Easter is one of those days in church we are filled with parishioners, regular and perhaps a bit less-so. Folks that are here just to please a mother or grandmother – which is itself a good thing. There are visitors passing through town, the last wave of folks here before heading back north for the summer, other people who just want to celebrate in the prettiest church in these parts, people that are curious, folks that sense that things are different with Pope Francis, folks who are suffering, folks are bit lost and searching, and all kind and manner of people. All are welcomed. Welcomed on this greatest of solemnities of the Christian faith. Someone said to be that this is like a second Christmas. Really? Maybe Christmas is a second Easter (…and I would have to give that one some thought.) Easter is the celebration – when we proclaim that, just as He said, Jesus was raised from the dead. Resurrection. It is amazing that God showed His love for us by coming to pitch his tent among us, but raised from the dead… that takes the Divine Love to a new depth, breadth, and mystery.
We are a Resurrection people. The opening prayer today points to the connection we have to Jesus’ resurrection. We are not simply the beneficiaries of so great a sacrifice, so great a gift. We participate. We are directly connected to that Resurrection. It is as St. Paul writes in the Letter to the Romans,
“Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life”
Not like Lazarus, resuscitated into the life he had before, but Resurrection to a newness of life. Newness of life. And so it is right that we should cry out: Alleluia! Alleluia! We should be a people that continue to gaze in to the mystery of this story with intensity and unbridled wonder. We need to be, are called to be a people who will wake up tomorrow and praise God that we have this newness of life – and then take on the herculean task of figuring out how to live this “newness” in the Resurrection. Because if we can’t receive this amazing gift and do something with it, be somehow different, then we are as St. Paul says in 1 Cor 15:19, “the most pitiable people of all.”
So…how are we to begin living this newness? Or maybe the question is “What are to make of this newness of life?” What are we to say? I’m not sure, but I know this. It is as St. Augustine said, we can’t not speak in the face of such wonder and mystery. So where do we begin? I might suggest a three-step process.
Step One: begin simply: read the story and make it your own. And, yes that means read the stories of Scripture. And if that makes you stop dead in your tracks, remember the words of the Angel to the women, the words of Jesus: Do not be afraid (Mt 28:5,10). Dive right on in to the story. Maybe it doesn’t make sense the first time, just keep reading, and begin telling others what you have read. I think in our best days, we Christians are simply story tellers. Story tellers. Not theologians, scripture scholars, or ancient language experts. Story tellers. People who will gossip the gospel over the backyard fence. We do not have to explain it all, but simply proclaim it. Just tell the story with the wide-eyed wonder of the person who just received the greatest gift ever. And then tell it again. And again. Think about it, ponder it, and let it rummage around. Let the story of the Prodigal Son bounce around for a while. Get to know the Samaritan Woman at the well. Peter, the rock. Peter, the fisherman. Peter, the impulsive. Peter, the denier. Tell the story and let it set for a while. Rummaging is important.
One of the things that baffled my Kenyan friends was how quick westerners are to tell the story and then move on to the next thing. This was brought to my attention when telling a version of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox stories – wisdom stories from the American South. Its seems I told the story to some of the children and then went one sentence too far. I concluded with, “the moral of this story is…” The Kenyan elders were baffled why I would end the story for the children without giving them a chance to enter into the story, take it apart, put it together again, change the dialogue, change the characters, reverse roles, try it on, let it rummage around, and figure out their own meaning and moral. The Kenyan tradition was for the child to return to the story teller and let them know the fruit of all that rummaging. The story became theirs.
Easter. We just told the greatest story ever told. Well, …I have done my part. I proclaimed it and shouldn’t feel compelled to explain it. I should probably end the homily here and just let you all ponder on all this for a while. You know, and when you’re ready, come one back and come talk to me.
But let me suggest a direction to your pondering, reflection, and musing.
Step Two: It is as the Angel told the disciples: “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee” (v. 7). Pope Francis in his Easter Vigil homily said it best: “You have to find, discover your Galilee.”
Galilee is the place where it all began. Where Jesus called the disciples, told the stories, performed mighty deeds, healed, and reached out. Where He proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was upon us. It all begins in Galilee. But we return to Galilee with the truth of the Resurrection.
Your Galilee has three parts: (1) the place of beginning, (2) the place where we understand the stories with a newness, and (3) the experience of the journey.
The place of beginning: Pope Francis said, “For each of us, too, there is a ‘Galilee’ at the origin of our journey with Jesus. ‘To go to Galilee’ means something beautiful, it means rediscovering our baptism as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our faith and our Christian experience. To return to Galilee means above all to return to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey. From that flame I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters. That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.”
The place we understand with newness: To return to Galilee means to read and tell everything again in the light of the cross and its victory in the Resurrection. Engage the stories again – Jesus’ preaching, his miracles, the wisdom, the excitement and the challenges, even the betrayal – tell everything starting from the Resurrection – that you might live in the newness of life. That newness is in your Galilee.
The experience of the journey: Again, Pope Francis said, “In the life of every Christian, after baptism there is also a more existential “Galilee”: the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission. In this sense, returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the living memory of that call, when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with mercy and asked me to follow him. It means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me.”
Galilee is in your life, it is in the stories, it is the place where you fall in love all over again.
You enter into the story – the story of beginnings, the stories of scripture, the story of your life. You let it all rummage around. You hold it up to see it more clearly in the light of a new dawn. You find the meaning. You find yourself in love.
And Step Three: You tell the story of being in love. Tell it with intensity and unbridled wonder – just we tell all stories of true, abiding love. Love that holds all the newness of life.
We are just people who tell our own love story of our life with Christ the Crucified, Christ the Risen.
And so,… on this Easter, may the love of Christ in His Resurrection raise us all to a newness of life and love – here and now.