Easter Sunday April 15, 2001 (Audio) Homily by Fr. Robert Altier
Reading I (Acts 10:34a, 37-43) Reading II (Colossians 3:1-4)
Gospel (St. John 20:1-9)
"Alleluia" - that beautiful word, which we have not heard for six weeks, once again pours forth from our mouths. "Alleluia." It comes from two Hebrew words that mean "Praise Yahweh." In English, it means "Praise God." While we continue to speak the English, the Hebrew we have not spoken. Now, it comes forth again; and we praise God with our whole heart because we celebrate the most important event in human history today. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead.
When we think about our Christian faith, we need to ask ourselves, "What do we really believe?" Most of us were baptized as little babies, and we were raised as Christian people. Sometimes, we never stop to think about what we believe. We go through the motions week after week, but sometimes it never really sinks into the depths of our hearts. Today is the day that makes us truly Christian. Today, we will renew the baptismal vows that were made so many years ago (for most of us). They were made the day we became Christians; the day we professed our faith in the Holy Trinity; the day we rejected Satan and all his empty works and promises; the day we said "Yes" to Jesus Christ. But it is more than simply saying, "Yes, I believe." For Christian people, on the day we were baptized, we were baptized into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We have been made sharers in His Death and Resurrection. We are members of Jesus Christ; that is what Saint Paul is talking about in the second reading today.
We see what happened today, 2000 years ago, and we rejoice wholeheartedly that our Lord rose from the dead. We realize that this is not an event just for Him alone. As wonderful as it is, what difference would it make to the rest of us if all we could do was say that He rose from the dead? With modern medical technology, we can suggest that a number of people have risen from the dead. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, and a couple of other people as well. But the interesting thing is, if you think about Lazarus: Peter, who ate and drank with Lazarus after he was raised from the dead (we are told, in Scripture, they had a banquet for Lazarus and Jesus and his disciples were invited to it), didnít run around the countryside proclaiming the forgiveness of sin in the name of Lazarus, who was risen from the dead. That is because Lazarus was not resurrected; he was resuscitated. Lazarus had to die again.
In Jesus Christ, death has died, death has been destroyed. There is no more dying for Christ. And for us, who are baptized into Jesus Christ, we share already in His death and resurrection. Saint Paul tells us, "Set your sights on the things above, not on the things of earth. Because you have died with Christ. When Christ your life appears in glory, you also will appear with Him." That is our faith as Christian people: The resurrection from the dead. This is something that, on the natural level, is very difficult for us. It means that your body, the one sitting right there in the pew, is going to rise from the dead. Your body will share physically in the death of Christ. It already shares mystically in that. You will share physically in that one day, as well. You will also share physically in His Resurrection. Your body, like the body of Jesus Christ, will rise from the dead. Not like the body of Lazarus, because Lazarusís body had to die again. The body of Lazarus will rise on the last day, but he still awaits that. So, there is a difference between what happened with Jesus and what happened with Lazarus; it is not the same thing.
Only in Jesus Christ is there a resurrection. Only in Jesus Christ do we proclaim our faith. Only in Jesus Christ is there forgiveness of sin. Because of His death and resurrection, He is the One who will come again to judge the living and the dead. So, for all of us, we need to ask ourselves, "How much does this really mean to me? How much does my faith in Jesus Christ really mean? Is it the central element of my life? Am I truly seated at Godís right hand already, in Christ? Am I living that way? Do I really believe that?" In just a couple of moments, we will renew our baptismal vows. We need to ask ourselves, "Do I really reject Satan in my life? Am I truly living for God in Jesus Christ? Do I live the faith I profess? Have I rejected sin? Have I rejected death?"
You see, people in our society are terrified of death. We do everything we can to live longer. That is a mystery I have never understood. The goal of life is to get to Heaven; why anybody wants to stay here any longer, I do not understand at all. Set your sights on the things above, where Christ is already seated at Godís right hand and you are seated there with Him. Why do you want to hang out here any longer, if you can be with Him? Now, I am not suggesting that we should go out and have a mass suicide or anything ridiculous, but it is simply to say, that for Christian people, death is not something to be afraid of. Death has been destroyed in Jesus Christ. Death is a doorway now, that we have to go through if we want to enter into eternal glory. It is not something we fear; it is not something we should try to avoid; and, for Heavenís sake, it is not a reason we should seek a way to prolong our life here on earth.
You see these unfortunate things now. With all this cloning, people are saying, "Now I can be immortal." You are. You are immortal already. Your soul will never die. Jesus looked at Martha (when Martha came out to meet Him) and she said, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would never have died. Now, I am sure God will give You whatever You ask of Him." Not only did Jesus tell her that her brother would rise, but He went on to say to her, "Whoever believes in Me, whoever is alive and believes in Me, will never die." Then He looked at Martha and said, "Do you believe this? Whoever is alive and believes in Me will never die." Your soul is immortal. Your soul, your entire person, is already in Jesus Christ. You have died with Christ already in Baptism and you have risen with Christ already in Baptism.
If you are in the state of grace, you have absolutely nothing to fear in death. Rather, it is something we should embrace joyfully, that we should look forward to; not because we want to die, but because we live, we have life in Christ. That is what our faith is all about. Do not look for ways to hang on here; look for the ways to get to Him. There is only one way: He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. Do we want life? Then we want Jesus Christ. Do we want the truth? Then we want Jesus Christ. If we want the only way that leads to life and to truth, then we want Jesus Christ. There is nothing in this world that will get us to Heaven. There is nothing in this world that will make us immortal. There is nothing in this world that will allow us to live forever. But Jesus Christ, who is already seated at Godís right hand, has made us immortal. He has promised us eternal life with Him and has given us everything we need to achieve and fulfill that promise. Do you believe this? That is what we are going to state in just a moment, when we renew our baptismal vows.
Today and everyday, as Christian people, we each sing "Alleluia." We praise God because we do not live in fear anymore. We are people of hope; we are people of praise. So, we need to look very seriously at ourselves after having come through the forty days of Lent, where we were trying to die to our passions, where we were trying to put the self and all the things of this world aside, so we could focus on life in Christ. Today, as Jesus rises from the dead and we celebrate the Resurrection, we really need to look at ourselves. Having put that other stuff aside so we can see more clearly, we need to ask ourselves, with brutal honesty in the depths of our hearts, "Am I filled with hope in the Resurrection?" Not merely, "Do I believe in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ?" You would not be here today if you did not. Are you filled with hope in your resurrection from the dead? Are you filled with faith that you are already seated at Godís right hand, and therefore, that you already take part in the divine worship of Heaven, which is exactly what happens right here on the altar?
If you are already seated at Godís right hand, then you have been re-created in Jesus Christ for the praise of Godís glory. That is why, today and everyday, we sing "Alleluia." It is because we already behold God. In Heaven, all they do is worship God and praise Him for eternity; and we, out of Godís love, have already been incorporated into that heavenly worship so we can praise Him. What we await now is the day when we will enter physically into that. Spiritually now, and mystically, we worship Jesus Christ in the Eucharist; and we praise Him there where we can not yet see Him. But we await the day when we will truly behold Him face to face, and the day when our bodies will rise from the dead to be reunited with our souls and forever we will sing the beautiful hymn to the Lamb: "Alleluia! Praise God!"
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.