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Terrance KleinMarch 27, 2024
Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash

A Homily for Easter Sunday

Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43 Colossians 3:1-4 John 20:1-9

Easter Sunday starts in the silence of grief. It dawns in the darkness of a tomb. So, allow me to open with a story of bereavement.

My grandmother, Katie Klein, was an integral and beloved part of my childhood. We visited her weekly until she died, just as I was beginning high school. But I never knew that my grandmother had been a church organist. Indeed, I never saw any hint of music in her home. I knew that she had been raised in Weatherford, Okla., but I did not know that she had played the organ for the Methodist church there or that she did the same when she and my grandfather moved to a farm outside La Crosse, Kan.

My grandmother read the Bible. Her home was filled with Christian study materials, the gift of a neighboring parson, but she never went to church except when she visited us and, doing as the Romans do, came with us to Mass. Her life as an organist and a churchgoer ended when my Uncle Eldon, still in high school, died from a burst appendix.

Years later, learning about my grandmother’s music and expressing surprise that I had never encountered even a trace of it, I was told that she had stopped playing the organ, stopped going to church, when Eldon died. She had five sons, but only Eldon, as a young boy, had sat beside her each week on the organ bench. Grandma said she just could not sit there anymore; his absence was too palpable. Her music fell silent, hushed by death.

There is nothing unique in my grandmother’s story. Versions of the same play out every time someone whom we love dies. Loved ones do not simply depart from this world. They take a part of it with them.

That is the nature of death. At some moment in prehistory, it ceased to be something natural, a fitting end to life on earth, a rest at the end of days. Instead, it became a tearing away and a tearing apart, a dark, sinister cloud coming on in the full heat of day. Death does not tenderly receive our dead; it does not treasure who they have been and what they have done. No, the death we know is an indiscriminate storm. It sweeps away a whole world, which a love once formed.

And that is how Sunday followed the storm of Christ’s death: in silence. Everything had been swept away. Nothing to do now but to withdraw, to hide out or, for the stalwart of heart, to care for the tomb.

The sorrowful silence at the start of Easter Sunday should not be overlooked. It is quite telling. The Gospels insist that Christ’s disciples resisted the notion that he had risen from the dead. If Jesus had indeed spoken of this before his death, it had left little impression. These men and women did not intend to pick at their wounds with vain hope for a return from the dead. No, each of them had to be won over to what had happened in the darkness.

What did happen? Within the tomb, no one can say. But when even the most skeptical of historians is finished, we can say this: The tomb was empty. There could have been no possible talk of resurrection with a body still in the grave.

Undoubtedly, many people in Jerusalem did not encounter a living Jesus. Certainly, his enemies did not. But Jesus did show himself to those whom he loved. Indeed, his love for them seems to have been more of a factor in the showing than their love for him.

The Greek verbs of the resurrection accounts are active, not passive. He is not seen. He manifests himself to them. He is their beloved Jesus, the very same, but everything is now different, glorified. Now, he is Christ the Lord.

The risen Christ does not preach. He has already told them all they need to know of the power of love, of the coming of the kingdom. Indeed, he does not even describe heaven. He need not. He is eternal life. The life to come is visible, palpable, in his resurrected flesh.

What is revealed when Christ stands before them? That love is stronger than death.

So that, just as Christ was raised from the dead
by the glory of the Father,
we too might live in newness of life (Rm 6:4).

That we come from love and that we will return to love.

If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above,
where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Col 3:1).

That the shelter of love, its world of devotion, is not swept away in death.

Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe (Jn 20:27).

That intimacy with those in glory finds channels beyond speech, beyond sight.

“Woman, why are you weeping?
Whom are you looking for?”
She thought it was the gardener and said to him,
“Sir, if you carried him away,
tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,”
which means Teacher (Jn 20:15-16).

That love goes before us but does not depart from us.

And it happened that,
while he was with them at table,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them.
With that their eyes were opened
and they recognized him,
but he vanished from their sight (Lk 24:30-31).

Long ago, for my grandmother and her familiars, the music fell silent in the face of death. Today music plays on earth because, with a little faith—which means nothing more than a little openness—you can hear the music of heaven.

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