Archbishop Lori's Homily: Easter Sunday
April 18, 2017
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Baltimore
April 16, 2017
By Archbishop William E. Lori
John the Evangelist’s account of the Resurrection tells how Mary Magdalene came the tomb of Jesus while it was still dark. There she found the stone removed from his burial place. The Gospel of Matthew also tells how the stone was rolled back as do the evangelists Mark and Luke.
Upon seeing the stone rolled back, Mary Magdalene’s first thought is not that the Lord had been raised from the dead but rather that someone had stolen the Lord’s body. In fact, widespread rumors of a grave-robbery were used by the authorities of the day to explain why the stone was rolled back and the tomb was empty. Yet the evidence offered by the burial cloths inside the tomb tells another story. It is unlikely that grave robbers would have unbound Jesus hand and foot and equally unlikely they would have neatly rolled up the burial cloths and put them in a separate place. No, all this doesn’t look like the work of robbers but rather the handiwork of God in whose Spirit Jesus was raised from the dead.
Even so, the disciples are slow to believe in the Resurrection. What proves decisive for them is not the rolled-back stone or the burial cloths but rather their encounter with the Person of the Risen Lord. A few verses beyond today’s Gospel find Mary Magdalene alone in the Garden where the Risen Lord speaks her name – Mary – and she calls him Rabbi – teacher…. With that, the eyes of her soul are opened to the mystery of the Resurrection. So it was for the apostles and for the other disciples. Only a personal encounter with the Risen Lord can bring about an Easter faith.
This morning, let us pray for a genuine Easter faith. Like the first followers of Jesus, we need to pay close attention to the signs that the Resurrection is not a myth but a real event that took place in human history. Like them, we need to grapple with all the many ways Scripture testifies to the truth and reality of the Lord’s Resurrection . . . as we have just heard. In the Acts of the Apostles Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit testifies that Jesus was put to death by being hanged upon a tree and that God raised him from the dead on the third day (AA 10:37). In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul speaks of Christ as raised from dead & exalted, seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven (Col. 3:1-4). In the Gospel, the Beloved Disciple, St. John, peers into the empty tomb; Scripture says of him, “He saw and he believed” (John 20:8).
Yet, dear friends, the Church does not ask us to put our faith and trust merely in an historical record going back twenty centuries. No, like the first followers of Jesus we too must encounter the Risen Lord in faith. Faith is not mere opinion and it is more than the conclusion of a logical argument. No, faith is a gift of God, a gift of the Holy Spirit, given us in Baptism, that opens our minds and hearts to spiritual realities – things visible and invisible. So, faith is not irrational but rather a form of enlightenment that enables us to see the truth of Gospel, then to hope in God’s promises, and even more so, to experience the effects of God’s love in our daily lives. At the heart of the Church’s faith is the Person of Jesus, truly the Son of God made man, crucified, risen from the dead, our Savior. As Pope Benedict once said, “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (Deus Caritas Est, № 1).
Let us pay close attention to these words. For they help us see that while the Resurrection truly occurred in human history, it is unlike other historical events which happen once and then pass away. No, the Death and Resurrection of Christ remains a living event – as fresh, as powerful, and as real as it was some 2,000 years ago – for it participates both in human history and in the eternity of God. That is why it is still possible for you and me to encounter the Risen Lord, not merely in our imagination, not merely as a figure of history but as the true and living Lord, the Victor over sin and death, alive in our midst.
In a few moments, we will be asked to renew our Easter faith. We will renew our Baptismal Promises and profess the Creed, the summary of the Church’s central beliefs and teachings. We will publicly testify that we believe in God, the Father and Creator, that we believe in his Son, Jesus Christ, Crucified and Risen, and that we believe in the Holy Spirit, who brings Christ to life in us. In the same breath we will profess our faith in the Church – not because the members of the Church are without sin – but because the Church is where sinners encounter the mercies of the Risen Lord.
As we renew the promises of our Baptism in which we first received the gift of faith, let us beg the Holy Spirit to bring our faith back to life again, to re-vive it, to open our hearts to the Risen Lord – so much so – that like the Apostles, we will not only encounter him but also share in his new life and his victory over sin and death. But what could it mean for you and me to encounter the Risen Lord? How and where does it happen? What effects will it have on our lives? Let me suggest two ways we can have a life-changing encounter with the Lord.
First, we will encounter the Risen Lord if we sincerely ask him to remove the stone that we have placed at the entrance to our hearts. This stone can take many forms – our hearts can grow hardened in their sins – thus Psalm 95 says, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts!” The stone can represent attitudes of indifference toward God, spiritual lethargy, pandering to our weaknesses, hopelessness in the face of our problems. Let us accept the Lord’s invitation to examine all the barriers that exist in us, that prevent us from encountering him and obstruct the new life of the resurrection.
Part of our Easter faith is that the Crucified Lord descended into hell, that is, into the regions of the netherworld to set free Adam and Eve and their descendants. Only the Risen Lord, in the power of the Spirit, can roll back the stone of our hearts and enter into the depths of our being to free us from our private netherworlds, those places in the depth of our being where we harbor anger and bitterness, where we hide a multitude of sinful attitudes, desires, and behaviors. When we examine our consciences and make an unburdening confession of our sins we invite the Lord to roll back the stone, to free us from our sins, to allow once again the new life of the Resurrection to flow in us and through us.
The second way we encounter the Lord is in the Mass – the Eucharist – where the Risen Lord speaks to us in the words of Scripture and gives us his own Body and Blood as our spiritual food and drink. Once our spirits are freed from sin, once they have been cleansed and set free, then they are receptive to encountering Jesus in Word and Sacrament, not only private but also publicly, in the company of fellow believers. In fact, this becomes a priority – just as it is for anyone on the path to holiness – to make time in our busy schedules for Mass each Sunday – for this is indeed the privileged place of encounter with the Risen Lord.
Permit me a final thought. Once the Lord’s mercy has set our hearts free from sin, and once we have met the Risen Lord in Word and Sacrament, then we will more easily be able to see Christ in others; to find Christ in family members, colleagues, friends, even enemies. We will see him in the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, and the stranger. Encountering the Risen Lord afresh, we may even find the courage to share the Good News with others, especially those disconnected from their faith. As Easter faith overtakes our heart, may we and our loved ones experience the ‘peace of God that surpasses all understanding’ (Phil. 4:7) the ‘peace the world cannot give’ (John 14:27).
For, “This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it! Alleluia!”