Sunday, April 05, 2015

'It all comes down to a tomb' (Easter homily)

After all our Lent, with penance and fasting,
after all of Holy Week, after all those readings,
it all comes down to a tomb.

This part of the Church’s year we call the “triduum”—“three days.” 
But it would be more helpful to understand them as three nights.

Thursday evening: the Lord Jesus and his Apostles 
celebrate the last Passover supper before his death; 
but it is also the first of the New Passover, 
which is what we celebrate as Christians – 
every year, every Sunday, and at every daily Mass.

Thursday night he and his friends prayed in the garden; 
Many of us prayed through the night in this church.

Sometime in the night he was betrayed and arrested. 
In the morning he is brought before Pilate. 
He is beaten savagely and then carries the cross to Golgotha.

It was about noon when they nailed him to the cross, 
and it was about three when he died. 
Because there were so many pilgrims in Jerusalem for Passover, 
it’s very likely many celebrated Passover the night before, 
as Jesus and the Apostles did. 
The Gospel of John makes clear that as our Lord was being crucified, 
the chief priests were preparing for their Passover.

When Jesus died on the cross at 3 pm, 
do you know what was happening nearby at the temple? 
The lambs for Passover were being slain. 
That’s when Jesus cried out: “It is finished!”

And so his death came at the time of the evening sacrifice. 
That’s the second evening.

They hurried to take his body from the cross, 
and lay it in the tomb, before night fell. 
Then it was the Sabbath. 
And after the night fell again, on Saturday, 
the Sabbath had ended. The third night.

Sometime in the dark, before dawn, is when Jesus rose from the dead. 
Mary Magdalene and the other women came early in the morning. 
The sense of the Scriptures seems to be 
that they arrived just as darkness was giving way to the morning.

Now, you have to look at all the Gospels 
to get all the details I will share with you. 

After Jesus died, his enemies demanded 
a guard be posted at the tomb, and Pilate granted it. 
When the resurrection happened, the earth shook, 
the stone was rolled aside, and the guards, witnessing this, 
were badly frightened and ran away. 
The chief priests bribed them to say that they had been asleep.

When Peter and John arrived later, 
after hearing the account of the women, 
but not fully believing them. 
When Peter and John entered the tomb, 
they saw only the linen cloth that had covered the Lord’s body. 
Now, this is a very important detail that many people don’t notice. 

If, as the guards claimed, the disciples came and stole the body, 
who would take time to unwrap it? 

Also, remember that when Jesus died, myrrh and aloes 
were used to anoint his body. 
In other words, the burial cloths would have been very stiff.

Do you know what Peter and John saw? 
They saw the burial cloths, still there, in the right position – 
but empty! When Jesus rose from the dead, 
he left them behind, just as they were!

Now, here’s why that detail is important.
If someone made up the story of the resurrection, why include that?
Who would even think of it?

You may wonder how we know these things.
We know them because people saw the empty tomb. 
Many more saw and heard Jesus after he rose from the dead, 
including all the Apostles. 
Thomas, as we know, was absent 
the first time the Lord came to his Apostles, and he was skeptical. 
Jesus came back the next week, and said: touch my hands and my side.

These witnesses began to tell their stories right away. 
They began within a matter of weeks. 
They were arrested, beaten; 
the Apostle James was killed right away, as were others. 
They were so convinced he rose, 
that they were willing to give their lives, 
even die terrible deaths themselves, 
rather than deny what they saw.

If Peter lied, if Paul lied, if the other Apostles lied, why? 
What did they gain?

In the end, it all comes down to a choice: do you believe?

In a few minutes, I’m going to ask ___ here that question. 
He’s been preparing for this night, 
for his baptism and his confirmation and his first holy communion. 
But before you are baptized, ____, I will ask you, in several questions, 
whether you believe this happened – 
do you believe Jesus died and rose, and lives forever?

I know that you do – that’s why you are here.

In the Apostles’ time, it was very dangerous 
to say “yes, I believe in Jesus.” 
In many places in our world, it is just as dangerous. 
In Kenya, terrorists invade a college, and ask people: are you Christian? 
And if they said yes, they killed them. 
In Libya, in Iraq, in Syria, and many other places, 
people are dying just as the Apostles did.

In our country, it is becoming costly to follow Jesus. 
You may be called a bigot; you may have your business taken from you. 
You may lose your job. 

So it’s a very important question, do you believe? 
It’s actually the most important question.

It all comes down to that tomb.


Jennifer said...

It does all come down to that empty tomb. I will keep believing and publicly professing my beliefs. No matter the cost. Thank you for your priestly example. :)

Jenny said...

It does all come down to that tomb. Thank you for this!!

rcg said...

I think many more believe it than we think. But they want to understand it and deny it based on their human limits. We see Grace and forgiveness and won't accept it except on our own terms and lose everything.