Monday, March 28, 2005

Sermon for Easter Day

Homily on the Resurrection of Christ
by The Rev'd Timothy M. Matkin, SSC
Given at S. Alban's Church, Arlington, TX on 27 March 2005

Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Familiarity is comforting; but sometimes familiarity deadens the impact something might otherwise have. Often we hear familiar phrases or sayings as if they were brand-new when the wording or vocabulary is slightly different. Looking at something in a new way helps us notice things that we might have glossed over because they are familiar. This is a great help for many in reading new translations of the Bible. Alongside older versions, familiar passages gain a renewed impact. I’ll cite one example. A verse that should be familiar to many us is Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” If you look up the same passage in the Good News Bible, you’ll find it translated like this: “Everyone has sinned, and is far away from God’s saving presence.”

I’m a “Rite One” kind of guy, and as an English major I love to pull the King James bible off the shelf from time to time just to enjoy the beauty and comforting familiarity of the language. But I was struck by something of this nature a few years ago. The church where I served as a seminarian in Sheboygan, Wisconsin is home to the American proto-shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, commemorating an appearance of St Mary in England. One Sunday afternoon while I was spending some time there, I was paging through one of the booklets from the Anglican shrine in Walsingham, England that they kept as a souvenir. It was an ecumenical collection of prayers for devotion to Mary, the virgin Mother of God.

Now we are accustomed to our prayers ending something like, “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.” But I came across a collect that was a fresh translation from the Latin. It said the same thing, but the words hit me in a new way. It was like I was hearing it for the first time. The prayer ended, “through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is now alive, and who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and always.” Dear friends, Jesus Christ is now alive. That is a fact each one of us must come to know and experience for ourselves. He is reigning with the Father and the Holy Spirit at this very moment. There is nothing passive about Jesus’ current life and ministry.

Following the Sabbath day, long ago, just before dawn, at least two women wandered through the twilight to the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. One of them was Mary Magdalene—a woman that Jesus had personally healed and delivered from demons during his ministry. We are told that she was the first to see the risen Lord. As far as we know, she is probably the only one within the inner circle of Jesus’ followers who had been healed by him. She knew the power of Jesus in a more personal way than the others. Her life had been completely changed by that healing. She knew from experience that Jesus could do anything he said. She knew that Jesus keeps his promises.

She found that Jesus has risen from the dead, just as he said he would. He appeared to her, and said, Go tell the brethren what you have seen. The women dashed away to tell the others, filled with both fear and joy. They told the others, We saw Jesus, standing before us. He is risen; he is alive. Just as we had seen and handled his dead body, we knelt at his feet to worship him. His skin was warm to the touch. His voice resounded in our ears (as Matthew tells the story), “Be joyful; don’t be afraid.”

Christian tradition names Mary Magdalene as the first “apostle”—the first witness to the resurrection, charged and sent by Christ to share the Good News of his joyful resurrection with the Apostles. We are likewise to be filled with apostolic joy. May the joy of Christ, of Our Lady his Virgin Mother, and of Mary Magdalene be with us this day. For all of us who share the faith, seeing Jesus alive makes us glad, for we know that he lives for a reason—to be with and in us. And in the resurrected Christ, we see a glimpse of our own future. The lesson of the resurrection is that it does not stop with Jesus. What happened to Jesus will also happen to us. It is the ultimate sign of both God’s power and authority over life and death as well as his immeasurable goodness and grace. As the Lord told Ezekiel, You will know that I am the Lord when I open your graves, and raise you up, and put my Spirit within you, and give you life (Ezekiel 37:13-14).

The resurrection of Christ teaches us a number of things about our own. It teaches us that eternal life is a quantity of life—it is a life that knows no end. As St Paul wrote in his epistle to the Church of Rome, “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also be alive with him. And we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has any power over him” (Rom 6:8-9). Death also has no power over those who live in Christ.

The resurrection of Christ also teaches eternal life is a quality of life. We see that Jesus no longer knows suffering in his body. His wounds are still there after the resurrection, but they are no longer marks of pain, they are signs of his identity. St. John describes the life of resurrected saints in his Revelation, saying, “[The Lord] will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be any mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore for the former things gave passed away” (Rev 21:4).

The resurrection of Christ also shows us that eternal life is a new kind of life. That new life is physical, but it is also something more glorious than what we know now. Jesus is bodily, physically alive; every resurrection account notes that detail. His followers do not simply see his spirit. Jesus addresses that point when he bids Thomas to put his hands in his side—to feel the reality of his resurrected flesh. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus asks the disciples to come up and touch him—to feel hid body for themselves, to know that he is not an apparition or a ghost. To make his point further, he eats in front of them to demonstrate the reality of his bodily nature.

And yet, his resurrected body shows us a new kind of existence, one greater and grander than anything yet experienced on earth. Jesus is no longer limited by suffering and death, nor is he bound by time and space any longer. Sometimes, his followers don’t recognize Jesus at first. He also seems to appear and disappear at will. The fearful disciples are gathered in a locked room, and suddenly, Jesus is there with them.

All this was told to the disciples in advance, but when they actually experienced it, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ changed their lives for ever. He opened their mind to understand the Scriptures, to see his promises fulfilled—that the Son of Man must first suffer and die, and on the third day be raised. We also can know, personally, like Mary Magdalene, that Jesus keeps his promises. We can know intimately that Jesus can and will do what he says he will do. These are God’s promises of eternal life to each of us through Christ. And the resurrection shows us that God keeps his promises.

When the Magdalene first told the story to the other disciples, they were skeptical. Perhaps it was because they just hadn’t seen it for themselves. Perhaps it was because they didn’t have that previous personal encounter with Jesus’ healing power like Mary Magdalene had. But hers wasn’t the only report coming in. Soon there were others. Two more disciples encountered him walking through the country. And Jesus himself came to offer testimony of his own resurrection.

All of us here came to faith in the risen Christ at one point or another because someone trustworthy told us the story. Now it is time for us to go tell the story. We will encounter the risen Christ today in this Eucharist—here on this Altar and within ourselves in Holy Communion. When this Mass is over, it will be time for us to go. “Go,” Jesus said, “into all the world and preach the good news to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15). But you will not go alone. What did Mark tell us happened to the eleven? He said, “they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it” (Mk 16:20). That is part of God’s promise to us (and remember, God keeps his promises). If we go share the good news (share what we ourselves have seen and heard) God will be at work, confirming the message, converting souls, healing the wounded, raising up the mystical Body of Christ.

Let us pray.
Father in heaven, by the resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ, happiness entered the world : Grant that we, by the aide of the Virgin Mary, his Mother, may share in those joys of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is now alive, and who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and always. Amen.


Coppermouse Dolls said...

Say, this is great stuff!

Anonymous said...

Wish I could him preach again in person

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