Easter Homily, 2006
Dear Friends in Christ:
We are here because Jesus of Nazareth conquered death and rose bodily from his tomb. This Jesus truly died two thousand years ago. He was crucified because the Roman occupiers of his country thought he wanted to be the King of the Jews, and because the leaders of his own people thought he was a blasphemer, one who made himself equal to God.
It was truly his body which rose from the grave, the body stretched on the cross, the body born from the womb of the Virgin Mary, his body, but different, transformed, free of all limitations, never to face death again. If we are puzzled by this fact, we’re in good company. Mary Magdalene, whose memory the Church has kept alive for two thousand years in Scripture and in liturgical celebration, went to the tomb on Sunday morning with other women who knew and loved Jesus. The stone was rolled back, the tomb was empty, and she was puzzled. Had someone stolen the body? She went to the two apostles who had been part of the events surrounding Jesus’ death: Peter, who, questioned by a servant girl, denied that he knew Jesus; and John, who stood at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother, the Virgin Mary. “Something is wrong,” Mary Magdalene reported.
The two men ran to the tomb, and they were puzzled. John, however, when he saw that the burial clothes were neatly arranged and the face cloth laid to one side, knew this was not the work of robbers. Jesus, who had passed many a night with his friends and disciples sleeping where they could on their travels, that same Jesus whose habits John knew well, Jesus must have done this. And John began to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead. They came to understand that he had to rise from the dead, as the Gospel puts it. He is God’s eternal Son, the Lord of the living and now also of the dead. It was not possible for him to be held prisoner by death. The tomb could not hold on to the living one, who is the very source of life. By an act of pure love, he opened the earth, threw it open towards Heaven. Jesus had to rise from the dead because he is who he is.
Now we must recognize what that empty tomb means in order to be who we are, disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the witnesses, willing to die for their faith, and the working of the Holy Spirit, strengthening the faith in our hearts, that enable us, despite our puzzlement, to believe that Jesus conquered death and has risen. In that faith, we move from puzzlement to challenge. There are many challenges to our faith today. I would mention only two.
The first challenge is to meet the Lord ourselves and accept from him new life. New life means new life, not the completion of our own plans in life or the strengthening of this life or help to follow a path we would choose to follow. New life is life that Christ gives us so that we will be conformed to him, be his disciples inside and out. New life comes with faith and the conversion and surrender to Christ that follows. It means this life transformed, as Christ’s life was transformed in his rising. It’s a challenge to accept this gift, because we will be changed. It’s dangerous to get close to the Risen Christ. It is also joyful, because living Christ’s life means immersion in Christ’s love. Love is self-giving, to the point of self-sacrifice. Jesus gave himself to death for our salvation, because He loves us. Whenever we love someone, we let ourselves be changed by him, by her. Letting Christ love us means being changed, transformed by love. To allow ourselves to be loved by Christ: that is the first challenge.
The second challenge is to share that new life with others. This is the Year of Evangelization in the Archdiocese. Evangelization is simple in concept but difficult in execution. It means telling people, as did Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, that Jesus is risen from the dead. We don’t have to solve all the puzzles to recognize the truth and proclaim it. Proclaiming that Christ is risen means inviting people to be changed by his love. But sharing, even the sharing of an infinite love, is not always welcome; it can be as dangerous to share Christ’s life with others as it is for us to accept new life from him ourselves. Very often, in Jesus’ time as in ours, it is the disadvantaged, the unwanted, the very poor and those who have nothing to lose who are most open to Christ’s love. We can and should learn from them. We puzzle over how to evangelize, how to proclaim that Christ is risen in a world that does not want to be changed by him. Puzzled though we might be, what we are talking about is love, infinite love. Resistant though we all might be, we know we need this love and, at our best, we know we want it, dangerous though love is. The world and each of us in it needs the hope and the healing that only Christ’s love can bring.
Dear friends, this Easter day take comfort in the love offered to us by the Risen Lord. Take courage in relying on his love for us, a love stronger than death. Take the challenge to be changed by him and to be his instrument for changing the world that he redeemed by his passion, death and resurrection. A blessed Easter to you and all those you love. Amen. Alleluia.
Francis Cardinal George, OMI
Archbishop of Chicago