Ready for Combat

(Homily for Easter Sunday)

In 1940 a group of archeologist working in Upper Egypt made a spectacular discovery. Tucked away in a monastery they found the text of a document which scholars knew existed, but felt was forever lost. It was an early Easter homily referred to by many Church Fathers. In fact, outside of the New Testament, it is the oldest Easter homily we possess.* When scholars deciphered the text, it turned out to be not just the oldest, but one of the most beautifully written and theologically profound works of early Christianity. One of my theology professors used to say that this homily contains "every essential Christian doctrine." It was written by a man named Melito (meh-LEE-toe). He was bishop of Sardis - one of the seven cities which John refers to in the Book of Revelation. Melito pictured Jesus rising from the tomb and, in a loud voice, issuing this challenge:

“Who will contend against me? Let him stand before me.”

Melito’s vision of the Risen Lord helps correct a modern misconception about the Resurrection. We sometimes think of Easter as the final chapter of Jesus career, like a man receiving a gold watch upon retirement. Nothing could be further from the truth. The resurrection is not so much the last word as the opening line of a whole new story.

In his movie The Passion of the Christ Mel Gibson had a brief, but powerful depiction of the resurrection. I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone who has not yet seen it, but I can say this: Gibson has an understanding very similar to that of Melito - the Risen Jesus is ready for combat. As he opens his eyes, he clearly possesses his full humanity. On his right hand we see the nail wound. With a determined look, Jesus stands and takes a firm step.

Our Easter Sunday Psalm says, “The right hand of the LORD has struck with power.” Melito tells us that by his death and resurrection, Jesus has:

· triumphed over the enemy
· trod down Hades,
· bound the Strong Man,
· snatched mankind up to the heights of heaven.

Jesus then makes an invitation: “Come here, all you families of men, weighed down by your sins and receive pardon for your misdeeds.”

In today’s first reading, St. Peter refers to Jesus as judge not only of those who have died, but of us still who are still alive. As judge he is stern with those who seek to shift the blame. At the same time he offers clemency and assistance to those who approach him. Although he possess immense power, we do not need to fear him. He says to us:

“I am your pardon.
I am the Passover which brings salvation.
I am the Lamb slain for you.
I am your lustral bath.
I am your life.”


*In recent years there has been a renewed interest in what the early Christians believed about Jesus. In order to find out how they understood his death and resurrection, his humanity and divinity; we must read their actual writings. Melito's Easter Homily is a good place to start. In 1940 the actual text was discovered in a monastery in Upper Egypt. One of my theology professors used to say, "Everything essential to the Christian faith can be found in Melito's Peri Pascha." Here is a selection:

You must understand, dearly beloved, how the mystery of the Pasch is new and old, eternal and transient, corruptible and incorruptible, mortal and immortal.

It is old according to the law, but new according to the Word. It is transient in its prototype, but eternal in grace. It is corruptible in the immolation of the sheep, but incorruptible in the life of the Lord. It is mortal because of his burial in the earth, but immortal because of his resurrection from the dead.

The law is old, but the Word new; the prototype is transient, but grace eternal; the sheep is corruptible, the Lord incorruptible, who was sacrificed as a lamb, but rose as God.

He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, but he was not a sheep; he was as a lamb without voice, but he was not a lamb. The figure has passed away, the reality has come; it is God who has come in place of the lamb, man in place of the sheep, and in the man is Christ, who contains all things.

So the immolation of the sheep, and the solemn rite of the Pasch, and the letter of the law have come to accomplishment in Christ Jesus. Everything is the old law, and more particularly everything in the new, was directed towards him.

For the law has become the Word and the old new (each coming from Sion and Jerusalem); the commandment has become grace, and the type reality, the lamb has become Son, the sheep a man, and man has become God.

Through Jesus, he became flesh; he suffered for those who were suffering, he was bound for the captive, judged for the condemned, buried for the one who was buried; he rose from the dead and cried out: ‘Who shall contend with me? Let him stand up to face me. I have freed the condemned, brought the dead to life, raised up the buried. Who will speak against me?’ ‘I am the Christ’, he says, ‘It is I who destroyed death, who triumphed over the enemy, who trampled Hades underfoot, who bound the strong one and snatched man away to the heights of heaven; I am the Christ.’

‘Come then, all you nations of men defiled by sin, receive the forgiveness of sin. For it is I who am your forgiveness, the Pasch of your salvation, the lamb slain for you; it is I who am your ransom, your life, your resurrection, your light, your salvation, your king. I am bringing you to the heights of heaven, I will show you the Father who is from all eternity, I will raise you up with my right hand.’

Other fragments of Melito's writings are available online. For further study, see also: A Completely Different Reading of Melito’s Peri Pascha

Spanish Version

From Archives (Easter homilies):

2011: Seek What Is Above
2010: Forgiven
2009: Eternal Life Begins Now
2008: His Will Is Our Peace
2007: I Have Been Baptized
2006: Peering into the Tomb
2005: Transformation
2004: Ready for Combat
2003: Something To Live For
2002: The Weakest Link
2001: A New Identity
2000: Born Again!
1999: Why I Believe

Easter Vigil Homily 1998: "At the entrance was something like a small swimming pool with three steps leading down one side and three steps leading up the other. At the Easter vigil they were led into the pool. The priest asked..."

The Meaning of the Resurrection: "Forgiveness is the one new thing that has entered the world. Without forgiveness human history is bleak. Frederick Nietzsche the philosopher who stated 'God is dead,' thought the driving force of history is resentment..."

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

One of our neighboring pastors, Rev. Gary Jensen of Shorewood Lutheran has written a nice pamphlet on the Evidence for Jesus' Historical Resurrection

Bulletin (Divine Mercy Sunday, Joint Council Meeting, Mark Shea Books & Tapes)


Speaking of combat, here is Catholic Light's take on Kerry: Communion from Protestants, not Catholics

Oswald Sobrino analyzes an Erroneous Premise

Meanwhile Liberal Larry wonders if Kerry might be the The First Black Pope?

Letter from Soldier in Iraq

Plea from Iraqi Catholic Priest

The Da Vinci Fallacy: Interview With Columnist and Author Amy Welborn

The Catholic Mystique

St. Mary of the Valley Album

my bulletin column

Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith - Presentation for Monroe Christian Pastor. (For pdf format click here)

Background for presentation on "Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith": High School Course – World Civilization - Section on origins of Christianity. (For pdf format click here)

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WYD Fund Raiser at Hacienda Restaurant