Easter Sunday 2018, Homily of Fr. Carl Chudy
Throughout these days of Holy Week we have accompanied Jesus, his disciples, and the crowds from Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, to the arduous and painful walk up the Via Dolorosa. We all converged at the top of the hill of Golgotha. All of us, witnessing the murder of Jesus on the cross, are faced with the lifeless body of the Lord demanding some kind of a response from us, and from God.
What was God’s answer to the cross when Jesus cried out the words of doubt and angst, when all of the dreams of the disciples, and many others were torn asunder, like the veil that hid the presence of God in the Tabernacle in the Temple. The veil that hid God now laid him bare to us in the paschal act of Christ. Jesus utters the words from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This is a question only God could answer, and he did.
Jesus, risen from the dead came back to us here on earth briefly, but, it was not the same Jesus that died on the cross. The Jesus that accompanied the disciples did not return. Death and resurrection transformed him into someone unrecognizable to his closest followers, and certainly to anyone else. The human Jesus was gone. The world did not know him, including his disciples. He appeared as a rupture from the past prophets toward a future unforeseen.
Mary Magdalene rose up to the tomb of Jesus in order to provide him a one last balm of her love and devotion for her master, the anointing of his body. At her utter surprise the body of Jesus was indeed gone, and her first assumption was that his body was stolen. The words of Jesus before he died did not sink in yet. It would take this time of grieving and intense confusion for his words to resonate.
She encountered whom she thought was a gardener and pleaded with him to help her find her Lord. But it was Jesus and she did not recognize him. After some time, Jesus raised his head, looked into her eyes and pronounced her name, “Mary.” At once all that he had taught came rushing into her mind and heart and her only response was, “Rabboni.” Immediately she attempted to embrace Jesus but he held her back saying, “Mary, do not cling to me. I have not yet ascended to my Father in heaven.” John 20:14:20
The two disciples in the narrative of Emmaus, bitterly disappointed and grieving the death of their master and hope, walked toward the town of Emmaus, away from Jerusalem. On the way there they met Jesus, but they did not recognize him either. Jesus asked them what they were discussing. His question must have threw them off guard. One of them, Cleopas, says, ““Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
Jesus asked, “What things?” Cleopas goes on, “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but did not find his body.”
Jesus responded to them by bringing his words back to them on how all of the prophets anticipated this time, that Christ would have to suffer, and then enter his glory. As they walked in raptured listening, they realized that evening was upon them, so they decided to stop for a meal. But Jesus walked on, as if he was going further. They begged him to remain with them. In the Eucharistic understanding of the early Christian community, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and gave it to them. It was precisely at that moment that there eyes were opened and with that, the figure of Jesus disappeared. They exclaimed: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” Luke 24:13-35
Thomas the disciple was quite skeptical of the growing reports that Jesus was indeed risen and that he was seen by Mary and other disciples. Like the doubt and mistrust that grips our hearts, we know well Thomas’ need for evidence of the wonders of God. He stated to his companions, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
The following week Jesus again appears to them through locked doors and locked hearts. Jesus says, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:24-29
Mary recognized Jesus, not in his physical appearance they were well acquainted with, but in his voice that called her name. The disciples of Emmaus recognized the meaning of his teachings in the breaking of the bread. Thomas’ need to touch Jesus’ wounds was also about touching the wounds of his own self-doubt.
These are the proofs of Christ’s presence among us: the calling of our names by the Lord and our response in longing and joy, the opening of our eyes and hearts when we experience the Eucharist together, and in the touching of his wounds that mirror the wounds of ourselves and the world around us. “By these stripes we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5
The disciples lost Jesus in how they held him during his life. Instead, Jesus’ transformation in the resurrection touched how they saw Christ with new eyes. They began to understand how they could understand themselves and the world through new eyes, hardly reminiscent of their time with Jesus’ ministry on earth.
We too, spend our lives seeing God’s plan and presence in Christ with ever new eyes, understanding the tenacity of hope that transcends death itself, despite all the heartache and violence our world is immersed in. We all dream of a “new heaven and a new earth”, and that dream is what carries us and the entire cosmos in the evolution of Divine Love through our assent to be a disciple. The source of that dream is Christ risen, perceived through our choices and action to heal the world around us.
Fr. John Shea brings to bear this transformation in a poem he wrote with the voice of Mary Magdalene:
I never suspected
And to be so painful
To leave me weeping
To have met you alive and smiling, outside an empty tomb
Not because I lost you
but because I ‘ve lost you in how I had you –
in understandable, touchable, clingable flesh.
Not as fully Lord, but as graspable and human.
I want to cling, despite your protest.
Cling to your body.
Cling to you, and my clingable humanity.
Cling to what we had, our past.
But I know …If I cling.
You cannot ascend and
I will be left clinging to your former self…
unable to receive your present spirit.
This reflection was particularly inspired by the work of Fr. Tomas Halik in his book, I Want You to Be. I encourage you to take a look at it.
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