Fr. Paul's Homily
Welcome! Today we gather to celebrate Easter Sunday and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. For Christians, this is the most important day of the year. Without the Easter Resurrection, the Christian faith does not exist.
However, some might see tomorrow as the most important day of the year because the Master’s Golf tournament in Augusta, Georgia begins!! You think I’m kidding about this? Years ago, Frank Chirkinian, the head of CBS Sports, discovered that The Masters and Easter Sunday happened on the same day that year. Upset at this conflict, he demanded of his colleagues, “Who sets the date of Easter? Didn’t they realize that they scheduled it on The Masters weekend? Let’s get to that person and have him change it.” Poor Mr. Chirkinian did not know that the date for Easter has been determined since the 4th century when at the Council of Nicea it was decided that it would be the first Sunday following the first full moon after March 21st! Mr. Chirkinian, I think the Christians had the date before the Master’s had the date!
Our Gospel story begins with Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Salome bringing spices to the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus. Why? Jewish people prepared a body for burial by anointing the body with certain spices and oils and then wrapping the body in cloth. When Jesus’ body was removed from the cross on Friday, it was so close to sunset when the Jewish Sabbath began, that they did not have time to properly prepare his body for burial. So, he was hurriedly put into a borrowed tomb and a stone rolled over the entrance.
It is believed that the tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimethea, the man who had the courage to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body after he died. Being a man of some wealth, Joseph’s tomb was cut into stone, so it was possible to literally “walk into the tomb.” Such a tomb would have had a stone slab where the body was to be laid.
The Gospel story continues, “Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb.” These three women, Mary Magdalene, Mary, mother of James and Salome, came right after sunrise to anoint the body. Imagine them walking through the deserted streets of Jerusalem just as the first rays of the sun appear. It is quiet and peaceful, even though their hearts are heavy with grief. We find in the timing of their journey the connection between the dawn of the day and the resurrection. This helps us understand that the resurrection of Jesus is the bringing of light into the darkness of life.
Last night at the Easter Vigil, we begin with a large fire outside near 10th St. We did not start until 9:00 PM so that it would be completely dark. The whole congregation marched from church into the night air, so that we could experience the power of a flaming fire in the midst of full darkness. With this symbolism, the Easter fire was indeed the “Light shining in the darkness.” Jesus is that light that shines in all darkness.
Back to the gospel; seeing that the stone entrance to the tomb has been removed, they walk inside the tomb, fearful that his body has been stolen. There they see a young man, dressed in white who speaks an amazing message: “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him as he told you’.” We know from many examples in the gospels that Jesus appeared multiple times to the disciples, both in Jerusalem and in Galilee.
We all know what darkness feels like. It is the heaviness of life that sometimes occurs because of tragedy and sometimes just because of the constant struggles that we face. Darkness is the reality of chronic pain; it is the tragic loss of a loved one; it is one’s faith being bombarded by doubts; it might be a bitter divorce or the loss of hope in our future. Such darkness makes it difficult to believe. We all know this darkness in some way. Easter is meant to bring a light into the darkness.
There is a story years ago about an old municipal lamplighter, engaged in putting out the old gas street lamps one by one. A reporter asked him if he ever grew weary of his job since it was a lonely job and always in the dark, cold night. “Never am I cheerless,” said the old man, “for there is always a light ahead of me to lead me on.” “But, what do you have to cheer you when you have put out the last light?” asked the news writer. “Then comes the dawn,” said the lamplighter.
My Friends, today I ask you to believe in the dawn. I ask you to not let the skepticism and cynicism of this world to blow out the flame of hope that Easter brings. For those early Christians who knew Jesus and suffered through his death, his resurrection came as a total surprise, even though he had spoken about it. The stubbornness of their doubt and their pragmatic minds prevented them from seeing the possibility of new life. But Jesus appeared; Jesus allowed them to touch him, feed him, hear him. The resurrection of Jesus, forever, changed the darkness of life, and especially the darkness of death.
I would like to conclude with a simple story about George and Gracie Burns. Some of the older parishioners will remember them, for they were a comedy team for 40 years until Gracie’s death in 1964. George lived another 32 years, smoking his big stokey cigars. George and Gracie loved each other tremendously. Once when I saw the 60 Minutes special about George before he died, I remember him talking about how he goes to the mausoleum where Gracie’s body is interned and he talks with her. When he leaves, he always kisses the marble stone of her tomb.
When Gracie died, George was devastated. One of the things that George kept close to him following her death was a love note that always encouraged him. The note said: “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” (4)
My friends, today we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of resurrection that he gives to us, his followers. He has given us a hope that is meant to penetrate the darkness of life; he is the eternal Dawn that comes at the end of a long night. And in the story of our lives, Jesus tells us that death is a “comma”, not a “period”.
For this we rejoice! For this we sing Alleluia!