We have come here to this sacred place, in this holy time, both of which are set apart from the rest of the world around us, in order to hear what God is saying to us. We are here, hopefully, to respond to God’s call, to surrender to God’s love, and to receive the Bread of Life Jesus won for us on His Cross. May you, and I with you, now yield to God’s love and respond to the gift He offers us here in this the most important celebration in our Church.
As Catholics, we hold a sacred trust. It is our calling to remain integral with the Church of the eyewitnesses of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Catholics, our integration with the Church of the Apostles is something that we hold precious. May we receive and always treasure what they have handed on to us.
More people come to Mass on Easter than on any other Sunday of the year, some making the effort only this one time each year. The possible motives might be habit, tradition, nostalgia, or perhaps simply because of family ties. Many are here in profound faith. Perhaps some not of our Christian faith are here because they have heard the rumors of angels. For all of us, whether devoted faithful or just marginally so, any spiritual indifference is jarred on this supremely important day of the year. I gratefully acknowledge and warmly welcome all of you. You need to know that I, along with you, need to be here too.
Our egos are bruised by the truth that nothing human lasts for very long. Like April snowflakes human lives quickly melt away. Fortunes are made and lost with unnerving ease. Entire civilizations (Aztec, Roman, Byzantine, and Renaissance, to name a few instances) come and go, along with philosophies such as Feudalism, the Enlightenment, Fascism, and Communism. “The paths of glory head but to the grave”, wrote the British poet Thomas Gray.
Why, we ask, must everything end in death? If death is the end of life, then ultimately nothing lasts except this endless, senseless process of not lasting. If it is by happenstance that we live because of some cosmic chance, then we also die by chance – without meaning or purpose. Is there anything at all that is lasting? Is death our entrance into oblivion?
Our American culture answers the question by not facing it, by living in colossal denial and endless skepticism. Why, the skeptics ask, did Mary Magdalene go to the tomb “while it was still dark”? Did she lack common sense? Why bother to put more expensive spices on Jesus’ dead body? She did it once before, the Scriptures tell us. The money, Judas suggested, should have been given to the poor who could have used it to far greater avail. Dead bodies rot, the skeptics tell us. They corrupt, decompose, and eventually turn to dust.
Our Christian response is to ask if souls do likewise? Does the human personality and character, the essential elements of a human soul, come from a senseless and purposeless origin, only to return by blind chance into an empty nothingness? Does human love have nothing of anything that lasts? Another Englishman, the writer Hugh Walpole once had one of his characters declare: “There is a sniff of immortality about our love for one another.”
Some claim that the followers of Jesus fabricated Easter’s fantastic story simply to calm their own fears of dying. They well knew where He had died; they knew where His body lay buried.
Having left their careers and businesses, having left everything in order to be with Him, all of their hopes had been smashed. But for them to construct a fable out of such ash and debris would have made no sense whatsoever, an absurdity out of absurdities dwarfing the simple truth of what those disciples did in fact report. The Church always remembers that those very same Apostles went on to die for what they had witnessed that first Easter. They did not die for a fable that they had made up.
No, the simple truth of the Resurrection is that it was God’s unselfish love that has conquered all. It was not the Apostles’ selfish fears that are the foundation of their account, it is the unconquerable reality of Christ’s unselfish love, a love that cannot die. Death has no dominion over that sort of love, coming as it does from God’s love made incarnate in human flesh and blood. Nobility of soul, heroic courage, priceless love, soaring character, selfless living without counting the cost, generative and creative commitment – these are the pieces of circumstantial evidence pointing to God’s gift of human immortality given to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The Easter message is the rumor that there is more within us than we dare to believe. Hopefully that is what now brings so many back to our Mother Church, particularly during her birthing time: Easter. Hopefully that will bring us all here each and every Sunday, those special days that are in themselves little Easters.
In today’s Gospel we heard about some of Jesus’ disciples leaving Jerusalem after the disaster they had experienced in Christ’s crucifixion and death. There on the road to Emmaus they were trying to make sense of it all. Many of us could well walk with them, especially those who live in Haiti, or Chile, or whose jobs have been lost or homes lost due to the financial collapse we are experiencing. Each one of us travels his or her spiritual journey. Each one of us interprets events and tries to gain insights in our own ways. What we all are called upon to recognize is that Jesus is with us not only collectively in His Mystical Body, the Church, but also individually.
In our quest to find answers we must begin with the love of God, the God who has taken on our humanity and all that the forces of darkness in our world can hurl at us. God can be found in the passion and death of Jesus Christ. God can be gloriously found in Christ’s resurrection, and found in the power of God’s Holy Spirit who comes to us in the Risen Christ. Our Ancient Enemy, Satan, lives in defeat and despair, a condition in which we wants us all to live. God, however, cannot be outdone by our Ancient Enemy. He sent us His Christ to give us His life-giving Holy Spirit, that gift that Christ handed over to us when He died on the Cross, that gift that raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and that gift we will celebrate on the Feast of Pentecost, fifty days from now.
May the Spirit who infused the dead humanity of Jesus Christ and raised it in glory likewise infuse you your humanity and fill you with God’s life. If you surrender to His Presence, to the Spirit-filled Christ who left nothing to chance, He will love you, and gather you into Himself, and raise your humanity in His, into a new and higher life, one in which the glory of God is revealed to all who know you.
Truly, as was said so long ago, “The glory of God is humanity fully alive.” And that glory, if you surrender to Him who died to give it to you, is yours, O child of God. For Christ is truly risen and can be found now in the likes of you and me.
About Charles Irvin
Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”