The Prime Minister of a certain country, in an Easter message to Christians a few years ago, said “Easter is all about remembering the importance of change, responsibility, and doing the right thing for the good of our children.” And here am I thinking that Easter was all about Jesus Christ rising from the dead, having taken away our sins by his saving death on the cross. Well I still think it’s all about Jesus but the Prime Minister’s words are a reminder that it is not easy to absorb the full impact of the Easter story. It wasn’t easy for the apostles to come to terms with us and it’s still a struggle for us today.
Perhaps that’s why the Risen Jesus choose to appear to the few loyal women at first. They were far more disposed to accepting this amazing turn of events than were the apostles who ran for fear of their lives. And yet for them also, it was a shattering experience. The original ending of Mark ends with these words: “And the women came out and ran away from the tomb because they were frightened out of their wits; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
Still it has to be said that these were three remarkable women who can’t forget Jesus. They arrive early in the morning having already bought spices to anoint the body of their Master. Don’t forget these same women walked from Galilee with Jesus all the way to Jerusalem and now they go out of their way to anoint his body.
What’s surprising is that when they get to the tomb, they see that it’s already open. When they get closer, they see a ‘young man dressed in white’ who calms them of their fear and announces something that they would never have suspected. ‘You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, the one they crucified?’ It’s wrong to look for him in the world of the dead. “He isn’t here.” Jesus isn’t just one more dead person. This isn’t the time to mourn him and give him homage. “He is risen.” He’s alive forever. He never again will be found in the world of the dead, the extinguished, the finished.
But if he’s not in the tomb, where can he be found? Where can we meet him? The young man reminds the women of something that Jesus had told them: “He goes ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him.” In order to ‘see’ the resurrected one you need to return to Galilee. We may well ask, why Galilee? Galilee had been Jesus’ main place of action. There his disciples have seen him heal, forgive, free, welcome, awaken a new hope in everyone. Now his followers need to do the same. We aren’t alone. The Resurrected One goes before us. We will go about seeing him if we walk in his footsteps. What’s most decisive in experiencing ‘the Resurrected One’ isn’t the study of theology or the celebration of liturgy, but the faithful following of Jesus.
Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, reflects on what it means to follow the Easter Jesus. “How, after all, do I follow the poor Jesus in a world where money is the goal? How do I follow the just Jesus in a society where women and minorities live by different rules, where the class we were born into still determines our chances in life? How do I follow the loving Jesus in a world stocked with nuclear weapons while many people do not eat two meals a day?”
The fact remains that we know the story well. But this is just not another story. This is the story the shapes us and has us thinking and feeling in a whole new way. We cannot just hear this story and sit back. Thus Jesus charges us with proclaiming the good news to all creation. We cannot be fearful and remain silent, for the reality of the risen Jesus compels us to witness with our lips and our lives. Let’s learn from Peter. In today’s first reading, this formerly fearful man proclaims the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, hoping to draw unto Jesus those who had not yet been willing to hear, to believe or to be transformed by faith. Peter’s words reach across the centuries and today invite our renewed commitment to Jesus, the light of the world. Pope Francis is forever harping on the same challenge to all of us today. And he insists that this is a matter of great joy. Our belonging to Jesus precludes any hopelessness or pessimism, any hiding or wandering aimlessly in the dark. This kind of darkness has no place in the Christian heart.
I finish by quoting from Sr Joan again. “Today we are tasked with taking the Light from the tomb and reigniting it ourselves, wherever we are, however we can. It is about seeing where the darkness waits for the Light that is Jesus and taking it there. “Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said at the Last Supper. This morning, in the shadow of an empty tomb, with the Resurrection behind him, he leaves the remembering, the blessing, the sharing of life for us to do. We do not sing “Alleluia” today simply because Jesus rose from the dead but because, if we take Lent and Easter seriously, we have also risen with him, following his healing, blazing, shattering light to ignite it in his name where we are. Alleluia!”
Sunday 5 April 2015