Some of you probably tuned into Sacred Heart Radio yesterday and listened to the Easter Vigil Mass celebrated at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. This was the first time in 26 years it was not celebrated by Pope John Paul. The Church of course continues even when the pope is ill. We are like a family when the father becomes ill. The other members have to rally. The Cardinal who celebrated the Mass gave a fine homily. Speaking about Jesus’ Resurrection he noted that it was the central and the greatest historical event and at the same time is our hope for the future. Nevertheless, the Resurrection is more than event which we remember and a hope which we look forward to; it takes place right now. He then referred to the adults who were about to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. They would experience the death and resurrection of Christ in the Easter Sacraments – baptism, confirmation and Eucharist.
An ancient legend illustrates the power of Christ's death and resurrection. It tells about a monk who discovered the crown of thorns that had been pressed on Jesus’ head. Covered with blood, it was a horrible sight. The monk took it with care and placed it on the side altar of a church. The people glanced at it, and then turned away. It reminded them of the ugliness and cruelty of sin, their own sins. The crown of thorns remained there until Easter morning, when the monk, with sunrise, made his way into the church. He thought that the bloody reminder of Christ’s passion would be out of place and that he should remove it. As he approached the altar, he detected a strange fragrance. The sun was so bright that at first he could not tell what had happened. The sun had centered its rays on the sharp thorns. From them emerged roses of rare beauty and a most pleasing fragrance.
That little story captures something of the transformation of Easter. As we heard in this morning’s readings, Jesus’ resurrection changes the shame of sin into forgiveness, the paralysis of despair into hope.
A man who made a remarkable journey from despair to hope was the famous actor and producer, Mel Gibson. From a very limited perspective like mine, and probably yours as well, it seems like he had very little to complain about. His successful acting career had made him millions of dollars. Thousand of fans adored him and hung on his words. He had a very nice family. Nevertheless, he felt empty, miserable. He approached his father, but like many men did not want to talk directly about his own feelings, what he was experiencing. So he asked his dad, “Do you think there is any situation without hope?”
He dad responded, “No, Jesus Christ has died for us – and he is risen from the dead. In this life there can be no situation beyond hope.” From that point, Mel Gibson began to investigate the faith in which he had been raised. Eventually he produced a film, The Passion of the Christ as a testimony to that faith – and hope.*
On Easter Sunday Jesus invites us to renew our faith and hope in him. For a number of people in our congregation, Easter is the climax of a long journey. At the Easter Vigil we baptized or received into the Church some forty new members. Last fall they began a formal process called the Catechumenate in which they learned about Jesus’ teachings and how to live them in their own lives. For many other people, this Lent has been a process of renewal which involved prayer, confession of sins and sacrifice.
A college girl told me about her Lenten penance which I want to share with you because it illustrates something about Easter. For Lent she gave up bread. Now, that might not seem like much, but it was her favorite food – and unless one has given it up, you do not realize how much a part of everyday diet it is. After the forty plus days of Lent, she hungered for bread. Early on Easter morning, she placed a loaf in the oven. She cut herself a slice of the warm bread – no butter, no jam or any other topping. It was the most delicious meal.
Well, probably some of you are thinking about a warm slice of bread and will not hear any more of my homily. But my point here is a simple one. She had offered a sacrifice to Jesus – and even on a very human level she experiences something of joy of Easter. It is a beautiful thing to have prepared and sacrificed for this day.
Nevertheless, this morning I want to let you in on a secret. Even if you have done nothing to prepare for it, Jesus wants you to share his joy this morning. A fourth century Christian said it better than I could. I would like to conclude with a quote from the Easter sermon of St. John Chrysostom:
Are there any weary with fasting? Let them now receive their wages! If any have toiled from the first hour, let them receive their due reward; If any have come after the third hour, let him with gratitude join in the Feast! And he that arrived after the sixth hour, let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss. And if any delayed until the ninth hour, let him not hesitate; but let him come too. And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour, let him not be afraid by reason of his delay. For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, as well as to him that toiled from the first. To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows. He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor. The deed He honors and the intention He commends. Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord! First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together! Sober and slothful, celebrate the day! You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
*The source of this account is Fr. John Bartunek, LC, who served as a consultant to the film and who has written a book titled Inside the Passion (“ the most complete and thorough commentary on the movie you will read.”)
From Archives (Easter homilies):
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..."
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 ("When we awaken from this queasy nightmare, people will ask how it could have been that a court could post a police officer by the bedside to insure that a dying woman succumbed to a ghastly death by thirst.")
Letter to Dr. Leroy Hood
Good Friday Service at Institute for Systems Biology
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