26 April 2011

Homily for Easter Sunday

“By being killed, Christ killed what was killing everyone.”

Let us linger a while on these words from our holy father, Saint Peter Chrysologus. And as we linger, let us ponder these questions: What is killing everyone? Is it cancer or heart disease; is it wanton murder or senseless accidents; is it unhealthy eating or lifestyle choices; is it lack of food or lack of medicine? Those are not things that kill, but things that may cause or contribute to our death. So what is killing everyone? Is it not death? Is it not death that kills all men?

If that is true—and you know it is—then today we celebrate the death of death, and the resurrection of Life. We celebrate that death has been killed, and that Life Himself has risen triumphantly. We celebrate that in that combat stupendous between death and life, the Prince of Life, who died, overcame death and the grave, and killed death, and so reigns immortal.

Let us hear more fully, then, what our holy father among the saints declares:

“Christ accepted death so that death would die. Christ, by being killed, killed what was killing everyone. Christ entered the tomb in order to open up hell. So, having abolished the authority of death, having destroyed the prison of hell, and having annihilated the very power of death, Christ now should not be anointed as a dead man, but should be adored as Victor.”

And yet the women, in their pious devotion, bring ointment and spices to care for the body of one who has died. They keep vigil, they stay awake all night, they make costly and time-consuming preparations, and they perform the godly duties of mourning—yet not for death, but for Christ Jesus. And so they hasten to the grave in the early morning, not in faith in order to celebrate the death of death, but in sorrow in order to honor another one of death’s victims.

Yet the victim they intend to honor is no victim. And the shrine they intend to erect refuses to be enshrined. For a shrine honors the dead. But when the women entered into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed with a white robe: and they were astonished. He saith to them: Be not affrighted; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he is risen, he is not here, behold the place where they laid him.

And in beholding, did they believe? When they saw the empty tomb, did faith arise in their hearts? When they heard the joyous words from the young man, were those words too incredible and unbelievable?

Initially, Our Lord’s resurrection was hard to believe. And despite our annual celebration, Our Lord’s conquering of death is still hard to believe. For the stone was very great; the stone of fear, the stone of unbelief, the stone of death and the grave.

And that stone is still very great. For who could ever think that death had died—especially when we still see death taking its toll? And who would now believe that the victory still remains with Life—especially when we hear how sickness and disease, how murder and recklessness, still destroys so many lives. Has the reign of death truly ended?

When we believe that death still has the upper hand, that death still reigns, then in fear we run ourselves to death and toward death. And so we feed death with our life-destroying sins of pride and despair and lust and greed. We feed death, hoping to get the most out of life. We feed death, believing deep down that he will have the final say. We feed death, and so we gorge our passions and indulge our appetites and let anger and hopelessness and misery get the upper hand.

Notice, however, how the angels gently call us to faith; how they urge us to believe against what we feel, what we experience, what we see, what we hear. Notice how the angels plead with us to look beyond the evidence; how they exhort us to overrule our fears. But most of all, notice how those angels proclaim that we should no longer run from death, that we should no longer cower at the grave. Yet listen not first to what they say. Instead, observe what they have done.

The women wondered aloud, “Who shall roll us back the stone from the door of the sepulchre? For the stone was very great. Which stone? The stone of the tomb, or the stone of the heart? The stone that announced that death had claimed another? Yet now the stone announces that death has been defeated; that the grave had not swallowed a dead man, but death itself; and that the house of death had become a life-giving home. For looking, they saw the stone rolled back. By whom? By the angels.

Now when a stone is rolled forward, it declares that the grave is sealed, that death has done its worst. But this stone is rolled back. And so it announces that death has died, that Life lives, and that Life Himself can both call the dead out of the graves, and restore to us the hope of life, even as we live surrounded by death.

Yet the stone, and the angels, declare even more astounding things. They preach that the death we see, the death we fear, the death we feel deep down in our bones—this death is not only dead, but also converted; that death itself has become the highway for Life, and the road we get to trod so that may reach our heavenly home. “Blessed, then, is the stone which could both conceal Christ and reveal Him! Blessed is the stone which opens hearts no less than graves! Blessed is the stone which produces faith in the Resurrection, and a resurrection of faith!” (St Peter Chrysologus) And blessed is the stone which no longer entices us to give in, but now draws us to revel in the Lord’s death-defying mercy!

Christ indeed from death is risen. And in rising, He has both killed our enemy, and at the same time raised us in Baptism from death to life. Let us not, then, prefer defeated death, by returning to our old ways and indulging our sinful passions. So let no death, through sin, reign in your mortal body, so as to obey its passions. Neither yield your members as instruments of iniquity unto sin; but present yourselves to God, as those that are alive from the dead. For Christ Our Lord has overcome death. By being killed, Christ has killed what is killing you.

To this Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only-begotten Son of the Father, together with His all-holy and life-giving Spirit, belongs all glory, honor and worship, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

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