Homily for Easter Sunday

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Resurrexi, et adhuc tecum, alleluia.

The opening chant of Easter Sunday is an extraordinary song. So simple, so surprising ­– not at all the song we might expect to celebrate the joy of Christ rising from the tomb and his victory over death. Its melody is the soul of discretion: no soaring flights of fancy, just a serene restraint that conveys an atmosphere of intimacy and contemplation. It breathes the paschal mystery. The agony and suffering of Good Friday are present, the silence and seeming finality of Holy Saturday linger; neither are forgotten but they are transformed in this song of gladness and love of Christ, who on rising from death, turns to his Father and sings: 

I have risen, and I am still with you, alleluia; you have placed your hand upon me, alleluia; your knowledge has become wonderful to me, alleluia, alleluia.

This song of resurrection is a song for the three people we meet in today’s gospel: Mary Magdalene, Peter and the Beloved Disciple. As they make their way to Jesus’ tomb in the predawn darkness of that first Easter morning, they are on a journey of faith, each with their own path to follow, each having to change so as to see anew and believe. And all the time they are sought by the risen Lord who knows them intimately, reaching out to each according to their need. They are our inspiration and our encouragement as we also travel on the path to faith in the risen Lord. This song of resurrection is our song too.

First is Mary Magdalene. Her love for Jesus was a strong as death, emboldening her to stand by the cross and remain with him to the very end. But now that Jesus is gone, Mary is overwhelmed by her loss, absorbed in her grief and blinded by her tears. She sees many things ­­– the stone rolled away, the empty tomb, the burial clothes, the angels, even Jesus whom she supposes to be the gardener – but doesn’t see what they mean. And the Lord reaches out to her in her need and tenderly speaks her name, ‘Mary’. It’s as if he puts a new song into her heart: I have risen, and I am still with you. And Mary is emboldened to change. She must let go, not cling to the old ways of seeing and relating to Jesus. A new day has dawned, and the apostle to the apostles can truly proclaim, ‘I have seen the Lord.’

Next comes Peter. Impetuous, imperfect, inconsistent but lovable Peter. He got things so wrong. Fear got the better of him and he denied Jesus, not just once but three times. The one nicknamed the Rock crumbled. He ran away and wasn’t to be seen at the cross. And now at the empty tomb he is even more confused than ever. Guilty and ashamed, he realises how deeply he misses Jesus and how much his self-protecting denial had hurt himself. Later in the gospel we will see how the risen Lord reaches out to Peter to bring healing, forgiveness and reconciliation into his life. He will lift the rock from the mire and on it build his church. You have placed your hand upon me, is Peter’s song as he journeys in faith and service to his risen Lord and Master.  

And finally there is the beloved disciple. He is the model disciple who shared a bond of deep intimacy with Jesus. He stood by the cross and was entrusted with the care of Jesus’ mother. On Easter morning he not only outran Peter in the race to the tomb but surpassed him in belief. ‘He saw and he believed’, we are told. We may not identify as easily with him as we do with Peter. But he, above all, foreshadows the faith of subsequent generations of believers who do not see Jesus and yet believe. God in his wisdom has arranged it so. Your knowledge has become wonderful to me, sings the Beloved Disciple.

No one, faltering or steadfast, has an easy journey to the risen Lord. We all take wrong turns. We all make mistakes. Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the Beloved Disciple were no different. On this Easter day they are our companions on our journey to faith in the risen Lord.  They assure us that there is room for each of us — for one who sees and believes, for another who sees and is confused, and yet another who needs to hear her own name. These three companions give us hope that despite our weaknesses and failings we too can come to fullness of life and proclaim the joyful news of the Resurrection.

With them we sing this Resurrection song.

I have risen, and I am still with you, alleluia; you have placed your hand upon me, alleluia; your knowledge has become wonderful to me, alleluia, alleluia.

Fr Senan Furlong OSB

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