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“O Death, Where is Your Sting?” Easter Sunday Homily by Deacon Peter McDade (my Dad)

easter sunday homily pic from the cistine chapel

EASTER Sunday (A)

April 12, 2020

Readings: Acts 10:34, 37-43; Psalms 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Col 3:1-4, or 1 Cor 5:6B-8 ; John 20:1-9

Oh Death – Where is Your Sting?

We live in dark times. Dark – but not without hope. And in a strange way, almost as if by Divine Order, it comes at a time, Lent & Easter, which focuses us directly and intensely on the hope we have been given in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, Our Lord. We are often reminded of this throughout the year at many funerals where we read those supremely inspiring words from Paul (1 Cor 15:51-57), “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, Oh Death, is your victory? Where, Oh Death, is your sting?” This challenge, first made by Isaiah (25:8), is depicted graphically and beautifully in an image where part of a Michelangelo sculpture of the Risen Christ is engraved on a Sistine Chapel coin. Christ stands victorious over the Cross which He holds commandingly in His hands – in control of it having reduced it and its impact to a size much smaller than He. He is young and muscular, and He is victorious. He looks not at the cross but at life around Him.

Today we celebrate Christ’s victory over our sin, indeed, all sin of all ages. Jesus’ victory for life! God alone could do that – we could never overcome our sin and earn our salvation on our own accord. God’s infinite love for us leads us into the mystery of the Incarnation – God became human for the sole purpose of saving us to eternal life. All of creation is reconciled to God through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The scandal of the crucifixion is that a person such as Jesus should be subjected to it.

Over the last six weeks of Lent we have been preparing for this moment. A time for repentance and sacrifice now turns into fifty days of anticipation and rejoicing – anticipating the coming of the Holy Spirit and rejoicing for the love of our Saviour over Eastertide.

Do You Really Believe it?

Make no mistake about it. “Resurrection” is a mystery – in the truest sense of the word. It is not something we can prove scientifically. It is not something that we can witness here today. “Mystery” of course means by definition that we cannot prove it or understand it but we nevertheless believe it did happen – and that’s important. There are many things that happen that we didn’t see but we can see the consequences thereof. A classic example is the creation of the Universe, and life in it. We know it happened – we can see the consequences, planets, meteors, stars, black holes etc, etc. And we can see the myriad forms of life on earth. But what brought it all into existence in the first instance is a mystery. In fact, whilst there are theories offered for our digestion, creation theory, the Big Bang Theory, they are simply that, theories – not concrete proof. To accept either of them requires some level of faith.

But we know the Resurrection of Jesus happened – we have first-hand witnesses to it; a written record of events in the four Gospels; and all of its consequential history which is testament to its power and occurrence. Even so, for us to believe in the Resurrection requires an even larger jump of faith than choosing either creation theory or the big bang as an explanation of the beginning of the Universe’s existence. How can a man raise himself back to life after being dead for three days? Never been done before; hasn’t been done since.

Faith & Doubt – Opposite Sides of The Same Coin

Jesus knew how hard it would be for us to believe. You can’t have faith without some level of doubt. If there is no doubt, then it is no longer faith – but a law. If it is a law, then our ability to freely choose to believe is compromised; our ability to choose love and life is eliminated. God’s promise of free will is obliterated – an astounding heresy of predetermination. Two Sundays ago, on the 5th Sunday of Lent, we heard Jesus talking with Martha (a woman who had great faith in Jesus). Before raising Lazarus from the dead, He put a deeply probing question to her (He recognised the potential at least for doubt on Martha’s part):

“I am the resurrection and the life;
whoever believes in me, even if they die, will live,
and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die!

DO YOU BELIEVE THIS?” (Jn 1:25-26)

BUT THE RESURRECTION IS FUNDAMENTAL AND CENTRAL TO OUR FAITH IN JESUS AS GOD, OUR SAVIOUR. As Paul says, without it, we have nothing at all. (1 Cor 15-17)

So today we contemplate the mystery at the heart of the Christian faith, at a time when doubt raises its ugly head and tempts us towards non-belief. It is simple but extraordinary and powerful. It is so mind-blowing that even the disciples and the apostles who Jesus told it would happen didn’t believe it until they saw Him. They doubted. They were terrified at Jesus’ cruel death and ran for cover. Jesus’ resurrection shattered all their concepts and understanding of life. In the history of humanity death was and still is today the greatest fear, the curse to wish or inflict on your worst enemies. But Jesus conquered it. “Christ is Risen,” says it all. We can no longer live the same way now that death has been defeated in Christ.

Our God is a God of revelation – of revealing Godself to us. But St. Peter reminds us in the First Reading (Acts 10:34A, 37-43) that the Risen Christ revealed Himself to those who believed in Him or wanted to believe in Him.

• He reminds us that “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name”.

• An encounter with the Risen Christ in faith is always a salvific and transforming experience.

In today’s Second Reading (Col 3:1-4) St. Paul reminds us that seeing our world through the eyes of faith keeps us focussed on “…what is above”. That our faith is based in the hope of Christ’s resurrection bringing joy to our lives here and now.

• When we gaze above in faith, we know the Risen Christ stands at the right hand of His Father and intercedes for us.

• If we don’t see Him it is because our faith is not strong enough and we need to pray for more.

• Pope Francis describes a certain class of Christians in Evangelii Gaudium who seem to live a permanent Lent: they have not had an experience of the Lord and His love, and, therefore, the Gospel brings them no joy.

• The Resurrection banishes vanity from our lives and changes our perspective.

We Can Only Be Witnesses to the Resurrection If We Believe It and In It!

In today’s Gospel (Jn 20:1-9), we see that the Resurrection didn’t sink in for the disciples until they witnessed the results themselves. It leaves us in hopeful suspense because death no longer had the last word. If the Disciples, especially Peter, had seen so many extraordinary signs of Christ’s power and had been told by Jesus what would happen, yet they still ran for cover from overwhelming fear, then there is great hope for us as we struggle daily with our own faith. For Peter and the others struggled in faith. To struggle in the face of doubt is the strongest sign of faith. It’s worth reflecting on the following:

• The disciples had all the facts. Christ could raise the dead (Lazarus; Jairus’ daughter).

• Even Mary thought today that the body had been stolen (the empty tomb).

• The disciples walking to Emmaus had all the facts (hearts yearning to believe).

• After the Transfiguration, he told Peter not to tell anyone until he was raised from the dead and kept repeating that he would be raised from the dead on the third day (hearing but not understanding or believing).

They had much evidence which they themselves witnessed, but still doubted. But we have many more signs than they did: the Church has testified to the Resurrection for over two thousand years, and many of Christ’s devotees have gone to their graves in history & in our own lifetime believing that someday they would rise, just as Our Lord did.

The resurrection is the source of all hope in our lives – hope in eternal salvation no matter the pain suffered in this life. That we will be raised to glorify Jesus if we believe.

Today’s coronal source of darkness is not “sin” per se, not a sign of punishment by God, but a microscopic organism invisible to the naked eye. It is undeniably a source of deep grief in many ways – financial stress, isolation, sickness, and ultimately, death. This little bug has pushed us into a dark place – one where only hope can survive. Just as Christ went into a dark place in his tomb 2000-odd years ago for three days, His resurrection gives light to all our dark places today, no matter how long they are to endure.

The life-giving power of the Risen Lord has overwhelmed the deathly power of the cross.
• That is what Easter Sunday does for us.
• That is what the Resurrection does for us.
• It makes the light of hope shine so brightly in our lives that it cuts our crosses and suffering down to size.
We can bear them now, and with joy, because we know that they are leading us towards the glorious victory of the Resurrection. We may well come out of our isolation and desolation somewhat changed people. But we will come out of it.

The Resurrection is our hope. Oh Death, where is your sting?

Happy Easter!

Dcn Peter