An Easter Sunday Homily

April 3AUSCP
Submitted by: Bill Kelley

March 31, 2024 / Easter Sunday / Cycle B
Holy Trinity, Washington DC
9:30 AM (Trinity Hall)
Bill Kelley, SJ

Acts 10:34a, 37-43 We ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead
Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24 This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad.
Colossians 3:1-4 Seek what is above, where Christ is.
Luke 24:1-12 Why do you seek the Living One among the dead?

How wonderful it is to celebrate Easter in a liturgy awash in color, ablaze with light, alive with triumphant song! This is, after all, our Passover feast, our joyful celebration of Christ’s victory over death. Nevertheless, my friends, let’s not forget – this Resurrection feast began not in jubilation but in desolation. Jesus’s suffering and death on the Cross shattered the dreams of his disciples. The hopes they had in him – as Messiah and Lord – were annihilated at the Crucifixion. That’s where our Gospel begins emotionally this morning. Those faith-filled women who had traveled with Jesus all the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, and who had faithfully kept watch with him at the foot of the cross, slipped out of the house early that Easter morning carrying, not food for a feast, but funeral spices and nard. Grief-stricken, they set out to anoint the dead body of their friend and Lord, to prepare it for burial. Whatever hopes they might once have held, had died with Jesus on the Cross.

It’s important, my friends, to hold on to that memory because many of us find ourselves these days in the same emotional space as those women-disciples: we too feel despondent and bewildered. Like that lifeless body of Jesus, the Body of Christ today – our Church – seems moribund and ripe for burial. Our hope for a Church that cares for the poor, and welcomes the stranger, and heartfeltly forgives the prodigal son and daughter among us has increasingly been dashed. Our Church slights the person who founders in a hopeless first marriage and strives for love once more in a second one. We welcome – but only skittishly – those sisters and brothers whose life partners do not fit the mold of a traditional family. Our so-called shepherds, with alarming impunity, have become predators. And too many Church leaders have bartered away ministerial service for a life of entitlement and privilege. If we are even the least bit self-aware this morning, we’d have to admit that our Easter celebration this year is tinged with more than a little disillusionment.

But that is not where our story ends any more than it was where the story ended for the disciples on that first Easter morning. Those women set out to anoint Jesus’s body and to prepare it for burial. There was nothing surprising in their assuming this task. Throughout history, women have been entrusted with the care of bodies. They birth them. They feed them. They wash them. They mend them. They comfort them. They fret over them. So, it is utterly un-remarkable that these women arrived at the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body. They had fed and watched over him while he was alive and now, they come to care for his body one last time. And this is where the story is transformed. This is where the gospel ceases to be ordinary. 

Although the women came to tend to the body of the Lord and to mark his end with one last act of tenderness, what they found instead was a whole new beginning. These women who refused to abandon Jesus in his final hours were rewarded with the first glimpses of the risen Lord. During his lifetime, they were witnesses to his teaching and healing. In his Passion, they were witnesses to his torture and execution. And now, at Easter, they become witnesses to his victory over death, and brokenness, and everything else that comes between God and us. On that Resurrection morning, Jesus greets these women and commissions them to tell the world what they have seen.

And what they have seen is mind-boggling. What they behold is not Jesus merely restored to the human life he had before, but Jesus transformed and brilliant, and gushing with life and love and power. And what’s more, Jesus enthusiastically shares those gifts with the Church – with you and me who are members of the Body of Christ.

Through the Resurrection, God enables us to have the very heart of Christ – to love what Jesus loves, to hate what is abhorrent to him, to allow our hearts to be broken by what rips apart his sacred heart. But, while this Resurrection gift is truly awesome, it’s also intimidating. You see, it’s not enough for us to be a little more loving, a little more generous. To have the heart of Jesus means for us to love as lavishly as Jesus does – and not just those who have some claim on us. It means to serve as unstintingly as Jesus does – and not just when it’s convenient. It means to forgive as wholeheartedly as Jesus does – and not just when the offender comes pleading. In other words, the Resurrection calls us to an entirely new way of living.

And for our Synodal Church, what will Resurrection mean? For those less familiar with the term synod, it’s the process our Church has been engaged in these past two and a half years, where we’ve created opportunities to listen to one another, in serious and structured conversation, as we share our concerns about the Church as it is now, as well as our hopes for a more loving and merciful Church in the future.

Hopefully, for our Synodal Church, Resurrection means more than just a few token lay people appointed to diocesan commissions – although we pray that genuinely shared leadership soon become a reality in our Church. It means more than welcoming all who seek to grow in friendship with Jesus, without regard to marital status or sexual preference, although such a welcome is long overdue. No! What the Resurrection means for the Church – i.e., the Body of Christ – is the same thing the Resurrection meant for Jesus – a Church that is transformed and brilliant, gushing with life and love, and eager to care for the most vulnerable among us.

And how will such a transformation come about? A humble suggestion: Both in life and in death, it was women who cared for the body of Jesus. Likewise, throughout the Church’s long history, it is women who have cared disproportionately for the members of the Body of Christ – our Church. Perhaps now is the time to see how the Spirit of God, moving through the ministry of women, might lead the Church to a healthier, holier way of being. Perhaps when women participate fully and authentically in all the Church’s ministry, the heart of Jesus will at long last beat within the Body of Christ.

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