HOMILY EASTER VIGIL/SUNDAY YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
JESUS IS RISEN; HE LIVES!
Mt 28.1-10 AA 10.37-43 1Cor 5.6-8
Easter is upon us once again, and we gather in faith as those professing to believe Jesus’ spirit continues to be with us, inspiring and guiding us along our paths of life. The Easter eggs, bunnies and bilbies abound, even white and brown chocolate paschal lambs, all not too helpful to our dental health, for those who still have their teeth!! Not to forget the hot cross buns, available since just about Boxing Day!
The symbolism of the egg is apt, as it suggests new life is coming, just awaiting for the shell to crack and the chicken to emerge, or whatever else develops in eggs. The ancient pagan fertility festivals were overtaken by Christians, who had the wisdom to adapt and transform the ancient celebrations, but in a way that the party could go on, with a more purposeful meaning, as Christianity grew in popularity and adherence, advocating a more civilized, tolerant and inclusive approach to living life well, with a faith perspective.
This occurred in a cruel and capricious world, where life was cheap, described as ‘short, sharp and brutish’ by some, and ‘dog eat dog’ was almost the life philosophy of many thinkers, critical of what they might have seen as softness in the face of tough times. In some ways, this can still be seen as a cruel world, when we consider ongoing human intolerance and violence, complemented by the many, often inevitable, natural disasters. The problem of evil endures, unfortunately, and sometimes the tendency to misinterpret the message of Jesus is used as a cause for division and exclusion, when it is exactly the opposite! The term religious war should be an obvious oxymoron, a total contradiction in terms, and yet there have been, and continue to be, so many, it’s almost unbelievable.
Despite its origins and the cruel human ending in death, of its founder Jesus, it was clear that in harsh times, his teaching was the basis for living a better life, and doing something effective to improve the lives of others, by applying his fundamental law of love, in all of its dimensions.
The sense of initial disbelief, but then relief and joy which comes with Easter, after the darkness overshadowing the drama and injustice of the 3 previous days, provides us with much material for thought and reflection. Given the tragedy and injustice of it all, how could there have been such a sudden change of events? The Gospel accounts differ in detail, but there is a consistency in the realization of the empty tomb, and soon, the experiences of the disciples, not just the apostles, that he really had risen. His appearance was different, such that it took time to realize that it was truly Jesus, and not an imposter, or a shadowy figment of the imagination.
And it is the faithful women to the fore, as had been the case along the Way of the Cross, and then the Crucifixion, as they come to the empty tomb, and go away their spirits transformed from fear and grief, to joy, with a sense of mission to tell the others, such that they are designated as ‘apostles to the apostles’, as the Good News spreads.
We continue to recognize him in the breaking of the bread and in his word, as well as in each other, as doubting, but honest Thomas acknowledges Jesus’ risen presence, as do the disappointed disciples on the Road to Emmaus eventually realize, who then do the turnaround and head back to the action, in spreading the Good News that Jesus lives.
Obviously, this mystery of faith goes far beyond the realm of science, which seeks answers to how empirical reality is, and at which it continues to be very successful, but faith seeking understanding delves into the question of why we are here, and what life is all about, from a spiritual perspective. The Easter story helps fill that gap.
I now take the liberty of citing George Browning, a retired Anglican bishop, who points to the Easter message suggesting how we all wish for: “A world in which all experience the freedom to live with opportunity to thrive, where trust and respect is normal, greed and exclusion an aberration… There is only one route that leads to harmony, justice, wellbeing, life in all its fullness and that is the way of service, putting the other first – sacrifice – the way of the cross.” But this can be counter-intuitive! Christianity challenges us to look beyond self and narrow, selfish ambitions: “Both God and humanity are on the cross… Christianity requires you to think humility, think emptying, think generosity, think forgiveness,, thing service. Equally, whatever thought you may have of humanity at its best, think the same.”
Once more, the enduring spirit of Christmas peace and good will is echoed at Easter, as at the heart of Jesus’ message. We can have different opinions and be critical, but respectful, without being hostile or vindictive.
Jesus sets the tone, even from the Cross, where he expresses forgiveness for all, despite what they have done to bring about his death. It’s a tough example to follow, but there’s the challenge for you and me.
I conclude with a story, which, to my mind, echoes the spirit of Easter hope and new life: “Rain Before Rainbows” (by Smriti Halls and David Litchfield). (The introduction even quotes Psalm 30.5 – ‘Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning’!)
As Easter people gathered in faith, hope and love, we commit ourselves to continue living as faithful disciples, following the way of Jesus along the twisting and turning paths of our lives, in a spirit of joy and celebration, but don’t overdo the Easter eggs and chocolate!
A Happy Easter to all. Buona Pasqua a tutti. Joyeuses Paques a tous, Vesele Velikonoce, Felices Pasquas, Feliz Pascoa, Frohe Ostern, Christos Anesti (Alithos Anesti) or Kalo Pascha.
john hannon 7th-8th April 2023