ACTS 10:34a, 37-43; COL 3:1-4; JOHN 20:1-9
Homily starter anecdote: The phoenix bird: The late Catholic Archbishop of Hartford, John Whealon, (died on August 2, 1991), had undergone cancer surgery resulting in a permanent colostomy when he wrote these very personal words in one of his last Easter messages: "I am now a member of an association of people who have been wounded by cancer. That association has as its symbol the phoenix, a bird of Egyptian mythology. The Greek poet Hesiod, who lived eight centuries before Jesus was born, wrote about this legendary bird in his poetry. When the bird felt its death was near (every 500 to 1,461 years), it would fly off to Phoenicia, build a nest of aromatic wood and set itself on fire. When the bird was consumed by the flames, a new phoenix sprang forth from the ashes. Thus, the phoenix symbolizes immortality, resurrection, and life after death. It sums up the Easter message perfectly. Jesus gave up His life, and from the grave He was raised to life again on the third day. New life rises from the ashes of death. Today we are celebrating Christ's victory over the grave, the gift of eternal life for all who believe in Jesus. That is why the phoenix was one of the earliest symbols of the Risen Christ. The phoenix also symbolizes our daily rising to new life. Every day, like the phoenix, we rise from the ashes of sin and guilt and are refreshed and renewed by our living Lord and Savior with His forgiveness and the assurance that He still loves us and will continue to give us the strength we need." Archbishop John Whealon could have lived in a gloomy tomb of self-pity, hopeless defeat, and chronic sadness, but his Faith in the Risen Lord opened his eyes to new visions of life.
Introduction: Significance of Easter: Easter is the greatest and the most important feast in the Church. It marks the birthday of our eternal hope. "Easter" literally means "the feast of fresh flowers." We celebrate it with pride and jubilation for three reasons:
1) The Resurrection of Christ is the basis of our Christian Faith, for it proves that Jesus is God. That is why St. Paul writes: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain; and your Faith is in vain… And if Christ has not been raised, then your Faith is a delusion and you are still lost in your sins… But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor 15:14, 17, 20). In the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our Faith in Christ, a Faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross..." (CCC # 638). If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then the Church is a fraud and Faith is a sham. But if Jesus really did rise from the dead, his message is true! Without the Resurrection, Jesus would have remained forever a good person who had met a tragic end. People would remember some of his teachings, and a handful of people might try to live according to them. All the basic doctrines of Christianity are founded on the truth of the Resurrection. “Jesus is Lord; He is risen!” (Rom 10:9) was the central theme of the kerygma (or "preaching"), of the apostles. There is a story of two women who stood before Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. One asked, "Why can't we build structures like this anymore?" Her friend answered, "The people who built this had Faith. Today we have only opinions. And you can't build a cathedral with opinions."
2) Easter is the guarantee of our own resurrection. Jesus assured Martha at the tomb of Lazarus: “I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in Me will live even though he dies” (Jn 11:25-26). Christ will raise us up on the last day, but it is also true, in a sense, that we have already risen with Christ. By virtue of the Holy Spirit, our Christian life is already a participation in the death and Resurrection of Christ (CCC #1002, #1003).
3) Easter is a feast which gives us hope and encouragement in this world of pain, sorrows, and tears. It reminds us that life is worth living. It is our belief in the Real Presence of the Risen Jesus in our souls, in His Church, in the Blessed Sacrament, and in Heaven that gives meaning to our personal, as well as to our common, prayers. Our trust in the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord gives us strength to fight against temptations and freedom from unnecessary worries and fears. The prayer of St. Patrick, the Apostle of Ireland, reads: “Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ within me, never to part.”
Reasons why we believe in the Resurrection of Jesus: (a) Jesus himself testified to his Resurrection from the dead (Mark 8:31; Matthew 17:22; Luke 9:22). (b) The tomb was empty on Easter Sunday (Luke 24:3). Although the guards claimed (Matthew 28:13) that the disciples of Jesus had stolen the body, every sensible Jew knew that it was impossible for the terrified disciples of Jesus to steal the body of Jesus from a tomb guarded by a 16-member team of armed Roman soldiers. (c) The initial disbelief of Jesus’ own disciples in his Resurrection, in spite of his repeated apparitions. This serves as a strong proof of his Resurrection. It explains why the apostles started preaching the resurrected Christ only after receiving the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. (d) The transformation of Jesus’ disciples: The disciples of Jesus were almost immediately transformed from men who were hopeless and fearful after the crucifixion (Luke 24:21, John 20:19) into men who were confident and bold witnesses of the Resurrection (Acts 2:24, 3:15, 4:2). (e) The Jews and the Romans could not disprove Jesus’ Resurrection by presenting the dead body of Jesus. f) The apostles and early Christians would not have faced martyrdom if they were not absolutely sure of Jesus’ Resurrection. (g) The Apostle Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of Christians into a zealous apostle, preaching the Good News of Jesus throughout much of the Gentile world supports the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection (Galatians 1:11-17, Acts 9:1, Acts 9:24-25, Acts 26:15-18). (h) The sheer existence of a thriving, empire-conquering early Christian Church, bravely facing three centuries of persecution, supports the truth of the Resurrection claim. (i) The New Testament witnesses do not bear the stamp of dupes or deceivers. The apostles and the early Christians were absolutely sure about the Resurrection of Jesus.
Exegesis: The Resurrection of Jesus had certain special features. First, Jesus prophesied it as a sign of His Divinity: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”(Jn 2:19).. Second, the founder of no other religion has an empty tomb as Jesus has. We see the fulfillment of Christ's promise on the empty cross and in the empty tomb. The angel said to the women at Jesus’ tomb: “Why are you looking among the dead for One Who is alive? He is not here but has risen” (Luke 24:5-6). The real proof, however, is not the empty tomb but the lives of believers filled with His Spirit today! The third special feature is the initial disbelief of Jesus’ own disciples in his Resurrection, in spite of his repeated apparitions. This serves as a strong proof of his Resurrection. It explains why the apostles started preaching the Risen Christ only after receiving the anointing of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Proclamation and witness-bearing are the main themes of today’s readings. In the first reading, St. Peter shares his own experience of Christ’s Resurrection and its joy with the members of the pagan Cornelius’ family who received the Holy Spirit as he spoke and then were baptized. In the second reading, St. Paul, bearing witness to his conversion experience and Faith in the risen Lord, reminds the Colossians, “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God! When Christ your Life, appears, then you, too, will appear with Him in glory.” Today’s Gospel explains the empty-tomb Resurrection experience of Mary Magdalene, Peter and John. Mary Magdalene proclaims her personal experience: “I have seen the Lord.”
Life messages: 1) We are to be Resurrection people: Easter, the feast of the Resurrection, gives us the joyful message that we are a “Resurrection people.” This means that we are not supposed to lie buried in the tomb of our sins, evil habits, and dangerous addictions. It gives us the Good News that no tomb can hold us down anymore - not the tomb of despair, discouragement, doubt or death itself. Instead, we are expected to live a joyful and peaceful life, constantly experiencing the real presence of the Risen Lord in all the events of our lives. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad” (Psalm 118:24).
2) We need to seek our peace and joy in the Risen Jesus: The living presence of the Risen Lord gives us lasting peace and celestial joy in the face of the boredom, suffering, pain, and tensions of our day-to-day life. “Peace be with you!” was Jesus’ salutation to his disciples at all post-Resurrection appearances. For the true Christian, every day must be an Easter Day lived joyfully in the close company of the Risen Lord.
3) We are to be transparent Christians: We are called to be transparent Christians, showing others, through our lives of love, mercy, compassion and self-sacrificing service, that the Risen Jesus is living in our hearts.
4) We need to live new, disciplined lives in the Risen Jesus: Our awareness of the all-pervading presence of the Risen Lord in and around us, and the strong conviction of our own coming resurrection, help us control our thoughts, desires, words and behavior. This salutary thought inspires us to honor our bodies, keeping them holy, pure and free from evil habits and addictions. Our conviction about the presence of the Risen Lord in our neighbors, and in all those with whom we come into contact, should encourage us to respect them and to render them loving, humble and selfless service.
5) We need to remember Easter in our Good Fridays: Easter reminds us that every Good Friday in our lives will have an Easter Sunday, and that Jesus will let us share the power of his Resurrection. Each time we display our love of others, we share in the Resurrection. Each time we face a betrayal of trust and, with God’s grace, forgive the betrayer, we share in the Resurrection of Jesus. Each time we fail in our attempts to ward off temptations – but keep on trying to overcome them – we share in the Resurrection. Each time we continue to hope – even when our hope seems unanswered – we share in the power of Jesus’ Resurrection. In short, the message of Easter is that nothing can destroy us – not pain, sin, rejection, betrayal or death – because Christ has conquered all these, and we, too, can conquer them if we put our Faith and trust in Him.
6) We are to be bearers of the Good News of Resurrection power. Resurrection is Good News, but at the same time, it’s sometimes painful because it involves death. Before the power of the Resurrection can take hold in our own lives, we’re called to die to sin, to die to self. We may even have to die to our own dreams, so that God can do what He wants to do with our lives. Resurrection is about seeing our world in a new way. Early that Easter morning, Mary did not find what she was looking for, the dead body of Jesus. But she found something better than she could have imagined: The Risen Jesus. Sometimes, the things we think we want most are not granted to us. What we get instead is an experience of God’s new ways of working in the world. That’s the power of the Resurrection. When those moments come, we must spread the news--just as Mary did: We have seen the Lord! (Fr. Antony Kadavil, chaplain, Sacred heart Residence of the Little Sisters if the Poor, Mobile, Alabama, U.S.A.) (Fr. Antony Kadavil)