Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for Easter Sunday

When I read through that first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, I’m just amazed at the neat chronology that’s laid out: Jesus’ earthly ministry, his being put to death, his resurrection, the witnesses who testify to him, the message that he is the one appointed by God as judge. It’s all so neat! But when we start taking it apart, the events don’t seem to fit so easily. After all, this passage we are reading in Acts was likely written between the years 80-90 of the first century. That means a full fifty years after the events it describes. Such writing tends to smooth out inconsistencies. When we read the resurrection accounts in the gospels, there’s just way too much mention of doubts, hesitations, and outright unbelief. After all, the disciples were coming to assert something (the individual resurrection of Jesus) that had never ever been asserted by anyone before in the whole history of Judaism. What we would give to know a more exact chronology of those days and months and years after the death of Jesus. How long did it take for a belief in his resurrection to take shape? We will probably never know.

But we can see change still going on in the gospel message at the end of the first century. In this passage from the book of Acts, to believe in Jesus is to receive forgiveness of sins. Well and good. But some ten to twenty years later, by the time of John’s gospel, the message will have deepened even more. There to believe in Jesus risen is to enter into the promise of everlasting life. That’s a lot more than just forgiveness of sins. The promise is of entering into divine life. The Eastern Christian churches have maintained this belief much more clearly than we have in the Western Christian tradition. "The aim of human life is union with God and deification (theosis). The Greek fathers have used the term "deification" to a greater extent than the Latins. What is meant is not a pantheistic identity, but a sharing through grace in the divine life. ‘Whereby are given to us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these you might be partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4)." (Orthodox Spirituality, p. 22). Wow! The purpose of human life is to be eventually taken into the Mystery of God. What a promise!

A week ago on Palm Sunday I mentioned that was a day when we should reflect on the hopes and dreams of our lives. Easter Sunday is about the complete transformation of those dreams. Our limited dreams—as grandiose as they might have seemed to us—transmute into an unimaginable dream: to share in the very life of God. That’s the supreme gift of this Easter feast! That’s what we celebrate this day. That’s why we sing with joy! That’s why we praise the Glory of God! That’s why we should have hope and love in our hearts!

Some of that is captured in a story told in Nikos Kazantzakis, Report to Greco: "Easter Sunday, shortly before daybreak in the mountains of Crete, Fr. Kaphatos races from village to village resurrecting Christ with mercurial speed because there are many villages having only this one priest. Sleeves rolled up, weighted with his vestments and the heavy silver-bound bible, he climbs over the rocky mountains, runs through the holy night, reaches one village and shouts Christos anesti—Christ is risen—and then dashes on to the next village. In the final village the people are assembled in the small church. Their candles remain unlit in their hands; they are waiting for the Great Word to come so that they can light them. Just then they hear a crunching of pebbles and they rush outside. And out of the dark comes old Fr. Kaphatos. He spreads his arms in front of them and shouts Christos anesti. ... He was truly resurrecting Christ." (p.439-440) May Christ be resurrected in all our hearts this day.

No comments: