Easter Sunday 2023
[Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-18]
There are a lot of people outside these days. Warming temperatures and more hours of sunlight are enticing many of us to enjoy the out-of-doors. The darkness and cold of winter have kept us largely indoors for a long while. Now, as the darkness recedes and the cold dissipates, we feel a new liberty and release.
This is what is happening in the environment external to us. Existentially, however, our world, even in this springtime, remains shrouded in darkness and encased within cold. There is, for example, the dark night of war and violence, or the frigid indifference that often meets the plight of those who suffer. In countless situations, people feel “in the dark” as the light of hope fades, or frozen in place by fear of circumstances they are powerless to control. Liberty and release from this reality require something more than the light and warmth provided by nature. Our deepest need and most earnest longing is for a warm light bringing with it a complete newness of life that lasts not just for a season or two, but forever. With this in mind, consider what we have heard this Easter morning from Sacred Scripture. There we have announced the very light we seek.
The event recounted by Saint John’s Gospel begins in darkness. “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.” There is more intended here than the absence of sunlight. Represented is the darkness of sadness and grief. Jesus, the one loved by Mary Magdalene and the disciples, has died. He who was their hope is gone. We can readily recognize ourselves represented here as well. Like Mary, we know what it is to mourn the death of a loved one or to experience anxiety when we see no reason for hope. So, there is an invitation here, issuing to us from the Gospel, to follow Mary’s subsequent experience closely so as to undergo with her a transformation from sadness to joy, from despair to hope. Let’s continue, then, with the text and consider carefully what it relates.
Light begins to dawn on Mary as she, together with Peter and John, find the tomb empty. As Mary looks into the vacant space, two Angels sitting there address her inner emptiness and ask why she is so sad. Her answer indicates that her sight remains shrouded, since she thinks that robbers have broken in to steal away the body of Jesus. Then Jesus himself comes to meet her, and again asks why she is weeping. Her sight, though, is still veiled; she thinks he is the gardener. Then, everything changes, and the fullness of light shines on her, when he speaks her name. She is no longer in darkness because she has encountered personally the Risen Lord.
The lesson for us here is clear. The light we seek is a person, Jesus of Nazareth, Crucified and Risen. He is alive and remains with his people. He comes to meet us so that we, too, can have a personal encounter with him, and, in the light he is, see all things clearly and be restored to hope. As he did with Mary, Jesus wants to speak directly to our own grief and anxiety, to those situations in our lives where hope has died, in order to call us forth by name to an entirely new way of life in him.
This underscores the need to learn also from Mary the vital importance of keeping our attention fixed on Jesus. Awareness dawned on her and hope arose in her heart as she remained focused on the Lord. The need for steady and patient attentiveness to the Risen Lord Jesus is behind the call of Saint Paul to set our minds “on things that are above, not things that are on earth.” We can very easily have our attention drawn to the darkness and chill present in the world, and this will quickly leave us saddened. By patiently keeping our gaze on Christ, our moments of sadness will give way to joy. Jesus is, after all, the man “from above”, from heaven, the Son of God who assumed our human nature and canceled out our sins by his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection. This is why he is the light that dispels gloom; this is why we experience the warmth of that light as mercy, which overcomes through forgiveness the cold reality of sin. And this Jesus is with us in the power of his love. There is no need to fear.
Of course, all of this begs the question: where does Jesus come to encounter us? Where does the brilliance and warmth of his light dawn upon us? On Easter Sunday we are reminded of the answer by recalling our Baptism. In that wondrous sacrament, the grace of the Risen Lord first touched us, forgave us our sins, and made us members of his Body, the Church. By our common Baptism, we have been made brothers and sisters of the Lord, his community of disciples. In other words, it is here, in the community of the Church, that the Lord comes to meet each of us personally, to be for us the light he is, the only light we need, and thus free us from an inner and frosty darkness to live in the warmth and joy of his love.
As we now renew the promises made at our Baptism, let us all pray for the grace of a new personal encounter with the Risen Christ. Through Jesus Christ, God has made us not for sadness but gladness, not to dwell in darkness but to rejoice in his light, not to live for this world only but with him forever in eternal life. Jesus, the Risen Lord, is our light and our hope. There is no other. May that truth enlighten our minds with its splendor and fill our hearts with joy.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Saint Joseph Basilica
April 9th, 2023