Easter Homily 2017
April 16, 2017 – Holy Sepulcher
Dear Brothers and Sister,
May the Lord’s peace be with you!
Here we are gathered on the day so long awaited. The Passover of the Lord and our Passover! Like Mary Magdalene and the Apostles John and Peter, today, we’ve also arrived at the Tomb of Christ to bow down before this mystery of His resurrection, to welcome this extraordinary gift that is His life in us. During the entire week we have celebrated the beautiful and ancient liturgies that also intended to retrace even physically the human experience of Jesus in the same Places, especially in this very Place where He was buried.
And now that all these wonderful liturgies are about to end, it yet remains for us to ask ourselves what we have understood and what have the many and meaningful gestures which accompanied us in these days left with us. For many of us here present, perhaps, they’ve became moments that we take for granted, being by now used to the years of very familiar liturgical repetitions. For many pilgrims, instead, they are exciting new experiences, precious memories to take home and share with one’s families and keep in heart. The joyous and exhausting confusion of these days, where all the Christian communities celebrate the Paschal Mystery at the same time in this very Place according to their respective traditions, create a festive and exceptional atmosphere. In short, everything tells us of something different and special, joyous and unique. Surely, the Paschal Mystery in Jerusalem is also this.
But also in Jerusalem, as in any other part of the world, today the mystery par excellence: the Resurrection, the core of our faith, is placed before our minds. The apostle Paul reminds us of it: “And if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty, too, your faith.” (1Cor 15:14). Today, Jesus also addresses us with the same question He put to Martha and which we heard a few days ago: “I am the resurrection and the life… do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26).
What have we understood of this mystery? How much has the awareness that Christ is risen, and that He lives within, changed us? And is it crucial for our existence? We will soon proclaim around the tomb, at the restored Holy Aedicule, the Resurrection Gospels. Four times, in four different locations, according to four fundamental points, in order to point out to all the world, the message of this extraordinary event that from Here, from this place, from Jerusalem, has reached everywhere. But how much of what we are announcing is consciously lived?
Perhaps we have become accustomed to the idea of the resurrection, to the point that now we take into account how shocking is the meaning of the empty Tomb. But to speak of it to our non-Christian neighbors among whom we live would be enough to make us realize that it is madness, according to human thought, to believe that there can be a resurrection.
And we also have the Areopagus in many forms (cf. Acts 17:32), the various contexts where we Christians are welcomed, heard and sought after, where our works and services are appreciated and desired. Where, in a word, what we do is a source of consolation and sharing, where our message of solidarity with each person, our desire for peace is shared and welcomed with joy. But, at the same time, where the Risen Christ is not understood nor wanted, is of no concern and perhaps even annoying. Yet this is our faith. This is our message: “He is not here. He is risen, indeed, as He said; come, see the place where He lay” (Mt 28:6). “Do not be afraid! You seek Jesus the Nazarene, the Crucified. He is risen; He is not here. Behold the place where the put Him” (Mk 16:6)
It is a mystery that our minds cannot understand nor explain. It can only be received and kept in the heart, with trust and love. It is an experience. “Then the other disciple also went in, the one who arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed” (Jn 20:8). In the Gospel of John, seeing means to experience. Seeing involves all the senses, not sight alone. We also see with the heart. And with a heart full of trust, bowing the knees before the mystery of the empty Tomb, we say, together with the evangelist Mark: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24). Here we say, despite our limitation and insecurities, “yes, we believe!”
We believe that the Paschal Mystery is God’s final, definitive intervention in history, for all; most unexpected and the most surprising. We believe that after having saved us from nothingness, from slavery, from exile, God again saved us from an ultimate enemy, which is death and sin. We believe, and today we announce, that death is each place in life where God is absent, where man does not have connections with Him. That is the real failure in life. Life, in fact, is not without meaning when something is absent, when we experience pain, weariness, but when the Lord is absent, when we are alone, without Him. Death is where God is not Father, where He is not the source of life. Where we are unable to give Him room.
And today, we believe and announce that Father God always has room in His life for each one of us. The resurrection is the eruption of His life in ours.
We believe that there is no longer a place where the Father is not present; even death is no more this place. Death cannot hold Jesus, because Jesus belongs to the Father, because this relationship is stronger than all, and remains alive even in death.
The bandages and the cloth do not wrap Jesus, but are folded by themselves, because Jesus is not shrouded by death: he is enveloped by the life that the Father gave Him. For this reason, today the disciples go to the sepulcher, but do not find anything, other than the now useless bandages (Jn 20:6-7). In John, there are no explicit messages about the passion and resurrection, as in the other synoptic gospels. But Jesus said repeatedly, that the “place” of His life is the Father; that He came from Him and was returning to Him; that the final stage would not have been the sepulcher, but the life of the Father. It is with this certainty that Jesus enters into death. [[He enters there with this trust, a dramatic trust, that in Gethsemane and on the cross we have seen to be the result of a very hard struggle. But Jesus never fails to turn to the Father; the relationship remains solid even when He is betrayed and left alone, even when life is ending. Even when the Father seems to be absent, Jesus remains in trust and goes all the way in giving life, in doing the Father’s Will, in making His own life, His own will coincide with His Father’s.
There, where man sinned, man believed God was giving him death and not life; there, Jesus believes that the Father is giving him life and not death.
For Jesus, death is entrusting life to the Father. It is not entrust it to anything, it’s not throwing it away, it’s not despising it, but returning it completely to the One who has given life to him, Who is the infinite source of it, Who guards it and Who in the end restores it. ]]
Today, we’re saying that we believe all this.
But what does this faith actually mean for us, today’s little believers? What does the Paschal Mystery say to us?
It says that the fullness of relationship that exists between the Father and the Son, from that Easter morning, is also ours. Before that this was not possible because death was a place where trust in the Father had not yet entered, where the man was still alone. Even now we are enveloped by the life of the Father, because Jesus, giving the Spirit, gives us this relationship between Him and the Father.
So, really, there is no place in our existence, in our history, which cannot be potentially a dwelling place of God, a place of encounter with Him. There is no place in the life of each of us where He cannot be present. Our salvation is this relationship, being sons and daughters.
This knowledge does not exempt us from the experience of trial, pain, and darkness. All this remains, but is no longer a condemnation: in each of these situations we can be confident that God is with us, that from there He can draw life. That even there He will give life, not death.
Think for a moment about all the situations of death surrounding us: indeed, it’s enough to look around us and it will worry us; and death overwhelms us by its victories and its stings (cf. 1Cor 15:55). Without going too far, we think of the terrible situations in which we find in our neighboring populations: Syria, Iraq, and Yemen… The life that we celebrate here today, there it is cynically and arrogantly despised and humiliated every day.
Allow me a word here and a reminder to our brothers Copts who, yet again, a week ago, were dreadfully massacred in Egypt, in Tanta and Alexandria Churches. It is a situation of death, a death wish for which many today in these our Countries seem thirsty; in those circumstances it seems that hatred and contempt in social and religious relations prevail over everything, and so human, religious and civil respect have become empty words: the other is the enemy to be destroyed, there is no place for him. Even before being a physical death, it is a moral and spiritual death. Woe to us if we surrender to all this! But in these circumstances with gratitude we see the strength of life. These, our Christian brethren, have not embraced the same death wish and they remain open, with serene confidence, to every collaboration. With all. No word of hatred and contempt. No violent reaction, but only the serene and correctly strong desire for justice. The death of the martyrs has not erased the strength of that community’s life! Palm Sunday for them has already been Passover!
But even here, in our Holy Land the shadow of death is not absent: wounds in the geography of the Country and in the life of our people are countless. Justice and peace have become slogans devoid of all credibility. Many families are divided. Talk of hope seems to be talking nonsense; it seems to be estranged from reality. Altogether, there is fear and mistrust among members of different faiths, between different communities; within our own communities and families we see increasing divisions of all kinds, based on fear of others, fear of losing something, fear of dying, and fear of giving life. In doing this we consign ourselves instead to death and its power.
But if we really believe in the resurrection, if we believe in the power of the Spirit, in the power of the Word, if we entrust all these situations to Him, if we make them a question, a prayer, a cry, then this will become a way of life.
The experience of the resurrection cannot be understood if the same experience is not shared, if it doesn’t become a life lived, experienced and announced.
In today’s second reading from the letter to the Colossians, verse 2, there is an expression that is difficult to translate, and that is translated in different languages in different ways: think on the things that are above, others: set your heart on the things above, and so on. We like the Latin translation of this verse: quae sursum sunt sapite. Sapite! Taste the things that are above. It tells us that we need to be rooted in this land, immersed and totally embodied here, passionately loving this world that God has given us and those who inhabit it, but, at the same time, we must have a different taste. It is the flavor of the resurrection, of those who do not belong to death, but to a freedom that cannot be taken, of those who belong to the Father of life, before whom death is powerless.
Therefore, let’s not withdraw or enclose ourselves in fear. Let’s not allow death and its subjects to frighten us. It would be a denying, by lifestyle, our faith in the resurrection!
And let’s not restrict ourselves either to venerating the empty tomb. The resurrection is the message of a new joy that bursts into the world and cannot remain locked up in this Place, but
from here must still reach everyone.
“Go tell the disciples and Peter that He goes before you…” (Mk 16:7).
“Where?” Everywhere. In Galilee and on the mountain, in the Upper Room and along the road to Emmaus: on the sea and in the deserts, wherever man pitches his tent, breaks his bread, builds his cities, crying and singing, sighing and railing: “He goes before you.” (Don Primo Mazzolari).
This is my sincere wish for all of us. That the Easter which we celebrate today in this Eucharist we are given to celebrate it in everyday life.
Christ is Risen! He is truly Risen, Alleluia.
Original version in italian