EASTER SUNDAY(B) April 1, 2018
Acts 10: 34a, 37-43; Psalm 118; 1 Corinthians 5: 6b-8; John 20: 1-9
by Jude Siciliano, OP
PRE-NOTE: Welcome to the latest email recipients of "First Impressions," the deacon candidates and their wives of the Dallas diocese.
It is Easter, the end of another long Lent. But it isn’t the end. Lent stirs up anticipation for Easter and we have arrived. Where and how do we find ourselves? Is it a new beginning for us? No matter how many times we have celebrated Easter it is not the same old feast; it is another fresh start. It’s like when we have a computer problem and we are advised, "Turn off your computer and restart." We turn it off and start it again, and there are our icons and apps – they look fresh and they work! It’s a crude and limping example, but Christ has done that for us, rebooted us. We were stuck and now we have been given a fresh start, we are not locked in the old "program" – everything can be new for us. In biblical terms, we are a "new creation." Today St. Paul uses another metaphor to describe us: we are "a fresh batch of dough." The "old yeast" has been cleared out and we celebrate our feast "with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."
I find preaching on Easter difficult. But it shouldn’t be, should it? It is the heart of our faith, as Paul says, "And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins" (I Cor. 1517). It is not that I don’t believe in the resurrection, it is that I’m not sure what to say again about it! Today’s gospel passage offers a challenge to the preacher. It may be Easter Sunday, but the narrative at this point in John is not about an experience of the risen Christ. There’s no apparition, no encounter with the risen One.
We preachers have been here before. It is Easter Sunday and we have a simple, though unprovable, message to proclaim, "Christ is risen!" It is what we already believe, isn’t it? What can we find new to say about the core belief of our faith? Should we come up with an analogy – the new flowers outside the church, the butterfly emerging from the cocoon – that seem to support our faith?
In the northern hemisphere the earth is abounding with new life. It happens every year, we expect it. But the resurrection is all together different. We expect new life in Spring. No one expected the resurrection. Mary did not go to the tomb to visit, or wait for the risen Christ to appear to her. She went to the tomb of her dead master and friend perhaps to anoint the body, or just to weep. With Mary we make the journey to the empty tomb.
Don’t try to fill in today’s gospel story. The passage immediately following has Mary waiting at the tomb and there the risen Christ appears to her. But that’s not today’s story. In fact, the next verse (v. 10), not included in today’s selection, says, "With this the disciples went back home." They were left with what they had seen, the empty tomb – and questions. What happened to Jesus’ body?
Let’s spend this moment at the empty tomb, because that is where today’s passage has us. What and where are the empty tombs for us? Does the empty tomb remind us of the places and situations in our lives which have proved lifeless and left us empty inside? – Relationships that have died, or dried up; pursuits and ambitions that have proven vain and wasted; misplaced confidences in what was shallow and fruitless; nostalgic attempts to re-create the warm and good feelings we had when we were children coming to church on Easter Sunday? Where do we find ourselves then, at an empty tomb with past memories, wondering what steps to take next? Do we shrug with disappointment, or shall we, with the beloved disciple look with eyes of faith, even with the confusion of this moment? Can we let go of what was, even if at this time there is not even a hint of what will take its place?
What we have at this point is an empty tomb and puzzled disciples. John says that they, "did not yet understand the Scriptures that he had to rise from the dead." How could they have understood the Scriptures? And what Scriptures would have prepared them for what had happened, the collapse of his ministry, his terrible suffering and his death?
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on the first day of the week, early in the morning, "while it was still dark." In John’s Gospel darkness suggests an absence of faith – not seeing. It’s a dawning of a new day, but for Mary and the disciples, it is still dark. Mary rushes back to tell Peter and John of her discovery. They raced to the tomb with the urgency Mary’s report had stirred up. There are no heavenly messengers waiting there for them when they arrive, just the empty tomb and the burial cloths, with the head cloth rolled up in a separate place.
Is Mary correct? Have thieves stolen the body? But if they had, why would they roll up the head cloth; were they just very neat thieves? Mary can’t be right, it wasn’t an act of theft done by neat robbers. Something else has happened. It is the beloved disciple who sees what Peter and Mary saw, but believes. The story definitely tilts in favor of this disciple. He doesn’t understand what happened, but he believes. Later, the other disciples will come to believe when they encounter the risen Christ. But it is unusual in the Gospels for a person to believe without such evidence. We are like the beloved disciple. We have Jesus’ empty tomb in Jerusalem, and we believe.
Later, John, with the other disciples, will encounter the risen Christ. Then they will come to understand the Scriptures about Jesus’ suffering and rising from the dead. Maybe that is how we come to see the risen Christ. Without seeing him we believe Christ is alive and with us. We meet him when we worship with others who are witnesses to his life; we have our eyes opened to the risen Christ when the words of Scripture touch our hearts; we come to know him in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the cup. We also meet him where he has told us he can be found – in the needy, outcast, stranger, imprisoned, exiled and abused. Not scientific proof to be sure, but to us beloved disciples, who come to pray together, we are given the sight that feeds our faith and reassures us that Christ is risen indeed!
I heard an expression recently that was new to me: "C&E Catholics." It’s those people who on Christmas and Easter fill our churches and then seem to disappear. I wonder what empty tombs in their lives they are peeering into? Where do they go for meaning and direction? Are they too busy with crowded weekend activities? (My nephew’s baseball coach schedules practice for 10 AM on Sundays. I guess the presumption is that most of the kids don’t go to church; if they do, they have to squeeze worship in at another time.) How shall we welcome these twice-a-year folk today? Shall we witness our belief in the risen Christ by our hospitality and joy? That would be a good start!
Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040118.cfm
The Resurrection is not a miracle like any other. It is a unique manifestation within this world of the transition God makes for us out of this way of being into another.
---Austin Farrar, "Saving Belief"
JUSTICE BULLETIN BOARD
We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.
This apostolic testimony to the resurrection of Jesus and his historical ministry is critical to the developing Christian community. The witnesses were empowered to interpret Jesus’ sayings and deeds in the light of his redemptive death and resurrection. We, also, are witnesses today when we experience Christ in our midst, drawing us together as a community of believers. As I write this, I find myself contemplating the expression, "beloved community."
The term "community" does not formally appear in the Bible. However, we do see communities that are kinship-based, familial or tribal, and the community of Jesus’ describes itself as a (fictive) family, a group that has come together outside the family network. Eventually, the Greek word "ekklesia," or "church," would be used by Christians to describe their communities as citizens of a new political entity, the reign of God. How this community is to function is clearly stated in the New Testament in love for one another, the sharing of material goods, care of the poor, an egalitarian view, and social and economic unity. Fr. John J. O’Brien, C.P., writes, "Since God is a benefactor, community draws people into the divine life. It enables them to develop bonds of hospitality and warmth; it motivates them to do the mission of Christ and to share their resources for the needy and for a global economy that will ensure the freedom and dignity of all peoples."
The actual phrase, "Beloved Community" was first coined by philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce in the early 20th century and later expanded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The phrase comes from Royce’s book, The Problem of Christianity, in which he wrote: "Since the office of religion is to aim towards the creation on earth of the Beloved Community, the future task of religion is the task of inventing and applying the arts which will win all over to unity, and which shall overcome their original hatefulness by gracious love, not of mere individuality but of communities." King would add, "It is this love which will bring about miracles."
Beloved Community…what a beautiful world to envision, what a beautiful world to help build! We are witnesses of all that he did, even to dying for us. What will we do now?
Wishing you a Joyous Easter! Joyous Resurrection!
---Barbara Molinari Quinby, MPS
Director of Social Justice Ministries
Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, Raleigh, NC
Mini-reflections on the Sunday scripture readings designed for persons on the run. "Faith Book" is also brief enough to be posted in the Sunday parish bulletins people take home.
From today’s Gospel reading:
On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
What and where are the empty tombs for us? Relationships that have died, or dried up; pursuits and ambitions that have proven vain and wasted; misplaced confidences in what was shallow and fruitless; nostalgic attempts to re-create the warm and good feelings we had when we were children coming to church on Easter Sunday?
So we ask ourselves:
POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES
"One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
Inmates on death row are the most forgotten people in the prison system. Each week I post in this space several inmates’ names and addresses. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of them to let them know we have not forgotten them. If you like, tell them you heard about them through North Carolina’s, "People of Faith Against the Death Penalty." If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.
Please write to:
For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network:http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/
Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty:http://www.pfadp.org/
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4. "First Impressions" is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like "First Impressions" sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.
Thank you and blessings on your preaching,
fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P.
St. Albert the Great Priory of Texas
3150 Vince Hagan Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736