The Easter gift of peace
FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR EASTER SUNDAY, April 4, 2021:
“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” That is a passage from a favorite book of mine called Home by Marilyn Robinson. Home is a sort-of prodigal son story. It tells of Jack, the black-sheep of his family, who returns home after many years to reconcile with his father and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in life. But, even though I read that book a number of years ago, this particular passage is one that I have thought of often during this year of pandemic. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”
My friends, on this beautiful Easter morning, we are invited to reflect upon the most amazing event in all of history – something almost too amazing to be believed – that truth that Jesus has risen; that He has conquered even death itself. Today, especially as our whole world is wrapped up in this pandemic; as we are focused on the nearly 3 million dead from COVID around the world, more than 550,000 of them here in our own country – we today once again claim resurrection – for them, for all those who have died, for ourselves, for our world. We remember that God is faithful and wants nothing more than for us to come home to Him.
The story of the first Easter is one that can speak to us so profoundly once again because the message of the Resurrection is a message of triumph and hope; it is a message of presence and love; it is a message of life that conquers death – always, everywhere. While we have gone through a year of quarantine, lockdown, facemasks and social distancing – many places in the world still in the midst of lockdown, it is not all that different from what the disciples experienced on that first Easter. On the first Easter morning, the disciples were not gathered at the synagogue, they were not celebrating with family and friends. Where were they? St. John describes it this way, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
Those first disciples, Jesus’ closest companions, on the first Easter were locked in a room in fear. They were in self-imposed quarantine in that upper room as the most amazing event in the history of the world unfolded. In a sense, we can connect with that first Easter, because for the first time in our lifetimes, we know what it feels like to be afraid even to go out. But, let’s not get lost in the comparison. The main difference between the first disciples and us today is that they did not know what we know. They were locked in the upper room because they were afraid of the crowds; they were disheartened because their Savior had died. They did not know – as we know – that the story was not over yet; that the stone has been rolled away; that Jesus had conquered even death itself and had been risen.
“Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” The disciples locked in their upper room were most certainly weary, bitter, and bewildered. But notice that even their fear could not keep Jesus away. God is faithful and wants us to come home. For the disciples, even their locked doors could not keep Jesus out. “Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”
And He does the same for you and for me today. We may feel locked up because of our appropriate fear and caution about COVID – we can’t do the things we used to do; we can’t do them the way we used to – at least not yet. But, even with our fears and anxieties, Jesus still comes to us. He stands in our midst and says the words we have all been waiting to hear, “Peace be with you. Be filled with the gift of my peace. Let me take your fear, your worry, your anxiety; your weariness or bewilderment – give it to me and replace it with my peace.”
Pope Francis, reflecting on the women who had the courage to leave that locked room and go to the tomb, said, “Today we see that our journey is not in vain; it does not come up against a tombstone. A single phrase astounds the woman and changes history: ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead?’ Why do you think that everything is hopeless, that no one can take away your own tombstones? Why do you give into resignation and failure? Easter is the feast of tombstones taken away, of rocks rolled aside. God takes away even the hardest stones against which our hopes and expectations crash: death, sin, fear, worldliness. Human history does not end before a tombstone, because today it encounters the ‘living stone’, the risen Jesus. We, as Church, are built on Him, and, even when we grow disheartened and tempted to judge everything in the light of our failures, He comes to make all things new, to overturn our every disappointment. Each of us is called tonight to rediscover in the Risen Christ the one who rolls back from our heart the heaviest of stones.”
My friends, today we celebrate the singular event that changed the course of human history, and changed the course of our own lives. We embrace it with the newness that reminds us that God is still faithful; God is still calling. But, today, especially in the midst of this difficult year, we need to embrace not just Christ’s resurrection, but our own as well. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” As we celebrate this holy day, we may find ourselves feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, angry, or sad, anxious and fearful, even far from God or far from the Church. But, today our faithful God welcomes us home again; our faithful God enters our homes and our hearts again. He wants to renew us in His love and in His grace; to wake us up, to reanimate our faith, to resurrect in us our spiritual life; to make us the people He created us to be.
Pope Francis said, “Let us not keep our faces bowed to the ground in fear, but raise our eyes to the risen Jesus. His gaze fills us with hope, for it tells us that we are loved unfailingly, and that however much we make a mess of things, his love remains unchanged. This is the one, non-negotiable certitude we have in life: his love does not change. Let us ask ourselves: In my life, where am I looking? Am I gazing at graveyards, or am I looking for the Living One? Dear brothers and sisters: let us put the Living One at the center of our lives. Let us ask for the grace not to be carried by the current, the sea of our problems; the grace not to run aground on the shoals of sin or crash on the reefs of discouragement and fear. Let us seek Jesus in all things and above all things. With Him, we will rise again.”
As we reflect on the ways that we feel weary or bitter or broken down by all that life has been dealing us, remember that even these struggles cannot keep Jesus out. He breaks own any walls in our lives, moves aside any stones blocking the way, and stands before each of us and says, “Peace be with you. Peace is my gift to you.” Open your hearts the His presence and allow yourselves to be filled with that peace that comes only from the Risen One.
My friends God is faithful. He has risen, as He promised, and is present to us every moment of our lives. “I am with you always,” He told us. Allow the grace of His resurrection make you a new creation, lift any pain or anxiety, take away any weariness or bewilderment. Allow Him to fill you with His peace.
“Do not be afraid. Behold, He has been raised from the dead.” My you be raised up as well today.
Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.
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