Sunday, March 31, 2013

Homily for Easter

Homily for Easter Sunday
March 31, 2013
Luke 24: 1-12
Acts 10: 34, 37-43
St. Vincent’s Hospital, Harrison, N.Y.

“Peter went home amazed at what had happened” (Luke 24:12).

What amazed Peter?  At this point in the story, he doesn’t know!  The women who went to the tomb and found it empty don’t know “what had happened,” and when they report their discovery and the angels’ message “to the eleven and to all the others” (24:9), “their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them” (24:11).

The Women at the Tomb, by Fra Angelico
A note:  the gospels at this point refer to “the eleven” because the 12 apostles have been reduced to 11 by Judas’s betrayal.  “All the others”—wouldn’t we like to know who they were!  St. Luke tells us in the 1st chapter of the Acts of the Apostles that about 120 disciples came together in the upper room in the days between Jesus’ ascension and Pentecost, but he identifies only a few of those 120 besides the 11:  “Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers” (1:14), and Matthias and Joseph Barsabbas, who are put forward as candidates for the place among the 12 vacated by Judas (1:23); Luke also mentions an anonymous group of women (1:14), who would have included those who went to the tomb this Sunday morning, and probably others—maybe Jesus’ friends Martha and Mary (Luke 10:38-42).  Maybe their brother Lazarus also was there.

So if Peter and all the others “did not believe” what Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James” (Luke 24:10) come and tell them about the tomb and what they saw and what they heard, why is Peter “amazed at what had happened”?  What does he think could have happened?

It is amazing that the large stone was rolled away from the tomb (24:2), and no one seems to know how that happened.  It is amazing that Jesus’ body is gone.  No one expected that; the women, after all, were going there to finish the hasty rites of burial that there had been no time to complete on Friday evening.

      The “two men in dazzling garments” (24:4) remind the women of Jesus’ predictions of his passion, death, and resurrection:  “the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day” (24:7).  Since these women “had come from Galilee with Jesus” (24:1), they had heard those predictions—directly from Jesus, or at least from the apostles.  But the predictions evidently were so puzzling, and the events of Thursday nite and Friday so traumatic, that they completely forgot about the predictions until the 2 angels reminded them:  “And they remembered his words” (24:8).  Many of the disciples had heard the predictions, but no one knew “what  rising from the dead meant” (cf. Mark 9:10).  After the 3d time that Jesus advised the 12 that he would be handed over to the Romans, maltreated, scourged, and killed, and rise on the 3d day (Luke 18:31-33), “they understood nothing of this; the word remained hidden from them and they failed to comprehend what he said” (18:34).

So Peter is amazed. He is completely baffled.  He has no explanation for the empty tomb or the angels or the message of the angels.

Those reactions on the part of the women, of the 11, and of all the others are precisely what makes credible to us their later proclamation of the Good News:  “This man God raised on the 3d day and granted that he be visible…to us…who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (Acts 10:40-41).  They came to believe that the one who had been crucified had also been raised up because they saw him, spoke with him, ate and drank with him in the days following.  This is what convinced them that something more than amazing had really happened, and they were witnesses to it.

Then they were able to look back at the predictions Jesus had made, and at the words of Moses and the prophets, and interpret them in the light of Jesus’ resurrection.  Then they were able to understand that God “appointed [Jesus] as judge of the living and the dead.  To him all the prophets bear witness, and everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins thru his name” (Acts 10:42-43).  As Jesus went about on earth healing people—physically and spiritually, “healing all those oppressed by the devil” (10:38)—God had ratified all his doings and his words by raising him from the dead so that he might be the vehicle for the complete healing of the human race:  “Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining” (Sequence).

Is it not amazing that God should forgive us?  Is it not amazing that God should offer us “new life,” eternal life?  Is it not amazing that God should heal us completely from all the ways in which the devil oppresses us—our sins, and the death penalty?  That’s why we shout out, “This is the day the Lord had made; let us rejoice and be glad!” (Ps 118:24).

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