April 4, 2015

Homily for Easter Sunday, April 5, 2015, Year B

"Why seek you the living with the dead?  He is not here, but is risen.
(Luke 24: 5-6)  

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Director, La Salette Shrine
Enfield, NH

On Good Friday, April 3, 2015, at sunset, millions of families the world over gathered around their table to hear a famous question: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” It was the beginning of the Jewish feast of Passover.

The answer to that question starts with four specific details about the meal itself. Then comes this: “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, and God brought us out with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. And if God had not brought our ancestors out of Egypt, we and our children and our children’s children would still be subjugated to Pharaoh in Egypt. Even if we were all old and wise and learned in Torah, we would still be commanded to tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt. And the more we talk about the Exodus from Egypt, the more praiseworthy we are.”

At the Easter Vigil we could ask the same question: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” And the answer would be very similar. We might start by talking about the lighting of the Paschal Candle and the unusual number of readings and the blessing of water and the renewal of baptismal promises. But the deeper response would go something like this: “We were slaves to sin and death, and Jesus Christ died out of love for us to set us free, and rose again to give us access to eternal life. If he had not risen from the dead, our faith in him would be empty and vain, and we would still be in our sins. Even if we were all old and wise and learned in the Law of Christ, we would still need to tell the story of his Resurrection. And the more we talk about his Resurrection, the more praiseworthy we are.”

You know what it’s like when something really good happens to you. You can’t wait to tell someone. And you won’t tell just one person. And you won’t tell it only once, but over and over to anyone who will listen. Years later you will probably still be saying, “That reminds me of the time...” or “Did I ever tell you about...?”

That’s the way it was with the first Easter. Those who experienced the Risen Christ couldn’t hold back. They had to tell others, anyone who would listen.

It’s no wonder, then, that there are so many accounts of that experience. It’s no wonder that there are four Gospels, four sets of memories of the extraordinary life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It’s no wonder the book of the Acts of the Apostles includes so much preaching. It’s no wonder we have so many Letters of Paul, of Peter and John and others, and to so many different places, communities and persons.

Looking back beyond all these, we remembered (at the Easter Vigil) also the prophets before them, and the Exodus before the prophets, and Abraham before the Exodus, all the way to creation, seeing all this now in the light of Christ, in the glory of his Resurrection. There is just so much! It’s no wonder we can’t really find the words to express the wonder of it all.

But Easter is not simply a recurring date on the calendar. Each Easter is different, depending on what has happened in our lives during the intervening year. Perhaps we need this Easter more than ever before, especially if we have been through our own Good Friday. Maybe we are simply more open to being immersed in the glory of the Risen Lord; or we have major choices before us. How do we encounter Jesus Christ our Lord this Easter of 2015? How does he encounter us?

Why is this night different from all other nights? The answer may well be different for every one of us. But the foundation is the same for all of us. “He has been raised; he is not here.” Will talking about it make us “more praiseworthy”? I can’t say. But I can say that the more we meditate on this reality, the deeper we plunge into this mystery, the richer and more solid our faith will be, and the more inclined we will be to live the Alleluias we proclaim today.

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