Sunday, April 5, 2015

2015/04/05 Easter Homily - trivial details

Before Mass:
Welcome to St. Raphael/St. Celestine – I know we’ve got several visitors with us today, and I hope you feel welcomed here at our Easter Celebration… this is the Big day… possibly the biggest celebration of the year – and we are so glad you chose to help us make it special.
I want to warn you about the Gospel reading today.  I really scratch my head about this one…with all the awesome stuff in the Bible, for some reason, every Easter morning we hear a reading about John and Peter racing to the tomb.  It is filled with details which, to me, are trivial (I would call the silly, but a friend told me it just ain't right to call something in the Bible 'silly')!  I think – man – if I was visiting here for the first time and I heard THIS reading, I’d be like – what’s the point?  Why do I care about who got to the tomb first?
That’s your challenge for the day… why should we care about the silly details?   What’s the point of the empty tomb?  Let’s make it our prayer that in today’s Celebration, that each one of us can walk away with a new understanding of how the Resurrection really CAN make a difference in our lives.
Let me get this straight… John ran faster and got to the tomb first and looked in but didn’t GO in – then Peter arrived and he DID go in – and they saw this cloth over here and that cloth over there – and then John went in and he saw and believed.  So what? 
While the details themselves might not mean much… the way this story is told to us tells us something important that we might not even recognize.
I want everybody to think of one of the most shocking events that ever happened in your life.  For people over 75, it might be the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  For those over 55 or so, it might be when JFK was shot.  For those over 18, it might be 9/11.  Or for anybody, it might be when you found out a loved one was in an accident.
If I asked you to tell me about that experience, what would you say?  Think in your mind now – how would you tell me the story?  For most people, we have a script in our head… If I was to ask any of you to tell me where you were on one of those days – you wouldn’t hesitate – AND you would provide some very minute details.  Why?  Because the memories are SO VIVID in our minds that they MUST be important – we HAVE to share those details because …well… why else would we remember so vividly?  The more detail you remember about an event signifies just how much it shook you….just how much it scared you… just how much it changed your world.
On the other hand, if you ask somebody who was not alive at the time to tell about Pearl Harbor, they would simply tell you the details they remember from the history books about the date, how many people died, and how that was when the US got pulled into WWII.
But THAT is exactly why John felt the need to share all of those silly details.  HE WAS THERE.  This event – this moment of finding the empty tomb – was such an emotionally charged event that completely changed his world, those details MUST be important.  This was his 9/11.  This was his Pearl Harbor.  All of these details tell us that JOHN REALLY DID BELIEVE WHAT HE WROTE.  If he just gave us the bare facts, it would be nothing more than reciting history...  

Now – to use 2000 years later – since we weren’t there, we might think – well, that’s nice… the tomb was empty… yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it before – Jesus rose from the dead…. Yawn…..
Here’s my point:  We can only appreciate the JOY of the empty tomb, when we have experience the DESPAIR of filling that tomb.  Repeat.  To say it another way, we can only feel joy at the resurrection when we know the man who is being resurrected.
Most of us have lost someone close to us – and we can remember the pain – the despair.  For some of us, this pain is really fresh.  For others, the pain is never too far below the surface.  Losing a loved one can shake our world – it can test our faith – it can drive us into despair. 
This is where John and Peter were that Easter morning… the depths of despair…. until Mary Magdalene told them the impossible news… that the tomb was empty.  WHAT!?  EMPTY?  NO WAY?!  That moment would have sparked thoughts like, “maybe Jesus WASN’T kidding when He said he would rise from the dead”?!  Could it be?!  Hope rose out of despair  let me say that again… Hope was dead, but in that moment, hope was resurrected out of despair.  This is a definition of resurrection which you and I can apply to our own lives.
I have a quote on my desk at work which still puzzles me, but I know it is important.  It says, “Practice Resurrection”.  How do we do that? 
Jerry and his wife split up about a year ago.  It was a sudden thing, and he didn’t agree with the split at all… but he had no choice.  He respected her wishes.  He moved out, but maintained contact with the family as much as possible.  The two of them would talk – and even go out on dates – and things would look hopeful, but the next day something would happen that would throw him right back down into the depths of despair again.  Fortunately, Jerry is a man of faith – and the one thought that returned to his mind when things were darkest was this:  “I believe in the resurrection”.  A couple of months ago, the family was reunited.  Do you think Jerry has a different appreciation for his wife, his kids, his home than he had a year ago?  You bet.  You only appreciate the joy of the empty tomb when you have experienced the despair that comes from filling it.
All of us have experiences like that – maybe not to that extreme.  But Students – especially college students – think about Finals week.  You’ve got a speech to give, a Senior project to finish and present, plus three other Tests worth 50% of your grade …. All this at the same time you’re trying to keep up with your part-time job and family responsibilities.  It can be OVERWHELMING.  After a couple weeks with almost no sleep, it’s natural to question whether we can make it… whether it’s worth the pain.  Can anybody relate to what I’m saying?  But - How did you feel when it was over?  As that weight was lifted from your shoulders, you likely felt a joy like none before.  You can only appreciate the joy of the empty tomb when you have experienced the despair that comes from filling it.
Think of a runner who trains for years to run the Marathon in the Olympics…  When the race is over, what is it that brings them to tears?  Thinking back on what they went through – running almost every day since high school when they started running cross country.  The sprained ankles;  The blisters;  The shin splints;  The muscle aches.  The sweat, the cold, the heat and humidity, the rain, snow, sleet… the hours sacrificed away from family and friends…  The sweetness of the FINISH LINE is only enhanced by the pain – by the sacrifices that were made to get there.
So it is with the empty tomb today.  We can only appreciate the joy of the empty tomb if we understand the despair of filling that tomb.  We can only appreciate the joy of the resurrection, when we know PERSONALLY that Man who was resurrected.  We can only appreciate his victory, when we appreciate the sacrifice he made to get there. 
Jesus was like the runner in the Marathon – crossing the line with his last bit of strength – hands raised high as He claimed his victory.  We can each claim that victory for ourselves, if we will trust that through our personal experiences of pain and despair in life – we WILL experience the resurrection.  Hope will rise from the tomb.  Practice Resurrection.

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