April 11, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Easter Sunday
Reading I (Acts 10:34a, 37-43)
Reading II (Colossians 3:1-4)
Gospel (St. John 20:1-9)
Today the Church celebrates Her greatest feast. It is the single most important event in human history: It is the day that Jesus rose from the dead. In rising from the dead, Our Lord has reversed everything that had happened because of what occurred in the Garden and human sin up to that point. As Saint Paul makes very clear, He has put death to death. There is no more power in death; there is no more sting because life now reigns once again. Death, Saint Paul tells us, reigned from the time Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden through the time of the Law and right up to the New Covenant. Now life reigns. And life reigns within each one of us provided that we make the choice.
So when we consider what it is that occurred on this day, it is not like someone being resuscitated who will have to die again, but rather it is an entirely new form of being from a physical point of view. It is a glorified life. When Our Lord rose from the dead, He was completely transformed in His humanity. His glorified human soul remained completely united to His divinity as it always had been, but now it took on a different form. It was no longer just in its natural state as our bodies are right now, but it was in a glorified state somewhat similar to what the disciples saw at the Transfiguration – but even greater than that.
Our Lord has also promised to each one of us that provided we die in the state of grace we too will one day be able to share in the glory of the Resurrection, that these lowly bodies of ours seated right here are going to rise from the dead. Each one of us will rise from the dead; there is no doubt about that. The question is – to rise to what? – because there are, of course, two eternal possibilities, and the choice of which direction we are going to go depends entirely on the choices we make in this life. We have huge trouble, a great big problem, in our society these days; that is, people thinking about the mercy of God and forgetting about the justice of God allow things to be run out to their logical extreme. As we know, when things are run to a logical extreme without balance they become absurd. And so the absurdity of their position is that after they die they will go to heaven and they will stand before Our Lord for judgment – and then they will be sorry for their sins. Then they will repent; and because God is merciful, then He will forgive them. That will not happen. It is true that if they die in the state of mortal sin then when they stand before the Lord they will be sorry for their sins; but they will not repent because they cannot repent at that time. Once the soul leaves the body, there is no changing of the mind. The only opportunity to repent is in this life, and there will be no repentance in the next.
So it is not a matter of whether God would be merciful or not, because that is the very nature of God: He is mercy itself. The problem does not lie with God, but lies with us. If we do not want God’s mercy, even though He desires to give it, we would reject it. And for everyone who dies in the state of mortal sin, they die unrepentant. They die rejecting God’s mercy and they will not accept it even after they have died. But for those who seek to do the Will of God, God’s mercy is known even now. As our sins are forgiven and we rise to newness of life, we share already in the glory of Christ. We do not share in the fullness of His glory, obviously, but already the glory has begun within each one of us. We have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Saint Paul tells the Romans, which means that in our body we already share in His death and we already share in His Resurrection. That is why in the second reading today Saint Paul could say, You have been raised up with Christ. Therefore he tells us that we are to have our focus on the things above, not on the things of earth; that we are to live in such a way in this world that we are really living for the world to come; that we have to live here for now and we want to do the Will of God in all things while we are here, but it is out of love of God and love of neighbor, not out of any form of selfishness.
And so each one of us, as we look at the Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord from the dead needs to look very seriously at our own self. As we have just completed the rigors of Lent, we can now ask ourselves, “Where is my focus? How was my Lent? Was it really spent serving the Lord? Was it spent denying the self?” Or instead, was Lent really not a whole lot different from any other time of our life so that one really would not know the difference between the day before Ash Wednesday and the day after by looking at our lives. The tragedy, if that is the case, is that now that Lent is over no one will be able to recognize that there is anything different because of Easter. If we live just like all of those people around us do, we have no part in Christ. If all that we want to do is give Our Lord lip service, what good is that going to do for us? When we stop and consider what we celebrate today, it is the single most important thing, not only in human history, but it needs to be so in our own lives as well. When we look at what Our Lord did for us on Friday and what we now celebrate with the glory of all the solemnity today, what difference does this make in our lives?
It is not enough to be able to acknowledge that we believe it. The devil will do the same. He knows that Jesus died, He knows that Jesus rose from the dead, but that has not done him one bit of good. It is for us to be able to embrace this mystery and to put it into practice, to be able to focus our sights on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ so that the way we live is now going to be different. Having renounced certain pleasures and desires for Lent, that has prepared our souls to be able to recognize the beauty of what God has provided for us. And it is up to us to be able to recognize that there are some things that this world offers that, being pleasant and good within themselves, are not necessary. In fact, if we look very seriously at them, we would have to acknowledge that they actually lead us away from God rather than toward Him. And so now we have the opportunity, having been stripped of certain things during Lent, to be able to see with greater clarity what really is most important. It is the things beyond this world – not the things of this world – that have to be the focus.
As the Church proceeded through Lent, you may have taken note that more and more as we entered deeper into Lent, the things of the senses were taken away. At the beginning of Lent, the Gloria and the Alleluia were removed. Things became more and more simple as we went through until finally during Passiontide all the statues and pictures were covered and all the things of the senses were taken away. Now as we celebrate the glory of Easter, all of it is returned simultaneously. Liturgically, we celebrated the death as we slowly proceeded into the nothingness for the senses. And now there is an explosion of sensory things as all of the statues and pictures and crucifixes are uncovered once again. Once again, we proclaim the Alleluia and we sing the Glory be to God.
We need to be able, not only to look at that liturgically, but to actually put it into practice. Saint Paul tells us that whatever we do we are to do in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. And he tells us that we are to sing hymns and psalms and inspired songs in gratitude to God to thank Him for everything He has done for us. Our lives are to be lives of praise and of thanksgiving to God. So as we hear today for the first time in six weeks that beautiful word Alleluia, it is a Hebrew word which means “Praise God”. And throughout these days of Easter, we will hear that Alleluia many, many times. It is to remind us that not only are we to be filled with joy, but that our lives are to be given over to praise, to be able to see clearly what God has done, to thank Him, to praise Him, to give Him the greatest glory and honor, not only with our lips but with our lives by the way that we live, by everything that we do.
The Resurrection of Jesus Christ for us cannot simply be an event that took place 2,000 years ago, because it is the defining event of who we are as persons. We are baptized into His death and resurrection. We already share in the Resurrection, which means that we are to be looking in that direction. We are to live our lives in such a way that people will recognize that the glory of the Resurrected Christ is in us, that we live our lives not for this world but for the next, that our lives are dedicated to the praise and the thanksgiving of God. That is what we are asked to be about. That is the choice each one of us can make. How much does this day really mean to us? How much does the Resurrection of Christ mean to us? Is it just something that happened a long time ago and really has no bearing on our lives? Are we going to get up tomorrow morning after eating a wonderful dinner tonight and celebrating with family and it will be just the same old routine? Or is there something different? There will be nothing different in the world, but there needs to be something different in our hearts, in our minds, in the fullness of our lives. We have been raised with Christ and we already share in His glory. We must now live our lives to be able to reflect that truth, to be able to live in such a way that it is evident to the people around us that what is most important is Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead, so that we are living our lives for God to the praise and the glory and the honor of Almighty God and in thanksgiving for all of His gifts to us.
So as we continue on, now, proclaiming our alleluias, we are first going to renew our baptismal vows. We need to think seriously about this. As we renew those vows, I ask you simply to ask yourself, “Do I really mean this? Am I living it? Do I really reject Satan and all of his works and all of his empty promises? Or do I just speak those words once a year on Easter, but tomorrow morning I throw myself headlong right back into the work of Satan?” We have renounced him; and if we are going to renounce him, that means we have to get him out of our lives. And then we profess our faith in the Holy Trinity and in all that God has done for us. So ponder that now as we renew those vows and sing the Alleluia with the angels.
Put yourself back with Peter, John, and Mary Magdalene in the wonder and the awe as they saw the empty tomb. Put yourself back with them as the Resurrected Christ appeared to them. They ate with Him. They saw the holes in His hands and His feet. They recognized that this was true. It was not just some story or a myth; it was a reality. It was a reality that changed their lives so that they were never the same after that. As we once again renew our baptismal vows and profess our faith in the Resurrection, we too must acknowledge that it is not just a story – it is a reality – and it is a reality that, like them, must change our lives so that we live no longer for ourselves but for Him Who has been raised from the dead.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.