Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Sunday Homily 2013 

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning

Have you recovered from Day Light Saving Time yet? I have not, at least not entirely. Messing with time is messing with people at a profound level. All my homilies are stolen but I only steal from the best sources. Austin Farrar, one of the greatest and most neglected Anglican theologians of the 20th Century, said: when Christ rose on the first day of the week he made a revolution of all things and, among others of our attitude towards time. Before Christ we kept the seventh day but Christ rose on the first and now we keep that.

It is a change in time from which we will never recover.

All four gospels provide us with the very same detail of the Resurrection of Jesus that  St. Luke gives us today: On the first day of the week, very early in the morning they went to the tomb. 

A circumstantial proof but a good one for the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus is the change of the Sabbath from the last day of the week to the first. All the first Christians were Jews and to change such an established practice as the day of the Sabbath would be as difficult as removing a practice such as infant circumcision. But St. Ignatius of Antioch writing at the end of the 1st Century says that Christians no longer observe the Jewish Sabbaths but keep holy the Lord's day, on which, through Him and through His death, our life arose.

The Jews kept the seventh day but Christians keep the first day and perhaps we can imagine the first Jewish Christians being as irritated by the change as we are by Day Light Savings Time. After all the Jewish Sabbath was biblically bound: God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation. ‘Work first, then rest’ makes perfect sense especially since it seems to be that God himself operates that way. You earn your rest. Get your affairs in order first then come before God.

That is what is happening in the Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector. “Two men went up into the temple to pray.” The Pharisee had plenty to report: ‘I am not like extortioners, unjust, adulterers.  I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.” The Tax Collector by contrast had nothing to show for himself except sin.

We have  always to remember when Jesus talks to or about the Pharisees he is talking to and about good men. The problem with the Pharisees was not that what they did was wrong, fasting, tithing, and praying. As far as it goes religion does not get much better than that.

The problem is: the Pharisee could have made a case for himself, if he had just left out the bit about “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, or even like this tax collector.” The very best religion is so easily undone by pride and her children, hatred and self-reliance. The problem is we can never get our affairs in order.

But “very early in the morning, the first day of the week”, Jesus rose from the dead and undid that noble but flawed approach to religion. It was far too early for anyone to have accomplished much of anything or to have gained even an ounce of merit. The women came to do their duty for a dead man but here is something that “has nothing do with last week’s work or last week’s sin”, as Dr. Farrar puts it.

A ‘new creation’ St. Athanasius calls it: the old Sabbath was the memorial of the first creation but Sunday, the first day, the memorial of the new creation.

Holy Week only shows what a mess we make of things, comic, if it were not with such tragic consequences but at Easter God says ‘now it’s my turn.’

For the disciples the old world had ended in calamity, had gone down into darkness, the earth had shook and there was nothing solid to stand on. Here was something so new that it could only be described as a new creation, new life ex nihilo –from nothing – new life given, as life first was given, by the hands of God alone. No wonder the women took one look and turned and ran away.

Because Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the first day we now live from Sunday to Sunday and not Saturday to Saturday, assembling to eat Him in bread and drink Him in wine, as he commanded, and to live Him for another week.

Which means we are also witnesses of the Resurrection. "Every Sunday is Easter." Attendance at Sunday Mass is obligatory, just as obligatory as the old Sabbath was to the Jews but we can and should ask ‘how come.’ Just so we can join ourselves to the great line of witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Salome, Joanna, Peter and John, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, St. Thomas the Apostle and all those millions who through the centuries have gathered on the first day week just because and only because on that day Jesus rose from the dead. The only good reason to be here . . .

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning

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