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Bishop Koenig’s Easter homily: Trust in God who destroyed death

Bishop Koenig

The Resurrection of Jesus

Each of the four Gospels tell stories of Jesus’ appearances to his disciples after his resurrection.  Luke tells the story of Jesus joining two of his disciples as they were making their way from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  John tells of Jesus appearing to Thomas in the upper room and telling Thomas to take his finger and examine the nail marks in his hands.  Matthew tells of Jesus appearing to the 11 apostles as they are making their way Galilee. Mark tells us how the resurrected Lord sent the eleven forth into the world to proclaim the Good News.

The Gospel on Easter

The funny thing is that we never hear any of these stories on Easter Sunday.  The Gospel passage that is proclaimed on Easter, regardless of the Evangelist, is always a story of the disciples’ initial experience on that first Easter morning as they go to the tomb and find it empty.  Jesus’ body is not there, and we never hear of him making any post-resurrection appearances.  These stories of the disciples encountering the emptiness of a tomb describe their shock and fear, puzzlement and uncertainty.  But above all, they also tell something very important about Easter faith. It is a faith into which we entered when we were baptized.  It is the faith of knowing God’s power in times of emptiness and seeming darkness.  Let us take a moment to look at this evening’s Gospel story and see faith of Easter as it appears in the lives of the women who visited Jesus’ tomb on that first Easter and the young man who greeted them as they entered the tomb.

The Faithful and Loving Women

We begin with the women.  They are Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Salome.  It is very early in the morning and St. Mark tells us that they desire to anoint the body of Jesus.  St. Mark, of course, knows what has taken place and his reference to this being the first day of the week, is a clear reference to the Genesis’ story of creation and how with the resurrection of Jesus there is a new creation. It is this new creation into which we are reborn through the Sacrament of Baptism.  The women, however, have no clue to what has taken place and they are more concerned about how they are going to get the stone rolled away so they can gain access to the body of Jesus.  Upon arriving at the tomb, however, their concern over the removal of the stone vanishes and they are now amazed at the appearance of a young man clothed in a white robe who tells them that Jesus has been raised and they should go and tell Peter and Jesus’ disciples.

The women who went to the tomb that early Easter morning were the same women who ministered to Jesus as he taught and healed people.   They had stayed with him as he was crucified and watched as he breathed his last breath. And now, while he is seemingly dead, they are intent on caring for his body.  Their love of Jesus is faithful and ongoing.  They are not deterred by the fear of violence or the animosity of the crowd that has called for Jesus’ crucifixion.  Concern for their own comfort does not keep them at home in the early hours of the morning, but they go forth to the tomb.  The women remind us of how our faith calls us to love Christ and our brothers and sisters in season and out of season.  It is reminiscent of St. Therese of Calcutta’s response to a journalist who commented, as he watched St. Therese care for a man who was in terrible physical condition, that he wouldn’t do what she was doing for a million dollars.  Mother Therese turned to him and said, “Neither would I, I do it for Christ.”  These women are single minded and focused on what needs to be done for Christ here and now.  Whether it is standing at the foot of the cross or going to the tomb early in the morning.  May we be faithful to the needs of Christ as they present themselves through the needs of people around us.

The Young Man in a White Robe

The other person in today’s Gospel story is the young man clothed in a white robe.  St. Mark is intentional in telling us about this man and what he is wearing.  Recall that St. Mark also told us that when Jesus was being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane there was a young man who was following Jesus; however, when they tried to seize him by grabbing hold of his tunic, he left the tunic with them and fled away naked.  This young man now reappears wearing a white robe. The significance of the white robe that he is wearing is driven home as we learn that the word used for this garment is the same word that is used for the robe that was worn by the early Christians after they had been baptized and had put on Christ.  This young man, St. Mark is telling us, is now clad in a baptismal garment that signifies how he has put on Christ and is clothed in the new life of the risen Lord. It is the same new life that we have entered through our baptism.  This young man has come a long way from the one who feared persecution and left what he was wearing to now proclaiming that Jesus is risen.  He is a reminder to us of not merely the white garment that we wore when we were baptized, but, even more importantly, that through Baptism, we have put on Christ. And like this young man who announced to the three women in today’s Gospel that Jesus is victorious over sin and death, we too are called to proclaim that “Christ is risen; He is risen indeed.”

Proclaiming the New Life of our Baptism

As we go forth this Easter Day, we are probably all too familiar with stories of sadness and suffering.  The darkness of a tomb is unfortunately still part of a world where Jesus is not yet all in all.  A bridge collapses and kills six men.  There is a senseless shooting on a city street.  People’s lives are destroyed by war. A child comes down with a seemingly incurable disease. We or someone we love has made a wrong choice and lives are affected by it. These are all times of difficulty and sorrow.  May we especially trust at those times and all times in the power of God who destroyed death.  May we know the hope that comes from knowing that power. May we, in a word, remember our Baptismal garment and the new life of Christ with which we have been clothed. And may we, as we celebrate the empty tomb of Easter morning and that new life of Jesus Christ, proclaim to the world that Jesus is the Way, Truth and the Life and allow the power of God’s love to turn tears into joy.

Happy and Blessed Easter.