Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Homily by Fr. Matthias Neuman, OSB

This Easter Sunday we celebrate with great splendor the Resurrection of Jesus. After his ignominious and cruel crucifixion and death, God the Father raised (transformed) him to a new and glorified life with God. Indeed in that very action Jesus was clearly shown to be the Son of God who has redeemed us. Such is the ancient creed of the Christian faith.

But a further question then intrudes into the mix: what is the exact practical significance of this action of Jesus’ Resurrection for us, for those who believe in him? That seems to be shown in "the human image of Jesus" that is revered by his many followers; in other words how we see Jesus in his human life tells us a great deal about what we believe the significance of the Resurrection to be. Here the situation becomes very complicated. For, as religious historian Jeff Sharlett tells us, "There are many different (Jesus) Christs believed in by Americans. There’s a Jesus in Miami’s Cuban churches who seems to do nothing but wrestle Castro; a Jesus in Heartland, Kansas, who dances around a fire with witches who also consider themselves Christians; a Jesus in Manhattan who dresses in drag; a baby Jesus in New Mexico who pulls cow tails and heals the lame by giving them dirt to eat; a muscle-bound Jesus in South Central L.A. emblazoned across the chest of a man with a gun in his hand; a Jesus in an Orlando megachurch who wants you to own a black Beamer (BMW)." (The Family, p. 5) So, the question for us is this: what is our (my) image of Jesus in his human life and what does that say about the significance of his Resurrection to me? It’s a very alive question!

There is an official answer of the Catholic Church to that question about the significance of the Resurrection; it’s a two-fold answer. The first and long-range part of the answer is that in the Resurrection Jesus won for us the promise of an everlasting life with God. Jesus won for us the promise of an eternal happiness. That hope is expressed so clearly in many of the New Testament writings. The reading from the Letter to Colossians that we just heard states: "When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with Him in glory." My own favorite is: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it ever entered into the human heart what God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Cor 2:9) The Resurrection is for us a promise of a life with God forever. But there’s a second and more immediate dimension of its significance: the Resurrection of Jesus shows us the way to that long-distant hope—what we must do here and now, attitudes and relationships with each other that point us toward that great hope. St. Paul reminded us of that in describing the Spirit that Jesus poured out on us in the Resurrection: "Live by the Spirit.... The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Gal 5:16, 22-23 ) All of that is the practical day-to-day significance of the Resurrection in our lives.

Having said all that, I would hasten to add that none of us ever lives exactly the Church’s belief. It’s something we are always struggling toward. That’s because the message of faith always gets embedded into our concrete human situations, the lives we are born into and subsequently live. Faith is but one factor in the mix, and it’s a factor that we often distort. That’s how we can get a Jesus who wrestles with Castro or a muscle-bound Jesus with a gun. The meaning of Jesus’ Resurrection is always, always a goal we are struggling toward, always trying to purify its meaning for us.

Ultimately there are two issues to consider this Easter Sunday. First, what is my image of the human life of Jesus? That tells me something of what I believe to be the practical, day-to-day result of the Resurrection. Second, we are to remember and reaffirm the great hope of this feast: that "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor has it ever entered into the human heart what God has prepared for those who love Him." (1 Cor 2:9) Jesus is risen! Alleluia!!

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