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May we be strengthened in opening ourselves up to an encounter with our Risen Lord — Bishop Koenig Easter homily

Easter Vigil Mass

Today’s Gospel is the continuation of Palm Sunday’s Gospel according to St. Matthew. One week ago, our focus was Jesus’ suffering, crucifixion and death. We were told of how the chief priests and Pharisees, out of concern that Jesus’ disciples might go and steal the body in order to make the claim that Jesus had risen from the dead, went to Pilate and asked that Jesus’ tomb be secured. We learned that Pilate, upon hearing the Jewish leaders’ concerns, gave orders that Jesus’ tomb be sealed and soldiers be assigned to guard the tomb.

Bishop Koenig

As we gather today and we pick up where we left off, something remarkable has taken place. Pilate and the Roman Empire, sin and evil, even death itself is now seen as no match for the power of God. Today, we hear the story of two women who came early in the morning to the tomb and found it empty. And then leaving the tomb they encounter Jesus himself. Whether this is the first time or the hundredth time we are hearing this story, we are invited to look into that empty tomb; we are invited to pay homage to our risen Lord; we are invited to go forth and live the newness of life that has been won for us by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

As we stand before the empty tomb of today’s Gospel, St. Matthew tells us that the angel is seated on the stone that has been rolled away. At first glance it would seem to be a strange place for an angel to be positioned. Yet St. Matthew seems to be telling us something very important. In having the angel use the stone as a royal throne, he transforms it from something that was placed there to prevent someone from gaining access to Jesus to instead being something that gives glory to God. It is similar to what St. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians when he tells us that “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.” It is a reminder to us as we celebrate Easter this day that God comes to us and lifts us up not because of what we have done to merit God’s grace. It is a reminder to us that the love of God can and does overcome and transform human weaknesses, painful situations and, in the words again of St. Paul, “thorns in the flesh.” It is a reminder to us to trust in God’s merciful love, for in our weakness is God’s strength as God transforms the tree of the cross to the Tree of Life.

May we, like those women at the tomb on that first Easter day, also be strengthened in opening ourselves up to an encounter with our Risen Lord. For the women in today’s Gospel, it started by peering into the empty tomb and then, as they returned to where the disciples are, they encounter the risen Lord, embrace

his feet and pay homage to him. As we celebrate this Easter Day, we are especially mindful of the way that we encounter and pay homage to our Risen Lord through the Easter Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. We will renew our Baptismal promises in just a little while and be sprinkled with the Holy Water that recalls our own baptism. As we heard today in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, “[W]e who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his 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.” The first followers of Jesus witnessed to this newness of life in the ways they, like the women in today’s Gospel, went forth and proclaimed what they had seen and heard, in the ways they, like St. Peter and his companions, rejoiced that they had been counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name, in the ways that they, like St. Stephen, prayed that those stoning him to death be forgiven because they know not what they do. It is seen in us as we place our trust in the new life of the Risen Christ. May we pay homage to him. May we go forth and proclaim him to others. May we live the newness of Life that has been won for us.

Happy and Blessed Easter. Jesus has risen. Alleluia.