In the Easter season we celebrate the reason for our hope: Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!
As human beings we cannot live without hope. Despair robs us of life and encloses us in on ourselves. Hope opens us to the future and fills us with purpose and joy. Sadly, though, much of our world is searching for hope, and in its absence is suffering from anxiety and fear. Many struggle with difficulties and consequently have hearts filled more with dread than delight. The Mass of Easter proclaims that there is no need to be afraid; there is no reason to fear. On the contrary, there is every reason to live a hope-filled life, and that reason is a person: Jesus Christ risen from the dead. The Scripture readings for Easter Sunday illustrate this for us.
I draw your attention to three aspects of the passage taken from the Gospel of St. John. It is the narrative of Mary Magdalene, Simon Peter and the beloved disciple going to the tomb where the body of Jesus had been placed after his death.
First, this narrative takes place in the dark. It is still early morning. We can well imagine Mary, and then the two apostles, moving in the darkness with lit torches, trying to pierce the dark with some light so that they can find their way. This is an image that describes many people today. Darkness pervades our lives when we get lost on paths of our own making; when we lose sight of any real meaning or purpose to life; or when the shadows of moral confusion blind us to what is true and good.
Second is the image of the tomb. Jesus has died, his body is placed in the tomb, and a very large and heavy stone is rolled across the opening. There is a terrifying finality expressed here, the death of hope. The disciples had placed all their hope in Jesus, and now he is dead. The heavy stone of the tomb seals their fear and despair. How many people today are anxious because they, too, feel that all hope has gone, never to return, when they experience the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, family dysfunction, a natural disaster, or look out upon the violence that continues to rip peoples apart?
Third, consider the people of the Gospel passage. They don’t yet understand what is happening. Mary Magdalene finds the stone rolled away from the tomb; Simon Peter goes in and finds only the linen wrappings lying on the ground; the beloved disciple sees and believes, but he, like the other two, does not yet fully comprehend. The three stand for many people today who, like Mary and Peter, see the signs but don’t know what to make of them, or who, like the beloved disciple, have begun to believe but do not fully understand Jesus and the faith of the Church. They feel the first stirrings of hope, but have not yet fully awakened to the full and glorious truth of Jesus Christ.
For those first disciples, everything changed when they came to realize that Jesus had risen, just as he had foretold. The darkness of anxiety was dispelled with the dawn of new life, death’s finality was transformed into a new beginning, and the opaqueness of doubt gave way to the light of faith, when they met the risen Lord. The encounter with Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, changed everything for them and filled them with real hope. When Jesus appeared to them after the resurrection, his most often repeated words were “Peace be with you” and “Do not be afraid”. Be at peace, have no fear, because I have risen, I am alive and I am with you.
So it is with us, so it is with anyone who meets the risen Lord. Life changes. Something of the change that awaits all who meet Jesus is seen in the life of St. Peter. In the Gospel we heard that he saw but did not yet understand. Yet the first reading of Easter Sunday records a speech later given by the same Peter. It is full of understanding and boldness as he begins to lay before the people the full truth of what God has done for the world in Jesus. What caused the change in him was his meeting of the risen Lord and the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The same possibility is held out to our world today, to the world of all ages. It is possible to meet Jesus and be filled with his Holy Spirit because he continues to come to us and wills to change us by the power of his love. We encounter him in the community of the Church, because he promised that where two or three gather in his name he will be there; we meet him in the poor and needy, because he said, “as often as you do these things to the least of my brothers and sisters you do them to me”; and we touch the Lord above all in the Eucharist, because he said, “this is my body, this is my blood”. In fact we meet him in all the Church’s sacramental celebrations, which Jesus himself instituted as the place to encounter him in the power of his resurrection. Let us not fail to go out to meet the Lord where and when he comes to us, so that we might discover, or re-discover him as the one and only reason for our hope.