|HOMILY FOR EASTER SUNDAY 2015|
Alleluia, the Lord is risen-the Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia
Yesterday, Saturday, was the first day of Passover. It began at sundown on Friday. You may have noticed the beautiful full moon night before last. For Jews, Passover marks the night when the angel of death slew every firstborn infant male, human or animal, in the land of Egypt. Only those houses marked with the blood of the lamb were spared from this form of death, and these were the houses of the Jews. Passover marks the beginning of the Exodus, the departure from Egypt to the land promised many years before to Abraham and Isaac.
For us, Jesus is our Passover, slain for our sins, and whose death we remember when we consume the bread he gave as his body, and the wine he gave as his blood. By his death we are saved from eternal death; by his death sin’s hold on us is broken. By his death salvation is made available to all nations and to all peoples.
Our first reading this morning is from Acts. Peter has had a vision which tells him to set aside the Jewish dietary code. Cornelius is a God-fearing Roman official, in other words a sympathizer with Judaism. He has had a vision in which he is told to send for Peter who is visiting someone in Joppa, nearby. He does so, and Peter comes to him. Peter’s vision has made him realize that God’s salvation is open to all nations. The command he has received is to preach Jesus’ resurrection: “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." No sooner has he said this than the Holy Spirit comes upon the gentiles there gathered. Seeing this demonstration of God’s power, he has them baptized in the name of Jesus. Peter of course is a first-hand witness of the resurrection. He tells us that the Lord’s appearances were not large public events, but were to those who had been close to him. Even so, his resurrection has set in motion a widespread mission effort which is transcending the confines of Judaism, from which the new faith springs.
Paul gives us a more detailed narration of Jesus’ appearances. In his narration Jesus appeared first to Peter, then to the Twelve, then to more than five-hundred, many of whom were still alive, then to James his brother, then to all the apostles and finally to Paul himself. What is the difference between the Twelve and the apostles? It is unclear, but the Eastern Orthodox Churches have traditionally distinguished between the twelve, and a larger number of disciples, usually 70, and which would include some women. And the Greek word for apostle means an emissary. The list of appearances of the risen Jesus is used to buttress Paul’s main assertion that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures”. Paul, like Peter in the passage from Acts has taken the message of salvation to non-Jews. The universalization of Christian belief is beginning. It will eventually span the globe.
In today’s Gospel reading from John, we hear about the discovery of the empty tomb. It is Mary of Magdala who discovers it. She runs to tell Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved and they run to the tomb and verify what she has told them. At this point she believes that the body has been stolen or taken away. She stays behind, weeping. Then two angels appear in the tomb and ask her why she is weeping. She states her belief that Jesus’ body has been stolen. She turns around and again someone asks her why she is crying-she does not recognize Jesus. It is not until he addresses her by name that she realizes who it is. She is given a message: Jesus tells her to go and tell his brothers that he is ascending to his Father and their Father, to his God and their God. She does and in so doing becomes the first to announce the resurrection of our Lord “I have seen the Lord”, she tells them.
In all four Gospel accounts women are the first to receive the news that Jesus has been raised from the dead. In John’s account, it is Mary of Magdala alone. In the accounts of Luke there is a group of women led by Mary of Magdala, and including Joanna and Mary the mother of James who receive the news. The announcement is made by two men in shining raiment, that is to say angels. These three women are part of a larger group of women who have come up from Galilee with Jesus. When they tell the Disciples, of what they have seen, their account is dismissed as delirium, except by Peter who goes and sees the empty tomb. In Mark’s account Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salomé encounter an angel at the empty tomb. The angel tells them to tell the disciples and Peter that Jesus is going on ahead of them to Galilee, where they will see him. In Matthews account it is Mary of Magdala and “the other Mary” who encounter an angel who tells them that Jesus has risen, has gone ahead to Galilee and to relay the news to the disciples. As they hasten to do so, Jesus meets them. They embrace his feet and he repeats his message to go to Galilee, where they shall see him.
These Gospel accounts of the resurrection of our Lord reflect essential truths about Jesus and his movement. It had a large feminine component. We see Jesus instructing women as well as men. We see some women playing important roles in his service. We see him speaking in parables about God in terms where God is likened to a woman who has lost one of her silver coins. So we are surprised when the developing church relegates women to auxiliary roles, denies them ordination and consecration and seeks to subordinate them to the authority of men.
As it spread, the Jesus movement had to make a number of compromises or sacrifices to gain a wider acceptance in the world around it. With Peter and Paul much of the Judaic tradition was jettisoned. Circumcision was abandoned, as was the dietary code. The movement began as a radically egalitarian proclamation. In Christ Jesus there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no free or slave. There is only a glorious freedom and equality in the risen Christ Jesus, who has overcome sin and death for our sake. As you can imagine, in the patriarchal slave-owning society of the Roman Empire these proclamations had to be toned down in the interest of marketing the faith, and avoiding persecution. Therefore we find people writing in Paul’s name telling women to obey their husbands, slaves to submit to their masters, and for all to pray for their earthly rulers.
Today, however, we rejoice in the fullness of the Resurrection’s message. For those who believe in the Lord Jesus there is liberation from sin, and the promise of eternal life. We pray that God will help us by his Grace to die daily to sin, that we may enter into the joys of eternal life, with Christ Jesus. What a wonderful day!
Alleluia. The Lord is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!
PLEASE NOTE: Easter Eucharist will be celebrated, today, Easter Sunday at St. Alban Mission, Antigua, Guatemala, Casa Convento Concepcion at Noon.