Ars Praedicandi: Easter Sunday, Ed Foley

The purple is happily packed away,
ashes are now in some back sacristy cupboard,
cheerless hymns about repentance and sin
are shelved until next February,
and our old friend “Alleluia” is enthusiastically welcomed
back into our liturgical repertoire.

We have survived the trek through the dessert,
endured the fasting, abstinence and a myriad
of self-imposed penances
and come out if not physically or spiritually leaner,
then at least content that we gave it our best.
And now we can relax until Lent rolls around again.

Let the lilies bloom,
the candles blaze,
the trumpets sound
and joy be our only companion.
He is risen, enough said
so maybe it is time for the preacher to sit down now
… but maybe not.

While our sanctuary gleams with light,
war rages in Ukraine.
While children feast on jellybeans and chocolate rabbits,
humanitarian crises rages through Yemen and Afghanistan.
And while festive tunes brighten our worship,
lament cries out across a bruised and battered world.

Like me, maybe you were hoping that this Easter liturgy
would be a momentary respite
from the bad news that haunts our newspapers
and fills the airwaves,
but the liturgy of the church is not an escape
from the liturgy of the world
where Lent is far from over
and Good Friday is daily reenacted in too many lives.

Moreover, the ongoing Passiontide
that erupts around the globe and in our neighborhoods
with bullying and brutality, bullets and bombs
may provide surprising and necessary wisdom
as we immerse ourselves in the mystery we call Easter.

The language of mystery – musterion
often occurs in the New Testament.
St. Paul, who uses the language of mystery much more
than any other New Testament writer,
is our best guide here.

For Paul, Christ is the very mystery of God [Col 2:2],
prepared before the beginning of the world [1 Cor 2:8],
hidden in God [Eph 3:9],
concealed from previous generations
and now revealed to the saints [Eph 3:5].

Surprisingly the mystery of God in Christ
is not only about the past, about a remote revelation,
but rather, the unfolding of the mystery continues.
As a favorite definition of mystery notes:
a mystery is a divine secret in the process of being revealed.

That means that the mystery of God in Christ,
particularly as revealed in his rising,
persists as a continuing epiphany.

Yes, the resurrection, which can mistakenly be considered
a remote event, confined by human history,
achieved by Christ millennia ago in that Jerusalem graveyard,
not only endures, but – in the words of Pope Benedict XVI –
opens up a new kind of future for us all. [1]

Easter is the mystical name
we give to this unfolding mystery
celebrated today in all of its promise and ambiguity:
a feast not only focused on post-death promises
that we will live forever,
but – as with all things Christian –
a feast with a pressing pre-death agenda
with wisdom about living in the present moment,
in the midst of every family joy and distress
and in the baffling beauty and chaos of the present world.

In fact, one could argue that Easter is less a feast
than a spirituality intended to mark
every day of our trek through life.
For, as St. Augustine reportedly remarked,
We are an Easter people.

One often-overlooked facet of this ongoing mystery
as we close the door on Lent
and strike up the Alleluias
is that like any spirituality,
an Easter spirituality takes effort
which means that the very promise of resurrection
also requires work.

Now you might be thinking to yourself
‘No, resurrection is a gift,
it is something that Jesus did without us,
a promise given to us in baptism.
We just have to hold on tight,
and it will ultimately come to us
as we make that awesome journey
From this life to the next.’

But I would contend that the liturgies of this past week
and the events in Jesus’ life they conjure
tell a much different tale.

Jesus not only labored and struggled against death
in the dramatic final days that ended in crucifixion,
he labored for life throughout his earthly existence,
cultivating the gift of resurrection everywhere he went,
raising up marginalized women and children,
planting hope in the desperately sick and broken
and investing faith in often lackluster disciples.

Death and resurrection were not isolated events in the Jesus tale
like some unexpected twist at the end of a mystery novel,
but culminating events profoundly interwoven
with the life and ministry
that persistently and ultimately
prepared for them.

The whole of Jesus’ life, especially his public ministry,
was an unfolding Easter tale
bringing light where there was darkness,
healing where there was pain,
acceptance where there was abandonment
and this work of Easter –
the task of being heralds of resurrection,
purveyors of life,
agents of renewal –
has been bequeathed to all of us who invoke his name.

I don’t know if you have seen the stories,
but over the past year or so
there have been a number of reports of folk
once paralyzed by completely severed spinal cords
who can now walk thanks to implants
that stimulate neurons in the spinal cord.

These implants mimic the signals
the lower body usually receives from the brain,
enabling them to recover basic lower body functions
lost to them after their injuries.

These almost miraculous stories of resurrection, however,
do not come without work:
not only labor of researchers and surgeons,
neuroscientists and physiologists
to fine develop and fine-tune these procedures,
but also work of the patients
who undergo extensive therapies
necessary for reacquiring basic body functions.

Any of you who have ever broken a bone
or undergone major surgery
requiring follow up physical therapy
understand that dynamic.

Many years ago, my maternal grandmother had a stroke.
She was a very determined woman.
When I went to visit her in the hospital
she said, in her typically direct manner,
“get me out of here.”
I told her that the doctors would not let her out
until she could walk out on her own.
She then looked at me with steely resolve and said
“Well, if you can’t get me out of here
then get me up!”
She took her first lap around the hospital floor that day
and was discharged a week later.
Resurrection takes work.

We live in a world longing for resurrection,
whether that is in the Ukrainian port city of Mariopol
or on the main streets of our own troubled cities,
in the lives of refugees and evacuees
or in the hearts of those grieving the loss of a loved one,
in the shattered dreams of a neglected child
or in the dying embers of a broken relationship.

Sometimes those most in need of resurrection in their lives
have neither the strength nor the motivation
to labor on their own
and so we companion, encourage, support them
on the journey to whatever Easters are in their future.

This is a supposedly true story (those are always the best):

At the 1976 Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants, all with physical or mental disabilities, assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with the relish to run the race to the finish and win.

All, that is, except one boy who stumbled, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry. Two of the other racers heard the boy cry. They slowed down and paused. Then they turned around and went back. Some reports say one girl with Down’s syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it better.” Then this unlikely apostolic trio linked arms and walked to the finish line together.

Resurrection is the finish line we all hope to cross.
Easter is the sometimes slow,
often difficult path for getting there.
On the way, there are small stumbles and national crises
minor wounds and rifts in the very fabric of our humanity.

The Easter promise and challenge is that
we do not, should not, cannot run that race alone.

And so in blessing we pray
that this day of light and promise
might shatter the darkness of war
and the discouragement of rejection;
that this feast of hope and future
fill hearts oppressed by fear
or crippled with despair;
and that this shared Easter journey
bring comfort to our souls,
reconciliation to our families,
healing to our communities,
and a restorative balm to a world
yearning for resurrection.

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (San Francisco: Ignatian Press, 211), p. 244

Featured image from Rise Church Together We Win

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