The Resurrection of the Lord
The Mass of Easter Sunday
April 20, 2014
Reading 1 Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Responsorial Psalm Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
R/ (24) This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.
Reading 2 Col 3:1-4
Gospel Jn 20:1-9
HOMILY: Easter Sunday 2014, Church of the Nativity
A funeral service was being held in a church for a woman who, after over 40 years of marriage, has passed away. At the end of the service, the pallbearers carrying the casket accidentally bumped into a wall, jarring the casket. To their surprise, at that moment they heard a faint moan. They opened the casket to find that the women was actually alive! She lived for 10 more years and then died, really this time. A funeral was again held at the same church and at the end the pallbearers were again carrying the casket out. As they are walking, the husband called out, "Watch out for the wall!"
In the Greek Orthodox tradition, the day after Easter was devoted to telling jokes. . . .They felt they were imitating the cosmic joke that God pulled on Satan, the prince of death, in the Resurrection. In Jesus’ death, Satan thought he had won, and was smug in his victory, smiling to himself, having the last word. So he thought. Then God raised Jesus from the dead and life and salvation became the final words. What a marvelous trick Jesus has played on that smug prince of death—Jesus lives, and we live!
Easter is, of course, our celebration of eternal life, something our faith teaches us is not to be seen as “interminable” but rather the fullness of life. When does life seem to be more at its fullest than when we’re with friends, laughing enjoying each other, rejoicing, laughing? Easter is about the fullness of life, so let’s enjoy laugh, at the devil’s expense! Just when death thought it had defeated us, our lives were snatched from its grasp: Our reaction—relief, the deepest of joy—laughing with joy!
This is precisely the sense that St. Gregory of Nyssa developed in one of his Easter sermons, called “Three-Day Period of the Resurrection of Christ.” In this homily, St. Gregory poses the question of why Christ spent three days “in the heart of the earth.” This period was necessary and sufficient, he argues, for Christ to “expose the foolishness’ (moranai) of the devil, i.e, to outwit, ridicule and deceive him. How did Christ manage to “outwit” the devil? Gregory gives the following reply to this question:
“As the ruler of darkness could not approach the presence of the Light unimpeded, had he not seen in Him something of flesh, then, as soon as he saw the God-bearing flesh and saw the miracle performed through it by the Deity, he hoped that if he came to take hold of the flesh through death, then he would take hold of all the power contained in it. Therefore, having swallowed the bait of the flesh, he was pierced by the hook of the Deity and thus the dragon was transfixed by the hook.” He took the bait, that foolish prince of death, and bit off far-far more than he could ever chew!
I’m wondering what the moment will be like when, after death, we see our Lord face to face, the one who gives us eternal life. From the letter to the Colossians from which we just heard, St. Paul says: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” We’ve been worrying, fearing, doubting if we will live eternally. We’ve worried about our loved ones and what eternity might be like. And when in heaven we see eternal, full life, I think we’ll react in laughter: Laughter that is relief; laughter that sees how ridiculous were our fears; laughter, that always characterizes the fullness of life! I think we’ll laugh with joy at the exuberance of the complete, total love of God, in eternal life.
So, today, let’s gather with family, friends, and have a laugh! Or, let’s just chuckle to ourselves! In doing so, we laugh at the feeble efforts of the devil and death and rejoice in indescribable joy that Christ is risen and so is our certain hope of eternal, full life.
The comedian George Burns once said: “The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible. Hopefully I’ve not gone on too long—but just long enough to wish you and your loved ones a Happy Easter.