EASTER, April 5, 2015
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
For forty days and nights we have been observing our Lenten season of penance,
focusing our attention, our prayers, and our bodies
on our own sins, and on the suffering and death of Jesus.
Tonight/today our penance ends, as with great joy we celebrate
the Lord’s Resurrection.
But while the meaning of Lent is generally pretty easy to take in
–I don’t think the Resurrection is quite so easy to fathom.
After all, all of us have sinned and been sinned against,
and all of us have suffered, and seen death, or at least feared death.
But none of us has ever been resurrected, or seen the dead rise.
Sadly, the closest we might come to it is absurd fictional depictions of
evil undead vampires or zombies.
Hardly illuminating of the Resurrection.
So many of us wind up celebrating Easter as simply
the end of the season of Lent…sort of a welcome relief to our penance.
The Resurrection becomes sort of a “and they lived happily ever after”
ending to the story of Jesus.
But then why do we consider Easter, as the Catechism states:
“not simply one feast among others, but
the ‘Feast of feasts,’ the ‘Solemnity of solemnities’”???
Because and even as much as we can understand
the pain and fear surrounding sin, suffering and death,
and even though we are redeemed by the Cross,
it is in the Resurrection that Jesus finally conquers that pain and fear,
that he completes His victory over all sin, all suffering
and even death itself.
In the beginning, God did not intend that man ever suffer:
if we look back at the story of creation in the first chapters of Genesis
[that we read Tonight/today]
we see that God created us for a life of perfect happiness with Him in paradise.
But as we see also in Genesis, God didn’t create us to be his toys,
but to be his children:
not to be used by him,
but to be free to both receive and return his generous love.
But true love involves a free choice to love,
and so God gave Adam and Eve free will.
Unfortunately, Adam and Eve then freely chose not to love God
as they were created to.
And as a result of that choice, sin entered the world.
But Adam and Eve were not alone when they made that choice:
The devil was there right from the beginning
tempting them and deceiving them into giving up their birthright
to live in God’s perfect happiness and love.
And so sin entered the world, with Satan as its father,
and with it came all human suffering
—all the moral and physical evil that God never intended for man,
That could have been the end of the story—accept that God still loved man.
And so over the ages God battled to save his people from themselves,
and from their enemy, Satan,
and the sin, suffering and death Satan had fathered.
Some people say,
“well God’s God, why didn’t he just snap his fingers and fix things
—why would he have to fight a “battle”?
The answer’s simple:
God still desires that we freely chose to be his loving children,
not be forced to be his compliant slaves.
So, there was a problem:
–on the one hand, this battle must be freely chosen and fought by man himself
–but on the other hand, no one man, or even all mankind together,
had the power to win this battle.
So, as St. John tells us:
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.”
And so in the fullness of time God the Son himself entered the battle in dramatic way:
becoming a man to fight the fight for mankind,
but maintaining the awesome power of his divinity.
All his life on earth he immersed himself in humanity’s sin, suffering and death.
Though he himself was free from all sin
everyday he had to suffer from and battle with the sins around him.
First as a young boy and young man, living a virtuous life among sinful men,
and later, as he began his public life,
publicly doing battle with the evil of the world.
Whether it was reproving the hypocrites, forgiving sinners,
curing the sick, or even raising the dead,
Jesus, the Incarnate God, fought for man–and for God.
Finally, when his hour had come, as he was arrested
in the Garden of Gethsemane in the early morning hours of Good Friday,
Jesus began the final and most glorious stage of his battle.
This was the moment which all creation had been waiting for:
the God-man taking on directly in, so to speak, hand to hand mortal combat
all the sins of the world and the devil himself,
and all the consequent suffering, including DEATH itself.
In accepting his Cross Christ confronted every sin possible:
each one of the 10 commandments was violated by his murderers:
they blasphemed God in mocking Jesus,
they dishonored their heavenly Father by spitting on his only Son,
they were unfaithful in adultery, as the bride rejected her bridegroom,
they stole his clothes, bore false witness against him, coveted his power.
And finally, they killed him.
Jesus confronted sin and suffering and even death completely on the Cross.
And he confronted their father, Satan,
who Scripture makes clear had manipulated his betrayer, Judas.
Satan laughed a nervous laugh, as Jesus breathed his last on the Cross.
But imagine his horror,
as Satan saw his apparently vanquished enemy
descend into the place of the dead,
where all the righteous men and women from days-gone-by
awaited freedom and everlasting life.
Imagine the terror of the ancient serpent of the Garden of Eden
when Jesus greeted Adam and Eve and proclaimed their freedom!
And finally, imagine the wonder, the joy, the exaltation of all creation when Christ
having faced his enemy as a man,
and taken the very worst he could throw at him
–every sin, the worst of human suffering, and even Death itself!!
–now rises in his divine power, from the dead, like light piercing the darkness.
Still fully human, he wears the wounds of his battle on his glorified body
like combat medals of valor,
as he shows them off to the doubting Thomas.
Tonight/Today, my friends, the battle is won!
Tonight/Today Christ has defeated sin,
he has vanquished suffering,
he has put death to death!!
And so when he appears first to Mary Magdalene and then later to the apostles,
he tells them “Be not afraid.”
For there is nothing to fear any longer.
But you say,
“Father, sin and suffering and death are still all around us
—how can Jesus be victorious?”
But I remind you of the words of the prophet:
“I lay before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life!”
Christ has conquered, but now man must choose—once again.
Yes, we will be tempted to sin, but in Christ we have the power to resist temptation.
Yes, we will suffer, but in Christ we can transform suffering into sacrifice
and offer it to the Father as a sign of true love and faith.
Yes, we will suffer death,
but those who choose life in Christ,
we will also share in Christ’s triumph over death
as he gives us eternal life in heaven
and finally raises up our mortal bodies on the last day.
As Jesus tells us in Scripture,
“All this is impossible for man: but not for God; nothing is impossible for God.”
So we seek to do what seems impossible,
as in baptism we become one with Christ,
members, as it were, of his own body.
We say that we die to the old life—life without Christ
–and rise to the new life: life in Christ
A life transformed, free from the power of sin.
A life filled with grace–with the power of Christ himself.
By confirmation we receive the fullness of the Holy Spirit,
the Spirit that Jesus gave his apostles on Pentecost
and transformed them
from frightened cowards into bold evangelists!
A power to, as St. Paul says, “to fight the good fight, to finish the race.”
Finally, this life and power is renewed and nourished in us by the Eucharist.
On the night Jesus entered into the final mortal battle with evil,
he took bread and said “take and eat, this is my body”,
and he took wine and said “take and drink, this is my blood.”
In this Christ unites us to himself through His Crucified and Risen Body,
and so unites us to His battle on the Cross
and His victory in the Resurrection.
Tonight [Today] is not simply the end of Lent
–it is the greatest night/day of the year,
celebrating the greatest night/day of all time.
Tonight/today we remember that day 2000 years ago
when the God who created us so He could love us, and we could love him,
made possible a new choice, a new beginning, for each of us.
The night/day when the love of God, exposed so exquisitely on the Cross,
and the power of God, revealed so gloriously in the Resurrection,
made it possible for us to share in his life—and his love and power–
and so become the men and women he created us to be in the beginning.
Tonight/today is not just the end of Lent, it is a new beginning for us:
let us celebrate his resurrection with heartfelt joy,
but let us also begin anew
to accept our share in his unrelenting battle against sin and death
so we may share in his glorious victory, in this life and in