As I was planning what to say today, I reviewed some of my previous homilies. The opening line of “Easter, 2021” read: “It’s been a while since we’ve had a “normal” Easter!” At the time, I was referring to the fire that engulfed Notre Dame (Holy Week 2018), Sri Lanka bombings (Easter 2019), and first COVID Easter (2020). But in 2021, not only did I think that we were about to “start over” in some beautiful way that echoed the Easter miracle itself, but that it would mean returning to all that was treasured and familiar, and get there fairly soon. Well things didn’t work out exactly that way, did they? Was my hope premature, or the parallel with the resurrection inappropriate? Both, likely.
But what do you think? Does the Easter story resonate with your own optimism or longing for something new? As a mom of 3 young children, I know how desirable NEW things are – toys, devices, apps, songs, and shows – as long as they perform similarly to what we already own. Kids want newness, but not necessarily the learning and stretching that it brings. Well today’s story is both a little boring because it isn’t new, and challenging because we are still learning “how to work it”. Actually, it’s remarkable how well the plot endured even in places where Christianity was considered unimportant or suppressed. My mother and I recently discussed how well both of us knew the narrative from a very young age, despite having grown up with soviet dictatorial ideology replacing religion. But we still dyed our eggs red, baked kulichi, and competed to be the first to announce on Easter morning “Christ is risen”. The phrase meant little then, and I struggle to convey its meaning now. What resurrection means while we are living in the earthly world is elusive. Try to squeeze Easter into a historical fact or a platitude (e.g., “God brings out the best even from the worst situations”), and it stops “working”.
But what went through your mind as I read the story? “I’ve heard this before” or “nice” – or maybe “ooh, I forgot all about that part”. That was me when I noticed the earthquake today – somehow I had either forgotten or dismissed it previously. It might very well be “only” a literary device, but why is it that it only caught my eye this year? Maybe, right now something is shaking up my own perspective on life. The scripture does give us 4 slightly different versions of “Easter”, and it’s hard to remember all the details and differences. So, if you did notice something today that is similarly “new to you”, consider staying with it for a while, and talk it over with people you trust. It might give you a helpful insight, or it might cause skepticism or resistance, but at least it will lead to an authentic engagement with the text that we might otherwise dismiss as nothing new.
Indeed, the main point I would like to make today is to invite you to explore. Like the angel said to the two brave, albeit sad and fearful Marys: “come, see”. Come and see, especially if your guard is still “up” based on prior experiences with religion, or if you found, as many of us do, periodically, that you’ve outgrown the platitudes that seemed to work when you were younger or happier. Christian theology has so many deep and diverse approaches apart from the medieval image of an angry God who killed his own son to satisfy his honor, or assurances that “All shall be well”. Jesus’ life on earth and beyond is equally important as his death. So at St Tim’s, we offer multiple opportunities to learn and discuss spirituality, history, and religion, as well as to worship in quieter or more casual ways than the brass and flowers of today. They are lovely, but in some ways Easter is “just” a Sunday. Or perhaps, every Sunday is Easter.
And, every loss is a loss. Notre Dame is scheduled to reopen next Easter; but, it will be impossible to recover the priceless art destroyed by the fire. Over Holy Week, a few of you shared with me how deeply you still mourn your loved ones, who unlike Lazarus or Jesus, will not come back. All shall not be well. It did not end well for Jesus, and in fact, even he didn’t really come back to his family and friends. Their glimpses, visions, and hugging of feet were brief, occasional, and available over only 40 days. When darkness changes to light, the change brings about the new day, not the previous one.
The good news is that we do carry within us the divine spark and potential for self-sacrificial love. It is possible to fall in love with God. It is possible to find in him/her a reason to live altruistically. Resurrection epitomizes our hope for eternity, but emulating Jesus’ compassion in our daily lives, bit by bit, does create real change here and now. Not in any grandiose sense, of course; we cannot really “start over,” especially if what we mean by it is returning to the good-old days. But, we can take some steps to foster renewed faith in us and others: remember the angel’s “come, see”, and consider following it up with Jesus’ own “go, tell”. Come, see – go, tell. Thanks be to God.
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