just leaven rises in the hearts of Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 5:6b-8). “Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Fourth, and most importantly, we see dramatic excitement in the gospel account. We see dutiful early-risers like Mary of Magdala, who, despite their grief, lost no time in doing what they could not do all through the Sabbath day of rest. It was still dark, John takes pains to tell us. The stone was rolled away. From the moment she saw it, life became an instant marathon for the excited disciples and followers of the Lord. Runners and sprinters, not excluding the old Peter who was not meant to be making mad dashes for any finish line, could not allow himself to be outrun by anybody else – definitely not by Mary of Magdala, although she must have run a good, perspiration soaked mile – no, not even, by the much younger disciple John, but who, though he arrived ahead, knew better than to go in ahead of Peter whose words of denial had run much faster than his feet were able to bring him to where the emerging source of excitement was – the empty tomb! More excitement was in the offing.
The burial cloths were there, though the body was not there. Excitement turned to realization. They realized the body could not have been transferred, for if they did, the cloths would have been taken along with the body. The body could not have been stolen, for if it were, they would have disposed of the cloths in some way. Realization paved the way to conviction. What they saw was not just an empty tomb. What they saw was dramatic fulfillment of what he had always been saying – sayings that for their obscurity then “they did not understand as of yet.” But John was definite about it: “he saw and believed.” Conviction was transformed to proclamation. The Easter Sunday marathon was on! They ran some more and the news spread far and wide. And the disciples’ running hither and thither, was not exactly like Forrest Gump’s aimless running just for the sake of running. It was the first “run for a cause” in recorded history. And the cause was simply this: “He is risen! … The Lord has indeed risen, alleluia. Glory and kingship be his forever and ever” (Entrance Antiphon).
Michael Ball, of Broadway fame, popularized the song “love changes everything.” When love enters into one’s life, “life will never, never be the same again.” I certainly would not want to take away from him what I am also myself convinced of. But there is something else that is worthy of such a generalization and such a glorious proclamation. And that something else has to do with what sent disciples scampering and running around, not for dear life, but for great news that means life for all – life in all its fullness. It is that which sent Mary of Magdala on a sprint run. It is that which made the aging Peter much younger for his years, and what sent him on a roll. It is the same thing that keeps the Church ever young, ever hopeful, ever dynamic and ever on the move. It is the great news that brings us to Church today, that keeps us on our toes not for fear, but for joy and gladness. It is the same joy and gladness that led John Chrysostom to write:
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown.
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns.
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
Repetitive? …. Not exactly … for joy and great news thrive best on repetition. People who have seen life., people who have been dealt hard blows by life which sometimes is not fair, people who have suffered, people like us who have seen first hand, and felt first hand what it means to struggle through difficulties and trials, through thick and thin, through “sorrows passing number,” people who have walked in the valleys and shadows of death, could use some great news to buoy themselves up when Calvary and the Cross is all they seem to see. And Easter Sunday of the Lord’s resurrection is the ultimate guarantee that heroism is what we are called to, that champions is what we all can become, in this great marathon called life. Last thing I heard, from the runners and participants in the race, from people like Mary, Peter, John, Andrew, James, Philip, Paul, Lorenzo Ruiz and thousands and thousands of others, is simply this. Christ has reached the finish line. Christ is risen, and he holds the torch of victory for us, waiting for our chance to reach the finish line. All because of Easter … all because of that dramatic morning of excited runners … all because they found immense meaning in the empty tomb and bore witness to it. Frederica Matthewes-Green, whom I am reading these days, could not have put it better: “Easter didn’t change anything. Easter changes everything.” And if I may borrow Michael Ball’s final line in his beautiful song, Easter means “life will never, never be the same again.” Happy Easter to all!