Sunday, April 24, 2011

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Easter Homily

Readings: Acts 10:34-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9

In the mountain regions of Greece, where little villages are widely separated, it’s common for a priest to have five or six villages assigned to his care. On Easter Sunday morning he is expected to visit each one of them and celebrate a short morning service of the Resurrection in the Byzantine tradition. The custom has arisen, and remains to this day, that when the priest enters each little church where the people have gathered, he shouts at the top of his voice, "Christos anesti" (Christ is Risen) And the people shout in return "Christos anesti." They are celebrating that in the Resurrection Jesus has saved and redeemed us. We have a future with God. The feast of the Resurrection is the salvation of all the followers of Jesus and indeed the whole world.

That’s the large, overall Christian message of Easter. But a smaller, day-to-day message follows closely from that. Easter also points to a transition in the life of Jesus’ disciples. They have been freed from the fear and uncertainty that followed the capture and crucifixion of Jesus. Beyond that they are led to an empowering joy in their lives. We don’t see much of that empowering joy in the Gospels themselves, but it shows up in the subsequent writings of the New Testament. The disciples go around fearlessly proclaiming the Resurrection of Jesus and the New Covenant with God that Jesus’ life, death and Resurrection made manifest. Early Christianity is a movement flooded by empowering joy, an empowering joy that they want to share with all people.

It’s important to keep both of these perspectives in mind as we celebrate this feast. On the one hand, we joyfully proclaim the glorious future that God has opened for us. On the other hand, we recognize that we are impelled to go out and share this empowering joy with others, especially those suffering from the discouragements of life.

That dual dimension was something I certainly felt last Wednesday evening. I was over at the Hermitage pushing my mother through the halls when the Health Care receptionist came up to me. She said that one of the residents, Tudie West, was rapidly in the process of dying and she couldn’t find any priest to do the anointing for her. I said I would go and immediately get my oils. On the way back to the chaplain’s house I kept thinking of the past months. Almost every evening when I would go to the Hermitage after supper one of her daughters, especially the twins Karen and Sharon, was feeding her in such a gentle manner. I would often stop and talk with them for a while. I thought, "they are now on their Good Friday way of the cross." When I got to her room, all her children (except for one son) were there and grieving as they knew she was dying. I was able to get all of them involved in the anointing as a final farewell to their mother. She died a little more than an hour after that. The next afternoon I ran into Sharon and Karen in the parking lot. They had cleaned out their mother’s room and were loading the things into a station wagon. I stopped and talked with them. They were very appreciative that I could do the anointing. I mentioned that something like this, sad as it is, has a way of bringing the children closer together. They said that was certainly true with them; the children had become closer than they had ever been before. The power of empowering joy was beginning to be felt in their lives. It would be an Easter of hope for them.

That’s what Easter should be for each of us—the dawning of an empowering joy in our lives that will make us become men and women of great hope. Let’s pray that it be so.

No comments: