Easter Sunday – April 12, 2020
St. Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9
Something I hear a lot lately is, “Man, I can’t wait until things go back to normal!” Right? And I think a lot of us feel that, and it’s understandable. Anytime we’re forced into a new and uncomfortable situation our natural reaction is to want to go back to normal, to go back to something comfortable, back to what we’ve always done.
That is the underlying story of the Exodus. Moses frees the people from four hundred years of slavery, promises to take them to a land of freedom, a land flowing with milk and honey. And what do the people say once the journey gets a little uncomfortable? “Why did you take us out of Egypt?” (Ex 17:3). The people want to go back to slavery! Why? Because it’s normal, it’s comfortable. “Just take us back! I just want things to go back to normal.”
This is a very familiar feeling to us. “I just want things to go back to normal.” In these times we share stories, talk about the good times, how things used to be, how much we miss certain things. We talk about “normal,” what used to happen.
But then we get to this celebration of Easter. And it is anything but normal. Here I am preaching to an empty church. That’s not normal. But it is fitting. Because Easter is anything but normal. Easter Day, the Resurrection of Christ from the dead, the rising of the Son of Man—this is “normal” for us. “Easter? Oh yeah, Jesus rose from the dead. So let’s go put some candy in eggs and hide them.”
That’s a “normal” Easter. But Easter is not normal. It is not. Easter, the Resurrection of Christ—this is the beginning of something new.
When the people of Israel are captured by the Babylonians, they long for “normal.” Once again, they just want things to go back to normal. What does God say? When all of the people are praying and crying out to God, “Take us back to the land of our fathers! Take us back to our normal life!”—what does God say to them? The Lord says, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not. Behold, I am doing something new! Do you not perceive it?” (Is. 43:18-19). … The Lord says, “Yes! I have done great things in the past! But forget them! I am doing something new! Do you not see? Do you not perceive it? Don’t you see that I’m doing something new?!”
Easter, the Resurrection—this is anything but “normal,” this is not “business as usual.” It is something new. Something entirely new. People had risen from the dead before. Jesus raised three people from the dead. There was nothing “new” about a dead person coming back to life. But the Resurrection is not just Jesus coming back to life. It isn’t. The Resurrection is entirely new.
The Gospel of John tries to make this point throughout the Gospel—that there is something new, something entirely new. The first words of our Gospel today are, “On the first day of the week”—this signals the start of something new. Mary Magdalen will eventually mistake Jesus as a “gardener.” The gospel of John begins by mimicking the opening words of Genesis, “In the beginning…” Why? Because what is happening is not just Jesus coming back to life. What is happening “is the launching of the new creation, in which the divine intention for the whole creation from the beginning is at last fulfilled” (NT Wright). It is all about new creation!
Jesus’ resurrection is not him coming back to life to continue teaching and preaching and performing miracles. Jesus’ resurrection is not a return to “business as usual,” it is not going back to “normal.” It is not even taking us back to a time before sin and death, no. Jesus’ resurrection is the begging, the inauguration, the launching of the new creation! John will later have a vision, which he recounts in the book of Revelation. And John sees “a new heaven and a new earth;…the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.…And he who sat upon the throne [Jesus] said, ‘Behold, I make all things new’” (Rev 21:1-5). “Behold, I am doing something new. Behold, I make all things new.”
But a lot like Peter and John, who see the empty tomb—a lot like them, we “don’t understand” what is going on, we can’t make sense of our circumstances, we try to give simple explanations, pithy answers, avoid the problem—and in the end we say, “I can’t wait until things go back to normal.” We think back to what has happened before. We think back to the good times. We just want things to go back to normal.
But have you ever asked, “Do I want things to go back to ‘normal’?”
How many of us now recognize that our faith, the way we lived our faith, was just a routine? Our faith was just something we did on Sunday? Certain words we said each day? How we spent our free time? Just a gathering on Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday evening? Something that made us feel good when we were feeling down? A picture we hang on our wall? A box to check on surveys?
How many of us recognize now that we have somehow eliminated Jesus—the risen, resurrected Jesus—from our faith? We may have spent years in this parish, hours kneeling in the church or during Mass or Adoration—but it did not change our relationship with “Jesus” or, for that matter, change us. And now we wish things would go back to normal?
How many of us recognize now that we have somehow eliminated our circumstances as something important for our faith? We have certain encounters, certain feelings, certain hardships or sufferings—things God gives us, to change us—but we are deaf to them, blind, take no interest in them. And instead, we just wish things would go back to normal?
What kind of experience do we need? Not “normal.” Not “comfortable.” Not “the usual.” No, we need faith. And not the faith of “I am going to believe because I don’t understand.” No, that’s not faith. We need the faith of the disciples, the faith of the first Christians. Faith that was based on the fact that they had encountered the Presence of the Risen Lord. Faith that wasn’t just the decision to be part of a club. Faith that wasn’t just fasting on Fridays. Faith that wasn’t just deciding to believe in God, no. Faith that led people to become human lamp-posts in Rome, burned alive on stakes throughout the streets of Rome. Faith that led people to give up their homes, and wealth; their comfortable and “normal” lives. Faith—acknowledging that Christ is still present, alive and present, even now, and that this changes everything. When Jesus comes again, “Our problem is not whether He will find us talking about Him, [or] having our meetings, or doing certain [activities at the parish]—but whether there will still be any left who are magnetized to Him, who have let themselves be seized by Him all the way down to their innermost depths,” whose entire life is shaped and changed by His Presence (Carrón, “Who Is This Man?”, 7). When Jesus comes again, will he find faith? (Luke 18:8).
WILL JESUS FIND ANYONE WHO HAS ALLOWED THEIR ENTIRE LIFE—THEIR ENTIRE LIFE—TO BE CHANGED BY HIS RESURRECTION, BY HIS PRESENCE?
We all want to receive the sacraments again, we all want to receive Jesus present in the Eucharist. But now is the time to ask (especially for us—for me—who have been receiving the Eucharist for years and years, maybe even every day)—to ask, “But do you also want to ‘wash each other’s feet’? Do you also want to ‘sell everything you have’ in order to follow Jesus? Do you also want to willingly give up the ‘normal’ life you live, doing what everyone else does, and instead live a life that most people would look at you and ask, ‘Are you ok? What’s wrong? Why do you live like that?’? Do you also want to risk your whole life on Jesus’ promise, ‘I will be with you always’? Or do you want to continue to constantly try to take care of yourself, provide for yourself, pretend that you don’t really need God?” These are the questions we need to ask when we say we miss receiving the Eucharist. Because when you say “Amen” to the Eucharist, you are saying “Amen” to everything.
Is your faith just your routine? Or is faith something that gives you initiative each day? That changes each day? That forces you out of “normal” each day?
“Behold, I am doing something new! Do you not perceive it?” “Behold, I make all things new.” New. Eternally new. Every sunset, every experience, every encounter—new! Not normal, not mundane, not the usual—new! Like those first days of falling in love, and the newness of each day changes everything. New.
The Lord is Risen. There is hope. We are not alone. He is present. Alleluia.