Easter Sunday, the Resurrection of the Lord – April 4, 2021
St. Mary – Derby, KS
The Most Depressing Story I Ever Heard
One of the most depressing stories I ever heard was about this great author. This author was nearing the end of his career, and he was very very old. And he went to do this TV interview. In a wheelchair, tubes everywhere. And at the end of this one hour interview, they asked him, “Given the possibility that you aren’t going to live much longer, what is your greatest hope?” And he said, he was not a believer but he said, “My hope, my one and only hope—if I believed in God, the one and only thing I would ask him now is for time to finish my play.” And then the announcer came on at the end of the show, and told us that the man had indeed passed away…but that he had time to finish his play. And you look at the comments for this video and it’s just filled with such admiration and wonder: “Look, there is the strength of the human spirit!”
But after I watched that I was depressed. Really depressed. It was really one of the most depressing things I had ever watched. Maybe he was a great guy, maybe not. Maybe that play he wrote was one of the most incredible plays every written—maybe. But the fact, at the end of the day, the one and only indisputable fact? He’s dead. The saddest thing about that guy is that he’s dead.
People ask me, Do you want to live forever?” And it’s like, “Yes! Of course I do! I mean, do you want to die? I want to live forever. I want friendships that never end. I want happiness that never peters out. I want it! But everywhere I look, I know everything is telling me, ‘I can make you happy for a while but I cannot fulfill that desire, these desires that you have, that are so outrageous.’”
Do you see what I mean? Our attempts never last. And even when we accomplish the greatest things in life, our greatest dreams, win the lottery and have the life we want, you name it—we die. It ends.
If there is not something, someone that addressed this, that addresses the things we face in our daily life, in our real lives, in the end death itself—what are we doing?
On this, the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the Church places before us the Gospel accounts of what happened that morning “on the first day of the week”: they came to the tomb, and they found it empty. Empty. That’s all. There are simple explanations for why tombs are empty.
But then, in each account, the simple proposal is made: “He has risen, he is not here” (Mark 16:6).
For us today, in Derby, America, in 2021, then, the proposal is made to us. Yeah, we can think of plenty of explanations for empty tombs. But there is a proposal attached: “He has risen.” We are at no disadvantage to Mary Magdalen or the apostles. They show up, and all they have in front of them is an empty tomb. That’s all they know. It’s empty. And they are told, “He is risen.”
Almost immediately you will hear the disciples say things like: “We had hoped he was going to be the one to redeem Israel, that he would bring salvation, that he was the Messiah, the Son of God.” They had hoped that things would be different.
They had been promised something different—at least they thought so. But then he died, just like everyone else did. And the root of the problem was still there. They seem to be back at square one. They are still in need of salvation. They are left with a proposal: “He has risen, he is not here.”
The Need for Salvation
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, or better it doesn’t seem to affect us. We don’t perceive a change. “Jesus died and rose from the dead.” Well, OK. “Let’s take some cute pictures and looks for some eggs. Don’t worry, there’s a bunny.” But why does that matter? Why does “He is risen” matter? Why should I care?
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 anything?
For a lot of us, maybe not. 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.
We talk about how God came to “save men,” but what do you think that means? He came to give us a course in theology? To give them new moral laws and the “command to love”? To teach us to change our structures, whether they be personal, social, or political? To teach us that God is a Father and kind and merciful? All of this has been the object of the human search for centuries: in religions, in philosophies of life, in science and sociology, in all of the famous ideologies old and new. Even in our days, some of the most heroic practitioners of justice and love—not Christian. In other words…there’s nothing “salvific” in any of this. Good things! Things that have their place. But…how do they solve anything?
We all feel this need for salvation. And maybe salvation isn’t a helpful word for us. “Newness.” There’s a word. We all have the experience of needing a “new job” or a “new situation”? Right? “Save me from this horrible boss!” “Save me.” Salvation. We need a newness. But a newness we cannot produce. We know we can’t produce it. We’ve tried, and even with our best attempts, it doesn’t last.
This is why the Church has us meditate so much on the passion and death of Christ. Because it is encouraging us to take our suffering, our lack, our need very very seriously. We feel this lack of newness, of salvation in our life all the time; every day seems to be the same. We can suffer from this feeling of nothingness, or dryness, the weight of the day. Here in Derby, I see it every day: “Everything is amazing, but nobody’s happy.” It’s just this kind of: “Yeah, another day. Same ol’ same ol’.” I was talking to a parishioner, and he was wondering what the challenges are here in Derby. And the first thing that came to me was how comfortable everyone is, and how that is such a dangerous place to be because it lulls us into forgetting our need for salvation. We create this illusion where we think we can produce the newness, the solution, the salvation we need. But again, we know we can’t produce it. We’ve tried, and even with our best attempts, it doesn’t last.
The Tomb Was Found Empty
The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is not a claim that Jesus is God, “So follow him or else.” The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is not a nice thing that happened so we better celebrate it. The resurrection of Jesus is not the claim that when we die we can go to heaven. The resurrection of Jesus isn’t even the claim that Jesus came back to life, was resuscitated. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the announcement, the proposal that something new has happened as a result of which everything is different. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is the beginning of new creation.“Only if Jesus is risen has anything really new occurred that changes the world and the situation of mankind” (BXVI). Only if he rose is there a newness, a hope for this newness, for salvation.
That is the proposal: “He is not here, he has risen. And he awaits you in Galilee.” He invites you, me, each one of us, to go back to the time and place of your first love, and there to find him.