My Friends in Christ,
Let me begin this morning by stating the obvious. This is an Easter Sunday like no other. It’s been a Holy Week like no other. And we can pray that there will never be another like it. But I think we should also pray in thanksgiving because, amid all the challenges and uncertainties, grace has been flowing during these days. So many of you have mentioned this to me in the telephone and email conversations we’ve had. God’s grace never stops flowing and often in surprising and unexpected ways!
But I wonder whether you are experiencing the same thing as I am these days. I’m not talking about cabin fever, or feelings of isolation, or anxieties about the future. I suppose we all have those to some degree. No, I’m talking about the difficulty I’m having when it comes to distinguishing the virtual from the real. More and more these days – thanks to the wonders of technology - we are living our lives in the world of the virtual, not the real – and I’m at the point where I’m starting to confuse the two. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked myself: did I see her in person or was it in one of those necessary but less than completely satisfactory ZOOM or Go To meetings? Did I actually see the Archbishop at the Cathedral or was he just streaming Mass online? Sometimes I’m not sure. In some ways, the virtual seems to have become the new real!
But, my friends, I’m here to tell you that the Easter event we are gathered around our computers, phones, and laptops to celebrate this morning is, in every sense of the word, real. It is not virtual! Christ is risen from the dead; Christ has overcome the power of death, shaken off the grip of death. Christ lives. He lives for us and he lives with us, and because he lives, we live!
Easter is all about life, and
about life - the new and boundless life Christ has made possible by his victory over death, the life that is already ours in the abundant sacramental life of the Church, and that will one day completely overflow in us when the risen and glorious Christ raises our mortal bodies and makes them like his own in glory.
Now, I know that, for some, if they give a thought to the Resurrection of Jesus at all, it is not real. I won’t say it’s virtual, but it’s metaphorical, and certainly not an actual event in human history. For them, Easter is a metaphor for the triumph of good over evil, of life over death; or it’s a poetic way of saying that Jesus and his teachings are timeless and enduring, or that his disciples, after he died and was buried, came to know him in a new way. But, my friends, we have not tuned in this Easter morning to celebrate a metaphor. And the pain we are feeling at not being able to be in our beautiful Cathedral, the pain we feel at being separated from our community of faith, is in no sense metaphorical. It is real. We are celebrating Easter this morning because we believe - or we are struggling to believe - the astonishingly good news proclaimed by the angel at the tomb to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary early on that first Easter morning:
“Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here for he has been raised just as he said.”
We need, my friends, on
Easter day – perhaps more than on any other - to hear that amazing news the way those women heard it. We do. We need to hear it and be comforted by it. We need to hear the words
“Do not be afraid,”
because, let’s be honest, many of us are afraid. The world seems to have spun out of control: people are sick, people are dying in unprecedented numbers, people are out of work, people are losing hope. We look for reassurance and it’s hard to find, we long for straight talk from our leaders and don’t always get it, and so many of our old certainties have been turned upside-down. So, yes we do need to hear those words,
“Do not be afraid.”
And we also need to hear the words,
“You are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here for he has been raised.”
We need to hear those words this morning and to be set on fire by them, jolted by them as if by an electrical charge. The message those women received – that Jesus was risen – is gospel – it’s Good News - the greatest news of all time, greater even than the “glad tidings of great joy” proclaimed one night by angels to shepherds on Bethlehem’s hillside, for in raising Jesus from the dead God was not only intervening in human history, God was transforming human history. God was making all things new!
And isn’t that a message we need to hear in the midst of this global pandemic? That God is capable of transforming human history. That God is not only capable of transforming human history, God
transforming human history and, of course, transforming us in the process. Isn’t that what we are experiencing during these days? We may have thought that the world was somehow ours to tame and control, but we have been rudely reminded that it is not. Even so, transformation is taking place within us if we are at all sensitive to what is going on around us.
I’m certainly experiencing that. I’m not quite the same person I was before all this came upon us and I suspect you are not, either. Some of us – I would hope many of us – are beginning to live our lives at a deeper level: we are growing more grateful for little things like the smile on another’s face, the playfulness of a child, the blossoms on a tree, the kindness of a neighbor, the courage of a nurse or doctor. Even the sadness we feel at being separated from our community of faith, and the hunger we feel for the Eucharist is its own kind of transformation. I don’t think, after this experience, that we will ever look at the Eucharist in quite the same way. Would you agree?
So, yes, transformation is going on. God is making new things happen – good things among the bad - and if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we are getting it. We are getting transformed, and that’s a sharing in the Resurrection of Christ!
My friends in Christ, the Resurrection of Christ is real and we need to hold onto that belief against some pretty bruising odds, some powerful storms – including the present storm we are all living through. We need to hear again and again the reassuring words,
“Do not be afraid,”
and no matter what challenges we face, we need to be reminded that we are not alone. We are part of a great community of faith, the Church – a community that is, I am hoping, even more important to us now than it was when we first began dealing with the coronavirus. We are part of a great community of faith, a faith that gets its meaning, its foundation, its fire from Christ - the risen one whose triumph over death is our triumph, too.
May the flame of faith consume our fears, bring light to our darkness, and burn so brightly within us that everyone will know beyond a doubt that Christ
risen. Risen indeed. Alleluia! Happy Easter!
Father Michael G. Ryan