“FIRST IMPRESSIONS”
EASTER SUNDAY (B) April 4, 2021
Acts 10: 34a, 37-43; Psalm 118;
1 Corinthians 5: 6b-8; John 20: 1-9
by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

How many times have we heard these resurrection stories over the years? They are told in variations by the four Gospel writers. Details follow a similar pattern. Something like this: they begin with the disciples living in a “Good Friday way,” in a world of huge disappointment and loss – perhaps like our current lives saddened by the pandemic with all their accompanying pain and limitations. The events happened early in the morning, “while it was still dark,” we are told. Doesn’t that sum up their world and ours these days? Mary Magdalene is on her way to the tomb. Other accounts have several women going. There is a heavy stone, with a question we sometimes also ask in our need, “Who will roll it away?” Today’s account has no one at the tomb. The other Gospels have an angel, or one or two figures in white. In Luke’s account the two men at the empty tomb ask the women, “Why do you search for the Living One among the dead?” It is a question that is put to us as well. Have we been looking in all the wrong places for direction, solace and help?

The differences in the accounts cause some people to conclude the event never happened at all. But, if Jesus really did rise from the dead, think of the confusion and wonder of those who breathlessly told of having seen the Risen Lord. This was a first. No one had ever had this experience before. The confusion and differences in the stories could very well have been caused by the excitement of telling something that seemed so unbelievable. The accounts of the resurrection also include the empty tomb, suspected body snatchers, and the rolled up burial cloths.

We will hear variations of the story over the next weeks. We could shrug our shoulders and say, “So what’s new? It is the same old story we have heard many times in years past. I know the resurrection accounts almost my heart. What’s changed?”

What’s changed! So much has happened since last March when we last heard the stories. We are not the same people we were last year. We are not the same church we were last year. We are not the same world we were last year. Everything has changed. We need to hear these stories as if they were brand new, as if we have never heard them before. Because we are hearing them in this new, drastically changed and unchartered world we find ourselves in.

Because we are different and so much has changed, the resurrection stories are different for us today. It is not like some old familiar tales we find on a bookshelf, a bit dusty from age. They are brand-new stories so they help us experience God in a whole new way, this year – today. Can we identify with Mary and those disciples who were still in the dark? Are we like those locked-up disciples, afraid. Do we also have a sense of foreboding and need hope. In our Good Friday world our eyes get used to the dark and all we can see is an empty tomb, nothing else.

Good Friday is shrouded with darkness, brokenness and sadness, disenchantment and feelings of abandonment. Though we cannot see our way out, God is still at work. Easter reminds us that God does some of God’s best work in the dark, always has, always will. Can we believe God is giving us new life even in today’s darkness and gloom?

A while back I was preaching in an Oakland, California parish. It was a large old church. In the sacristy there was a big vault-closet for sacred vessels. It had a steel door with a combination lock. I got to thinking as I went into the vault to get a chalice, “Suppose a person got locked in? How long would they survive in this sealed space? Who would know they were inside? Would anyone hear them pounding against the thick steel door?” There was a light inside the vault and a plaque on the door which read, “You are not locked in, press escape device.” There was a plunger near the handle, the escape devise to open the door. I have thought a lot of that phrase these months, repeated it many times, “You are not locked in, press escape device.” We are not on our own. Today we celebrate Jesus risen from the dead who opens a door for us into the light. “You are not locked in.”

This long year has felt like we have been locked in – not just restricted to our homes because of the pandemic. Locked in because we can’t break a habit; are confined by a sickness or disability; the death of a loved one can cast a Good Friday shadow over the rest of our lives; the natural world is crumbling into an environmental Good Friday; nations are tearing themselves up with forces even within their own borders. We can feel locked up in a “Good Friday world,” without an easy escape device to get us out.

Jesus was defeated, killed and locked in behind a heavy stone. I don’t know if there were two men in white, one, or none at the empty tomb. What we believe is that while it was still dark in the world God released Jesus from the tomb. There is no quick and easy escape device for us from a lot of the situations we are in these days. But because of what God did for Jesus, we believe God can also do for us; maybe not instantly, but step-by-step, from the dark of any tomb, little by little into the light of Easter Sunday. Good Friday may continue for us for a while, but today reminds us that God has won the final victory.

What if someone were to say, “Prove it.” Well we can’t just from those very familiar gospel accounts. No one actually saw Jesus rise. What we have is an empty tomb and their word. “Prove it.” We can’t, the resurrection was the only event in Jesus’ life that was entirely between him and God. I can’t prove the resurrection, I can’t explain it, I can’t force it to make sense.

What we can say is: “I believe it, I trust it. I will live my life in the light of the resurrection” Haven’t we experienced it, more than once, when Good Friday became Easter Sunday? We believe that on the other side of death and pain is always resurrection; always new creation; always new life. It is not Good Friday for ever. But it is Easter Sunday forever.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/040421.cfm