Apr 23, 2011

The Easter Alleluia!

The Resurrection of Christ - Rembrandt

Easter Monday readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/042511.shtml

Have you ever had an experience so wonderful or awe inspiring that no matter how eloquent, words could not describe what you saw or felt? For most of us that would be a rare event. Maybe a once in a lifetime occurrence. Over the years I’ve heard stories from folks about an experience in prayer they are reluctant to share because if they did, they might be labeled as naive or crazy or delusional. Some people relate they have seen angels or saw Jesus. But, "who would really believe me if I claimed such a thing?"  Even then, it would be difficult to find the right words to describe it.

How do you explain the colors of a sunset to capture the emotion you feel in watching it? Saying the sky was red, blue, orange, or yellow would describe the colors or to say that it was beautiful would be adequate but many things are colorful and beautiful. Look at the spring Easter flowers in your Church. Words sometimes just fall short. You would need to explain much more in order to share the experience with someone.

I suppose one could describe Crater Lake here in southern Oregon as just an enormous hole in the ground filled with water. Not a very memorable description that would attract many. Or, we can refer to it as majestic, awe inspiring, azure blue in color and one of the natural wonders of the world. One description is flat, mundane and certainly not something that would draw you to southern Oregon to view an enormous hole in the ground! But I would be interested in seeing and hearing more about a natural wonder of the world. It’s all in how you describe it and your enthusiasm about what you've seen.

The same could be said of our Faith. This weekend we have come to the end of our annual six week journey towards Easter in which we mark the Resurrection of the Lord. We can see it merely as an article of our faith; a strange story from the Scriptures that has been challenged more than once by skeptics as possibly myth or imagination.

Or we could recognize it as the core belief of our lives as a Christian people – as that event which presents to us a daily choice of WHO and WHAT to believe in and how we accordingly direct our lives toward our ultimate salvation in Christ.

The Resurrection stories of Mary Magdalene, Peter, John, and for all who were privileged to see, touch, eat with, and witness to the risen Christ attempt to describe their experience in a mix of deep emotions. We hear in our Gospel readings: “fearful yet overjoyed, amazed, they saw and believed.” Once they saw the empty tomb or the risen Lord himself, they didn't just take their sweet time about telling others.  They "ran" from the tomb. They could hardly contain themselves.

If you read the Gospel's carefully, you can hear both their enthusiasm and their frustration at describing what or rather "who" they saw: at the tomb, in the upper room, along the road to Emmaus, or by the Sea of Galilee. Something happened that radically changed their lives but words alone were not sufficient to describe the experience. I wonder where our present day skeptics would be on CNN or any of the news media? One thing is certain; what began in doubt ended very quickly in conviction.

While the empty tomb alone is not proof of the resurrection, subsequent events related in the Gospels are written to prove to us that Jesus indeed did rise in his body from the dead. He spoke to them, he ate with them, he cooked breakfast for them along the Sea of Galilee, he broke bread with them along the road to Emmaus, he said to Thomas "touch me." Yet he could also disappear from their sight. A true mystery that only brings courage through the gift of faith.

What that event implies for us is that death is not the end of the road. That God has overcome any reason for us to fear but that now we can experience the living Christ in and through his Church – in his Word in his Sacrament in the Faith we share. New life in Baptism, Bread of Life in the Eucharist, and the Chrism of the Holy Spirit all are signs of the resurrection in our midst.  Christ is alive and risen among us! Yet we know that our faith reassures us - the best is yet to come on the other side of this life.

St. Augustine put it well when he said, “He disappeared from before our eyes, that we might find him in our hearts.” Our task is to carry out our mission and do what the Church always does. I think we have a duty to describe this event by living this event in witness to our faith. WORDS ALONE WILL NEVER BE ADEQUATE. We must also witness to the Lord.

To witness to the truth in our own ways as Peter did in our first reading for Easter Sunday morning: “He commissioned us to . . . testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.” The very mission of this Church which Christ himself established is to be a voice for his truth in the world. As members of the Church we are most often the voice that others hear.

Popes and Bishops as leaders of the Church are often judged very well or very harshly. We priests hear the same about us. It often goes with anyone in a leadership. And for that reason, the leadership of our Church has a special responsibility to be men of integrity and humility.

But, I think in the end, people come to form an opinion about Christians and in particular about those of us in the Catholic Church based upon their personal experience of someone they know. Most often they pass judgment based upon our behavior or the level of our enthusiasm about the Faith. Often times, people choose to join the Church or to leave it, or at least slack off in their regular attendance, based upon how they were treated, welcomed or judged by someone as a member the Church: both people and priests included. Have you inspired someone this Lent by what you said or did?

We Catholics are deeply fortunate. We have Peter and the Apostles among us in our Pope and Bishops. We have a rich, ancient, beautiful, powerful faith with a very long tradition and a treasure chest filled with a variety of spirituality's. We have great heroes among our Saints and powerful Sacraments in which the ministry of Christ continues in the world. We have a story to tell, a history to learn from, and a message of hope and love for the world around us. But, it seems to me there is a clear connection between what we say we believe in and what we do with the quality of our lives.

While that may seem obvious in ordinary things, it becomes far more challenging with our Faith. When we feel we need to take a stand for what we believe in is when we hear the resurrection call:  "Do not be afraid . . . I am with you always."

Jesus often said to those who saw him after the Resurrection: “Do not be afraid.” Angels at the tomb told the women “Do not be afraid.” Jesus said to his Apostles, “Do not be afraid.” I think there is a message in that for everyone of us, “Do not be afraid” to be a follower of Christ and do not be afraid to be a Catholic-Christian.

The words of what is called our “Easter Sequence” make the point we all need to hear about our mission:

Christians to the Paschal Victim offer your thankful praises!
A Lamb the sheep redeems; Christ who only is sinless,
Reconciles sinners to the Father.
Death and life have contended in that combat stupendous:
The Prince of Life who died, reigns immortal.
Speak Mary, declaring what you saw, way faring,
The tomb of Christ, who is living, the glory of Jesus resurrection;
Bright angels, attesting, the shroud and napkin resting.
Yes, Christ my hope is arisen; to Galilee he goes before you.
Christ indeed from death is risen, our new life obtaining,
Have mercy victor King, ever reigning!”