Homily on Palm Sunday please go to RECENT POSTS.
Acts 10:34a, 36-43; Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20:1-18
Our celebration of Easter gives us the new hope of our own Resurrection at the end of times and at the same time keeps us one with the living Christ who will be always with us. To the Disciples the Resurrection was a new experience. It gave them a new vision of life. They were persons totally transformed with the presence of the Resurrected Jesus. They had seen his suffering and during that time most of them had remained hidden out of fear. For them as it is for us the celebration of Easter Sunday totally reverses the image of Good Friday. It places us unto the real situation to tell us what Good Friday is about. It tells us that what took place on the cross on Good Friday was not just a simple death but a real sacrifice, it was not a defeat but a triumph over sin and death, and it was not an end but a great beginning. Jesus accepted death in total obedience to his Father. He tells the Father that he is ready to do his will and sacrificed himself for the salvation of the world. His death was not a defeat but a triumph over sin and death. His death in reality was a passage to new life and hence it is no end in itself. Ultimately the Easter is the celebration of the total unending love of the Father for the sake of Humanity. He gave back his son to us for human kind with greater love and with the resurrection Jesus will stay with us forever. This feast of Easter is also for us the feast of hope which tells us that what happened to Jesus will happen to us too. We too will rise one day with him. This celebration forms the heart of our Christian living. It is in reality our faith and the expectation of the future glory.
The feast of Easter is the confirmation of our faith. Our faith is deeply rooted and finds its real meaning in the resurrection of Jesus. St Paul says that, if Christ is not raised, then all our believing is in vain. Hence our faith tells us that Good Friday and the death of Jesus is not the climax of Holy Week. It is only a path in the achievement of the final resurrection. The cross was the high point of Jesus’ gift of himself to the father for our sakes and the Father returns the gift of resurrected Jesus to us. Accordingly today’s mass invites us with the invitation to proclaim the good news and be witnesses to the risen lord.
Easter, however, is not only concerned with recalling the resurrection of Jesus or its impact on the first disciples but also with the meaning of this event for our own lives and for our faith. For the disciples it was something new and unique experience. It was something out of the ordinary that had taken place. That is why they are notable to explain it in detail. So the evangelists put forward the empty tomb, angels talking, he is coming into the close room and so on. For them it was something like an explosion and something out of the world. Even for Paul it was a sudden experience when the Risen Jesus revealed himself while Paul was on his way to Damascus to bring the Christians into line and he accepts and enters into this experience.
In the First Reading we have the Sermon of Peter at the baptism of Cornelius and his family, the first Gentile Christians, where Peter tells them and the people present about his own experience with the resurrected Jesus. Here Peter testifies that Jesus was indeed crucified and died on the Cross. But God raised Him from the dead on the third day. After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to many of the disciples who were chosen by God as witnesses. Peter affirmed that he and the other disciples of the Lord were witnesses to all what Jesus had said and done in Judea and in Jerusalem. He wants to make it clear that what he has communicated to them is truth and things that had really taken place. Peter tells them that when Jesus appeared, he commanded the disciples to preach and testify that He was the One sent by God to judge the living and the dead. He reminded them that all those who would believe in Jesus would receive the forgiveness of sin through His Most Holy Name. At the same time Peter emphasises the importance of the true disciples of Jesus of not merely experiencing and enjoying the joy of their Risen Master but also of sharing that experience and joy with as many people as possible. For the true disciple of Jesus there is a close and indivisible relationship between experiencing and proclaiming.
We find a similar theme in both of the Second Readings and the Gospel. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul tells us that if we have been raised with Christ, we must seek the things that are from above where Christ dwells in Heaven. We should set our minds on spiritual things, not on worldly things. Having been born again through the Church Sacrament of Baptism, we are obligated to God to feed our souls with spiritual things. We are called to spiritually grow in shining virtues and in the fruit of the Holy Spirit so that we may gradually be transformed by the grace of God the Father to become more in the likeness of His Son Jesus Christ. Paul himself was a Pharisee, a dedicated Pharisee and a man of integrity before his conversion. He persecuted Christians because he saw in them a dangerous deviation from the Jewish Law and Jewish traditions. Then he, too, had that sudden experience when the Risen Jesus revealing himself whiles he was on his way to Damascus to bring the Christians into line. That vision and experience brought about a total transformation in Paul’s life. It gave him a totally new vision of things and especially of the meaning of Jesus’ life and message. For the rest of his life, he used all his energies, the same energies he once used against Christians, to help others – Jews and non-Jews alike – to know, love and follow Jesus his Lord. Once he had encountered Jesus personally, Paul was a transformed person.
In the Gospel we have the experience of the empty tomb as the sign of Jesus’ resurrection to life. Mary Magdalene saw the stone rolled back and wondered who could have removed such a heavy stone. She immediately ran to the disciples to inform the matter of the missing body of the Lord. Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved run to the tomb. They saw the entire scene, they understood and they believed in the act of the resurrection. Till then they had failed to understand the term to be raised from the dead. Later it is further clarified as he encountered the disciples on the way to Emmaus where he explained the positive meaning of the sufferings of the messiah as found in the Old Testament. The resurrection of Jesus brought a new hope in the disciples and transformed their emptiness into a fullness of light. The word, “Jesus is alive!” or “I have seen the Lord!” were enough to instantly create a great spiritual hunger in their soul the worldly minds of the disciples suddenly became alerted to the truth. Faith was being reinstated in the Words that Jesus had spoken while He lived on earth. They could now understand what it really means to be raised from the dead. In this resurrection is the new creation by the Father. In the book of Genesis we hear of God creating the Universe. Now in the new creation God creates something more than that. He raises his own Son from the dead and gives him to the Humanity as a new gift and commissions him to remain with human kind forever.
In the Gospel we heard how Mary Magdalene needed Jesus. She who was much devoted to Jesus and accepted him as her Lord and Master, chose to remain near the tomb. She was distraught and totally upset with the events particularly the missing body. Her beloved Master was not only dead, but his body had disappeared. She wept thinking of the loss and believing that someone had stolen it. She wept because she missed the Divine presence of Jesus. She wept with the inner burning desire to be near the living body of Jesus, to follow Him, to hear Him, to feel loved, to be understood and to be forgiven of sins. In the tomb she saw two angels, representing God’s presence, who asked her why she was crying. She just told them that they have taken the Lord away. At that very moment she turned and saw Jesus but did not recognise him. This is a constant feature of post-Resurrection apparitions. Jesus is not recognised; he looks just like an ordinary person, any person. In this case, Mary thinks him to be the gardener and wonders if he is the one who has taken away the body of Jesus. When Jesus called her by name, “Mary”, she immediately knew who he was. She recognised the risen Lord and worshiped him. But Jesus gave her the mission. She was to go and tell all, starting from the disciples that Jesus is raised from the dead and she has seen him and he has the good news for every one. He also told her that he has to ascend to the Father. But she has her task to be his messenger.
The celebration of Easter reminds us that we have the same mission as Peter and Mary Magdalene and the other disciples of Jesus. This requires as the first reading of today tells us that we need a radical conversion, a radical transformation on our part. In the celebration of the Pasch, the Jews used to throw out all the leavened bread they had and replace it with freshly baked unleavened bread. Because of the fermentation process that leavened bread undergoes, yeast was regarded as a corrupting agent. So Paul tells us that we, too, as we celebrate our Christian Passover, are to become “a completely new batch of bread, unleavened as you are meant to be…having only the unleavened bread of integrity and truth.” Further, Peter emphasises the importance of Jesus’ disciples not only experiencing and enjoying the joy of their Risen Master and Lord but also of sharing that experience and joy with as many people as possible. It is something we must do also to live joyfully in the close company of the Risen Lord. For the true Christian, in fact, every day is an Easter Day lived joyfully in the close company of the Risen Lord. “He has ordered us to proclaim this to his people and to tell them that God has appointed Jesus to judge everyone, alive or dead, that all who believe in Jesus will have their sins forgiven through his name.” There we have our mission.
Today on Easter Day let us thank God for the gift of the risen Jesus given once again to us. The Resurrected Jesus gives his message of peace to all the disciples every time he meets them and begins to teach them. This same message is given to us today as we celebrate his rising from the dead. We pray that this peace will remain in our hearts always to make us his messengers in the world of today.
Fr. Eugene Lobo SJ, Rome