Readings: Acts 10: 34, 37-43; Ps 118; Colossians 3; 1-4; John 20: 1-9
One Easter, Several years ago, I was sitting in a church aptly named Holy Trinity in Glen Burnie, MD. Just across the aisle from me sat an older woman and a younger woman. The older one leaned over and said to the younger, “You know, Jesus didn’t really die.”
I have wondered ever since what people think Easter is. But Jesus left us (all) in charge of spreading “The Good News” which includes telling the triumph of the resurrection. Maybe preachers aren’t talking about the Gospels as much, and maybe the parishioners don’t tell their friends and family either. But we’ve moved into an age of easy, wide-spread, and instant communication. We can talk about making ourselves know, or we could make it a goal and actually do it, make it real.
If we did that- I mean really reached out in an informed, decisive way with intent to reach a goal of just 3 new people a month, still, sooner or later we will put ourselves in the awkward position of having to explain Easter to someone. By the way, Fairfax county has more than 1,200,000, so 3 people would be .00026% of the population. Naturally, doing this means explaining what resurrection is and how Jesus died and what brought about his death, and what he did that made certain people so angry. And what the results are for us. Not just a history lesson, but something that has an impact on our lives.
Like something that brings about a change of circumstances for every single human being on the planet for all time; something bigger, way bigger than Easter eggs and bunnies and, of course, chocolate. But chocolate companies know how to advertize, effectively, and they do it, and all they get out of it is grubby old money. Yuk. They have to hire tax lawyers and have high stress levels and fair trade issues, paying their farmers sustainable wages and all kinds of things that keep them awake at night. Explaining how Easter impacts us personally is nothing next to all that hassle! We’ve got it easy!
So, let’s start with the easy stuff. I figure if anyone knew about death, Roman soldiers knew. Their job at the crucifixion was to kill Jesus. First they beat and flogged him so badly that he was bleeding to death long before they nailed him to the cross. It was a process designed to end in death. Then they thrust a spear into his heart and lungs to eliminate any possible doubt. It’s a no brainer. Now, some of the parables and stories of Jesus have been arranged by Gospel authors to teach a particular lesson. But, who would make up stories of Peter “the rock” betraying Jesus 3 times? Lesson # 1: when we read Biblical eye witness accounts, full of details, about known historical events, like crucifixion, confirmed by all 4 Gospels, we really don’t have any reason to doubt it.
St. Paul evidently was sick and tired of answering this type of resurrection questions, because in his 1st letter to the church at Corinth, he really goes off on it. He tells them to “Hold Fast” to what he had taught – that Christ died for our sins, that he was buried (because he was dead), and raised on the third day, as the scriptures had foretold, and he appeared to Peter, then to apostles, and then he appeared to more than 500 people at one time, and some of them were still, in his day, alive and talking about it. Then Jesus appeared to James and finally Paul himself. He’s clear about it.
You know, unexpected things happen when you wear one of these collars. I’ve had people (plural, men and women, sane) tell me about Jesus appearing to them, and they describe him to me in the most personal of terms. Jesus rose from the dead. Lesson # 2: Jesus is alive. Jesus is more alive than the cultures in my active and alive yogurt. You don’t get weirded about out that, you don’t go buy a microscope when you hear that, why is it so hard to accept, why should you be amazed for me to tell you that the same Jesus that raised Lazarus and the little girl and the widow’s son from the dead is alive?
Well, if this still troubles you, don’t feel bad, even St. Peter had some issues with it, even after spending years with Jesus, even after seeing the empty tomb and the burial cloths, with one rolled up and deliberately set aside. The problem was that he couldn’t open his mind up to it. It can be a big jump from reading the text book (in this case, the scriptures), and understanding on a personal level. We use cars, machinery, and electronic devices all the time and many of us have no real idea how they work or how they’re made. We use them because they work, “believing” in them in a way, without understanding.
We’ve probably all been duped by a slimy salesperson, yet we don’t stop shopping. Do I ask too much when I say, “Believe, trust, pray”? I don’t ask you embrace everything whispered in your ear at church, or every bit of church dogma or what you think your 4th grade religion teacher said; that might be a mistake. Faith must be questioned and explored, and there is a learning curve involved if your want your faith to grow. Lesson # 3 – open yourself to the possibilities -not just a historical Jesus on the pages of your Bible, but a real, living Jesus.
Finally, don’t get hung up on the “born again” thing. You were “born again” when the water was poured over you at your baptism. If you weren’t baptized, come see me, I can fix that. But approach it like a physicist. Every action (baptism) must have an equal and opposite reaction. And what is re-action to baptism? It is Behavior filled with Belief! (Makes me think of that great lemon cream in donuts – you can come up with your own image of Behavior filled with Belief, until it oozes out.) That is the authentic re-action to Baptism!
During Lent we read how Isaiah was so critical of people who performed the rituals of the church, yet they never lived their faith. In St. John’s letter (3:17-18), John wrote, “But if (we) have the world’s goods and see (our neighbors) in need, yet close (our) heart against them, how does God’s love abide in (us)?…Let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” St. James (2:17) is even more direct. He wrote, “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” Last Lesson#4: The reaction to Easter is actions of love, mercy, and generosity. Our minds must open, but so must our time, our wallets, and our compassion. That is what the Jesus of the Bible did, and the living Jesus does now, and what we as Christians are to do. “By this, all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” Jesus said. (John 13:35)
So let’s recap what Easter means to us, and this is how we will do it: On Easter, our Tradition is to renew our baptismal promises. If you were baptized as a baby, you might not have known the words, so you get a chance to say it today. If you need to be baptized, this is a great chance to practice for your big day. We do this in a question-answer format, which starts on the bottom of page 65 of your Missal. If you listen to what you are saying, it sounds very much like the Creed we usually say at this time, and I will sprinkle you with blessed baptismal water afterwards. So please stand and turn to page 65.