Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Easter homily

April 22, 2012

The Gospel just proclaimed brings us to the scene of an empty tomb on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion and death. We see and hear Mary of Magdala, John the Beloved Disciple, and Peter, the head of the 12 apostles. Each had been part of Jesus’ life before his execution; each had been part of the recent story of his passion and death. Mary Magdalene had bravely remained at the foot of the cross and was there when they took the dead body of Jesus down from the cross and laid it in the arms of his sorrowful mother. John had received the Blessed Virgin Mary from the dying Jesus, to take her into John’s home and be a son to her. Peter had denied that he knew Jesus when he thought his own life was threatened; but in his immediate sorrowful repentance he knew also that Jesus had forgiven him and that he was still to lead what was left of Jesus’ followers.

Mary Magdalene came to the tomb in the dark, in both physical darkness and with a darkened, heavy heart. She was lost in grief. She saw the tomb was empty, and her personal darkness was intensified. Horrified at her immediate response — they have taken the body of Jesus — she runs, still in darkness, to tell Peter and John. John runs and sees more than an empty tomb. He sees the grave clothes neatly arranged, not disheveled by a violent act. And he starts to see with eyes enlightened by faith and love — something wonderful has happened, although he still does not know exactly what. Peter arrives last, probably out of breath, enters the empty tomb, takes in the entire scene and is perplexed, knowing he does not yet understand.

This Easter Sunday, today, how do we stand before Jesus’ empty tomb? Perplexed, like Peter? Lost in grief, like Mary Magdalene? Open to something we still don’t fully understand, like John? We are privileged to stand with eyes enlightened by faith and hearts enlarged by love, having received the gift of faith and love at baptism and through the preaching and prayers of the church. This is the church’s faith we will proclaim in a few minutes: “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” None of us has seen with our physical eyes the risen Lord nor experienced what it is to live in a risen body. But we know from our own experience that what we don’t see with physical eyes, what cannot be measured and counted or manipulated in a laboratory, is more real than what we can see now with our still mortal eyes.

We cannot see or directly touch sympathy for a friend in need, sorrow for those who find their lives turned upside down because they have lost a parent, a spouse, a child or because the economic recession has deprived them of a job or a home; we cannot directly measure compassion for the sick, joy at the birth of a child, devotion to a husband or wife, or our faith in Jesus Christ and our hope in his promises. Yet these immeasurable realities are what are most real. They shape a truly human life, enlivened further by God’s grace.

We are at Mass. What we see with physical eyes are bread and wine. What we believe is really present is the risen body of Christ. That body is not constrained by the rules of space and time of this world’s limitations. The risen Lord is completely free, having broken the bonds of death and the grave; and he is truly present under the conditions that he, and he alone, determines. That risen body, that completely free Christ, comes to us in Holy Communion, under the visible forms of bread and wine. He comes with the promise of new life, with the assurance that our still mortal bodies will rise to immortality if we receive him now in the Eucharist. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood,” Jesus promises, “ will live forever.” We take him at his word, for he is the risen Lord.

We see only the results of faith and hope and love, but we live in our deepest reality when we are in their grasp. Sts. Mary Magdalene, Peter and John, when they were coming to believe but still not fully understanding, ran to the place where they learned to believe, to the person in whom they placed their hope, to the beloved Lord who shows us that revealed truth and self-sacrificing love are more real, more trustworthy than anything else. If the earth is our mother, then the grave is our home and the world is a closed system turned in on itself. If Christ is risen from the grave and the church is our mother, then our destiny reaches beyond space and time, beyond what can be measured and controlled. And therein lies our hope.

The glorified Christ draws the whole world upward to new life. Like insects in the dark, we are drawn, sometimes despite ourselves, to him who is the Light of the world. Dear brother and sisters in Christ, learn to run with this message this Easter. Tell others, tell all whom you love, that Christ has risen from the dead. He is risen indeed! Alleluia.