The resurrection doesn’t matter unless you need the resurrection to matter

Easter – April 21, 2019

St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS

Χριστός ανέστη

Christus resurrexit!

Christ is risen!

¡Cristo ha resucitado!

Chúa Ki-tô đã sống lại!

The silence of the past few days is meant to make us uncomfortable. In a quiet which is almost “violent,” where we can no longer distract ourselves “to mask what is real”—in this silence of the reality that is Christ in the tomb, the greatest news that has ever been heard is proclaimed: “He is not here, for he has been raised.” He is not here, he is risen.

The resurrection changes everything. Everything. With these simple words—“He has been raised”—everything changes. And we’ve heard this story many times, and we believe it, more or less. But do we really believe it? When the women returned and shared this, when they came and told this story, “their story seemed like nonsense and they did not believe them” (Luke 24:11).

I think we can easily be in the same situation. It’s not that we don’t believe it, it’s just that the story doesn’t make sense, it sounds like nonsense. “Jesus died and rose from the dead.” Well, OK. But why does that matter? Why should I care? That’s the unbelief. Sure, we may believe that Christ rose from the dead, but do we believe that it makes a difference for us? Do we believe that it affects us? Do we believe that the resurrection changes everything?

For a lot of us, maybe not. Because the resurrection doesn’t matter unless you need the resurrection to matter. I mean, we continue to wake up each morning and carry our crosses, and we seem to carry them alone. Even people in families—good families—feel dreadfully alone in their daily life! And we end up thinking that if God exists, if Jesus is risen, that’s fine…but he doesn’t have anything to do with my daily life; I just have to go to mass and follow a few rules and I won’t get punished in the end. But after a while, even this isn’t enough.

The story we tell so often is the story of how Jesus became man, died, and rose. And these mysteries are the most important. But as important for us who struggle to understand the importance of his resurrection for our lives—who try to understand why the resurrection changes everything—more important for us are the people who met Christ in their daily life. We can talk about how two-thousand years ago Christ came and died and rose, but this narrative breaks down almost as soon as it begins…because if Christ isn’t present, if we cannot experience him here and now, we’re in trouble. As long as we think of ourselves as alone, and as long as we think of God as far away, and especially as far away from the truest and deepest longings of my heart, then we will always sin, always look for something to fill our loneliness, always set our heart on things that will never answer its infinite longings (c.f., Fr. Veras).

Zacchaeus had set his heart on money: money was the way he was trying to fill his life with happiness and meaning and purpose. The adulteress had her heart set on love and pleasure: being “in love,” even when that love was fake and fleeting, was how she decided to fill her loneliness. Nicodemus tried to preserve his reputation: by having a good name, by being friends with the people in power, with the “cool kids,” he would find fulfillment. But what happened to each one of them? For each one, Christ came into their ordinary, daily life. With his presence, with a single look, everything changed. Zacchaeus returned the money he had stolen. The adulteress stopped. Nicodemus threw his reputation aside and took care of Jesus’ dead body.

When Christ is present and in front of us, when Christ is present in the sacraments, when Christ is present in his Word, when Christ is present in something as simple as that look a person can give—when Christ is present, everything can change. But we need “God with us,” Jesus with us everyday. And this is what the resurrection guarantees.

But what will we do with this presence? How do we find it? How do we see him? This is where the risk of the journey comes in! There is no simple answer where one day everything is fine, no. Think of the Rich Young Man, think of Pilate: both of them had Christ in front of them, both experienced his gaze; yet they returned to their money and to their power. Unchanged.

The difference between Zacchaeus, the adulteress, Nicodemus and the Rich Young Man and Pilate is simple. Zacchaeus, the adulteress and Nicodemus are looking for something more, they are willing to abandon what they have if a better promise comes along. The Rich Young Man and Pilate, even though they are unsatisfied with their lives, are not willing to give up what they have, even for the promise of something more.

It takes the attitude of a very young child who has lost his mother in a crowd or in a store. The child stops caring about everything, including his own safety, until he finds his mother again. It is just this impulsive drive to find the one who cares for him, who gives him everything, whose presence gives him comfort and meaning, who loves him. Nothing will stop him in his search; he is infinitely brave, will take risks, will abandon everything else, even in the face of fear and the unknown. “Unless we become like children,” Christ’s presence will not be able to change us.

Christ will set us free, his resurrection changes everything, he is present to us forever! But the presence of this Light, the Light of the world in our life, the presence of Truth means a willingness to let everything that isn’t worthy in us and in our lives burn to the ground and die. And that’s not pleasant. It’s a lot easier to leave things as they are than it is to change. But with death comes life. And Christ is present even in death, even in those most painful times of change, even when following him is most difficult.

And when we follow, when we take that risk, when like a child we recklessly go in search of the one who loves us, we find that he was looking for us all along. And in baptism, in the Church, in each of our lives, he has found us. He is alive, he is present. The resurrection changes everything.

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