Homily for the Resurrection of the Lord (Easter Day), Year A 2014
I would like to begin today with the short reading from St Paul about yeast. My family used to make sourdough bread, just as the Jews would do. They would break off a lump of the sourdough, mix it with flour and it would ferment and create a new batch of bread. While this could go on for years, and did in my family, Jews were asked to start a new batch of leaven every year at Passover time, probably signifying symbolically a new start after they celebrated being released from slavery in Egypt. So, at the Passover, having destroyed or gotten rid of the leaven, they ate only unleavened bread, what we would call flatbread today.
Paul starts with this image which would have been familiar to all his readers, and he asks them to start over and clean out the old yeast and start afresh. He says that they and we are like unleavened bread now. Jesus has purified them and taken out the leaven that was old and tainted, and before being leavened we all must start again, having thrown out the old world order of malice and evil, like they did the old yeast, and begin again with sincerity and truth. If leaven causes bread ( and us) to rise, it is Jesus who will also cause us to rise… with him!
Our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles is a homily of Peter in which Peter summarizes for the crowd the elements of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. He first speaks of John the Baptist’s baptism and how God anointed Jesus through the Holy Spirit to do good and heal. Despite this, Peter says they put him to death on a tree. But God would not let him die and raised him up on the third day. It is clear in the homily that Peter believe in the Resurrection simply because he was a witness to Jesus and ate and drank with him after his death. Finally he states that the resurrected Jesus commanded them to spread the news about him by preaching, especially by using the Scriptures and especially using the prophecies. What Jesus brought, Peter says, is forgiveness to all who believe in him.
Finally, today, St. John combines the supernatural with the ordinary in his Gospel account of the Resurrection event. It is quite a delightful narrative really. Mary goes in the dark to the tomb. We are not told why she went, simply perhaps to mourn. She couldn’t have gotten inside the tomb by herself because there was a large stone closing off the entrance. But when she arrives she realizes that the stone has been moved. She doesn’t go into the tomb, but races to Peter and to one other apostle – simply called “the one whom Jesus loved.” This unknown person is referred to as this six times in John’s Gospel.
As a side note to the story itself, it has been debated for centuries who the beloved disciple really was. Most seem to think it was John the apostle -supposedly John the Evangelist himself. Others say that John the apostle would have been much too old when the Gospel was actually written. Other commentators favor Lazarus as the disciple, since when before Lazarus died his sister talked about how he whom you loved is sick.
Lastly, among many others suggested through the centuries is the rather recent theory that Mary Magdelene herself was the beloved disciple, though how that can be reconciled with the text that Mary ran to Peter and the other disciple, I have no idea.
Let us continue wight he story, however. The beloved disciple, being apparently younger and more agile got to the tomb first, but in deference to peter, waited till peter got there before entering after him. You may have noticed the details that the writer mentions – the linen wrappings on the ground where they had fallen off, the cloth that covered the corpse’s head in another location and rolled up. What do these details indicate? They are both ordinary and yet strange. Would not have someone who carried out the body have kept these coverings to hide the body? The body moved around because the coverings were in two different locations, and while the sheets had just fallen off, someone took the time to roll the linen facial cover.
In any case, the younger disciple seemed to figure it our and believed what had just happened. Peter may not yet have understood because of John’s statement that they didn’t understand how the Hebrew scriptures indicated he would rise from the dead.
Mary had come with them to the tomb but did not go in. After Peter and the disciple left to go back home, Mary was left crying at the tomb, and she looked into the cave and saw to figures in white sitting at either end of the tomb itself. They speak to her and ask why she is crying and her reply is simply that somebody must have taken the body and she doesn’t know where it has gotten to. Imagine what you would feel if you went to a grave of a loved one the next day and saw that someone had stolen the body!
As she turned away she saw someone she took to be the gardener of the cemetery. I love this image because if Jesus is seen as the new Adam, isn’t it appropriate Jesus be seen as a gardener because really that’s what Adam was in Paradise – the groundskeeper of Eden. Now here is where it could get eerily supernatural. Mary didn’t recognize Jesus! Instead she almost blames the gardener for carrying away the body and demands to know what he did with it.
When Jesus speaks to her, though, and calls her by name, she immediately recognizes the voice, calls out “Teacher!” and holds on to him. Some translations give a wrong sense of the resurrected Jesus being breakable or fragile, saying “Don’t touch me!”. But when Jesus says literally – “don’t hold on to me” – he is probably more referring to having work to do because he hasn’t ascended to the Father and that he can’t be so detained. So Mary hurries back yet again to tell them the news – she has seen Jesus!
To me it is significant again that it is to a woman that Jesus first shows himself, just as we saw a few weeks ago, it was to a Samaritan woman that he first revealed who he was. How unlike what would ordinarily be done in Jesus’ time! God’s ways are not ours as i so often remind you.
The Resurrection is a supernatural event, hard to believe especially in our era when we do not believe it can happen according to the laws of science. And yet, i am sure that none in Jesus’ time could believe it either. Our own experience tells us not to believe. But for the early church belief came very quickly and was widespread. The simple telling of the story and the every day details show that it was part of the fabric of their lives when they wrote it down.
St. Paul tells us that it is central to our faith, that the cross was not enough. Without the resurrection Jesus turns into an ordinary man, a great prophet and healer perhaps, but could hardly be the impetus of faith for so many people for 2000 years. Yes, it is hard to believe, but I do believe it. And I do, precisely because I don’t understand God’s ways. And the more i read, the more I learn, the more I debate in my mind with all the naysayers, I keep coming to the same conclusion that I hope you do as well. Jesus is God, and it is by looking at the physical manifestation of God in his human form that we know how to create the kingdom of God on earth with him. That is the Good News. That is it in a nutshell. And as i always end my homily with the same statement about the goodness of the Good News, let me pray today that this Good News of the Resurrection bring you to a knowledge of God and his kingdom on earth and heaven so that like the yeast, you may rise with him and be the yeast for the rest of the world to feed on in days to come. Truly Good News. Happy Easter to you all.
Bishop Ron Stephens, Auxiliary Bishop of Holy Trinity Diocese Of the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 - Teaching the Church Year”]