Easter Vigil & Easter Sunday
20 & 21 April 2019
Gospel: Luke 24:1-12
[Note: One very limited part in brackets was delivered only at the Easter Vigil Mass]
God’s action is not limited only to times past. Our faith is that God offers us salvation too. Our observance of Easter reminds us [through the abundant selection of Scripture at this Vigil] of what God has already done so generously and it should cause us to think of what God is doing now to offer us new life. Considering the history of how God’s people turned to Him and lived with Him, versus the times they turned away and lived apart, should make us consider the same dynamic in our own lives. Knowing our own salvation story reveals to us just how much ongoing, regular, renewal and recommitment we need as disciples of Jesus.
We have now completed our Lenten journey begun many weeks ago. Lent serves us as a time to identify the cross we must carry in order to follow the path of Jesus toward his Kingdom. Where by faith and baptism we once died to self and rose to new life in Christ, we find periods of life where we refuse to deny ourselves, as if we are fighting to take back the old life we gave up. In the many ways we do not pick up the cross, the ways we sin, we see before us the project of each Lent, namely to deny ourselves, to die to self, in order that with greater fidelity we pick up the cross and follow the path of the Master before us….sort of like dragging our crosses in the way of the rut already carved by Jesus’ Cross before us.
Do we need regular renewal and recommitment in our life as disciples? You bet we do! If you aren’t convinced the answer is “yes,” let me ask you: at any point this Lent did you struggle and fail with the Lenten practices you yourself chose? And let’s drill deeper, did any challenge and refusal to deny yourself happen within a week’s time span? Often we plan some spiritual practices and sacrifices and a week passes and we haven’t made much progress. We get going and we are doing well, and then suddenly we cave and choose our own ego and refuse dying to self. Lent is our annual season of serious renewal. But the Church, recognizing how much struggle there can be in our spiritual life even within a week’s period, tells us we need more than just once a year renewal, rather we need weekly renewal by attendance each Sunday at Holy Mass where we experience a small Easter, a renewal in God’s word, a call to deeper conversion, and a preparation to receive worthily the Lord’s gift of self in Holy Communion.
On Holy Thursday we heard St. John’s account of the last supper. There the apostles who had already long ago decided to follow Jesus faltered. Judas was ready to betray. Peter refused Jesus’ action and said, “You will never wash my feet.” In the Gospel passage at this Mass we hear that these same apostles thought the message from the women of Jesus’ resurrection was nonsense and they did not believe. Peter goes to at least check out the tomb, but goes home amazed, as if to say, “What is going on here?” Do you and I need regular renewal as disciples? You bet we do! These towering figures of the Bible sure did. Let’s not be naïve: What we do here to renew our life today needs to be repeated time and time again so that our commitment to the Lord is more authentic.
Sometimes without much critical thought and quite reflexively we easily state that we are Christians in the way Jesus says we should be. But a broader view might reveal something different. And we should take that view so that we aren’t unaware of how easy it is to drift away from the path. It is sort of like how much more you can see of an event when you have an aerial view. The Christian who is unaware of that innate tendency of our fallen nature to drift away from the Lord is something like watching an aerial view of a police chase. You commit one infraction. You choose to keep going. You don’t stop at the first signals. You ignore the clear signs that you are in the wrong and plow through the stop sticks. You’re driving on rims, sparks flying, erratic and out of control. And you end up in custody. And since this is an analogy for the spiritual life, I’m not talking about police custody but the custody of the devil in the kingdom of darkness.
Here we gather to be renewed in faith in the Resurrection of Jesus, that most central and fundamental truth without which, St. Paul would say, our faith would be in vain and we would still be in our sins (cf. 1 Cor. 15:17). The Gospel presents us the initial key evidence of the Resurrection: the tomb is empty and they do not find the body. But maybe it’s a hoax, some might say. Anyone who would choose to believe that would need to explain how in the ancient world, which did not accept the testimony of women, a fledgling group of disciples would hope to have their alleged hoax believed by putting forward the testimony of women. But for the disciples this wasn’t controversial or a conflict, it was simply the truth. The women saw and reported it. The body stolen? Who would take the time to untie the body bands and burial cloths if they were trying to quickly take and hide a body? Wherever in life we are like the apostles, unbelieving, not engaged, sort of drifting away wondering “what’s going on here,” the generosity of God calls us to gather here to be renewed in our faith and the proclamation of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, giving us hope that God’s saving action is not only in the past, but is in the here and now of your life and mine!