Saturday, April 23, 2011

Behold, I make all things new!

HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMNITY OF THE RESURRECTION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, April 24, 2011:
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Three men died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter tells them that they can enter the gates if they can answer one simple question. St. Peter asks the first man, “What is Easter?” The man replies, “That's easy, it's the holiday in November when everybody gets together, eats turkey, and is thankful...” “Wrong,” replies St. Peter, and proceeds to ask the second man the same question, “What is Easter?” The second man replies, “I know. Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter shakes his head in disgust at the second man, looks at the third man and asks, “What is Easter?” The third man smiles and looks St. Pete in the eye. “Easter is the Christian holiday that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus and his disciples were eating at the last supper and He was later deceived and turned over to the Romans by one of his disciples. The Romans took Him to be crucified and was stabbed in the side, they made Him wear a crown of thorns, and He was hung on a cross. He was buried in a nearby cave which was sealed off by a large boulder,” the man paused before finishing, “And every year the boulder is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if He sees his shadow there will be six more weeks of winter.”

There is a powerful scene in the movie, The Passion of the Christ, where Jesus is carrying His cross towards Golgotha. He has fallen and as He rises again, His gaze catches that of Mary, His mother, who runs to her Son, as she had done so many times in His life. He places a bloodied hand to her face, looks at her tenderly and says, “See, mother, I make all things new.” St. Paul echoes this statement in Second Corinthians where he writes, “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” This is the answer to St. Peter’s question, “What is Easter?” The answer? “I make all things new.”

There is a story about three little trees who dreamed of what they wanted to be when they grew up. The first little tree looked up at the stars and said, “One day, I want to hold treasure. I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I’ll be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world!” The second little tree looked out at the small stream trickling by on its way to the ocean and said, “I want to travel mighty waters and carry powerful kings. I’ll be the strongest ship in the world!” The third little tree looked down into the valley below and said, “I don’t want to leave the mountain at all. I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me they’ll raise their eyes to heaven and think of God. I will be the tallest tree in the world.”
Years, passed. The rain came, the sun shone and the little trees grew tall. One day three wood cutters climbed the mountain. The first looked at the first tree and said, “This tree is beautiful. It is perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining ax, the first tree fell. “Now I shall become a beautiful chest and hold wonderful treasure!” the first tree thought.

The second wood cutter looked at the second tree and said, “This tree is strong. It’s perfect for me.” With a swoop of his shining ax, the second tree fell. “Now I shall sail mighty waters!” thought the second tree. “I shall be a strong ship for mighty kings!”

The third tree felt her heart sink when the last wood cutter looked her way. She stood straight and tall and pointed bravely to heaven. But the wood cutter never even looked up. “Any kind of tree will do for me.” He muttered. With a swoop of his shining ax, the third tree fell.

The first tree rejoiced when the wood cutter brought her to a carpenter’s shop. But the carpenter fashioned the tree into a feed box for animals. The once beautiful tree was not covered with gold, or treasure. She was coated with saw dust and filled with hay for hungry farm animals. The second tree smiled when the wood cutter took her to a shipyard, but no mighty sailing ship was made that day. Instead the once strong tree was hammered and sawed into a simple fishing boat. She was too small and too weak to sail to an ocean, or even a river, instead she was taken to a little lake. The third tree was confused when the wood cutter cut her into strong beams and left her in a lumberyard. “What happened?” The once tall tree wondered. “All I ever wanted was to stay on the mountain top and point to God.”

Many days and nights passed. The three trees nearly forgot their dreams. But one night, golden starlight poured over the first tree as a young woman placed her newborn baby in the feed box. “I wish I could make a cradle for him,” her husband whispered. The mother squeezed his hand and smiled as the starlight shone on the smooth and sturdy wood. “This manger is beautiful,” she said. And suddenly the first tree knew he was holding the greatest treasure in the world.

One evening a tired traveler and his friends crowded into the old fishing boat. The traveler fell asleep as the second tree quietly sailed out into the lake. Soon a thundering and a thrashing storm arose. The little tree shuddered. She knew she did not have the strength to carry so many passengers safely through the wind and the rain. The tired man awoke. He stood up, stretched out His hand, and said, “Peace.” The storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. And suddenly the second tree knew he was carrying the King of Heaven and earth.

One Friday morning, the third tree was startled when her beams were yanked from the forgotten wood pile. She flinched as she was carried through an angry jeering crowd. She shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hand to her. She felt ugly and harsh and cruel. But on Sunday morning, when the sun rose and the earth trembled with joy beneath her, the third tree knew that God’s love had changed everything. It had made the third tree strong. And every time people thought of the third tree, they would think of God. That was better than being the tallest tree in the world.

On this Easter Sunday we do not merely recall that one man was raised from the dead a very long time ago. Instead, we remember that in that resurrection all things were made new. We gather here today because the Good News of our Feast is that we, too, are raised! We too have been made new! We too are invited to become not what we want to be; but what God has called us to be – His sons, His daughters – made new for the Kingdom.

The truth is that there are times when we feel like the trees in our story – sometimes we feel as though we are not what we could be; what we should be. There are times when we feel we are not going where we wanted to; or where we hoped our lives would take us. There are times when we feel forgotten, ignored, despised and even cast aside into a heap wondering if anyone even knows us or sees us. And to these moments, Christ brings us resurrection and newness of life.

We are a people who believe in the empty tomb. Our gospel stories today leave us with the image of an empty tomb. There is no body left in that tomb because it has been raised! The tomb that held the dead body of Christ has now become the womb giving birth to eternal life. This empty tomb speaks our faith – it speaks of a God who can conquer all things, who can triumph over all things, who can transform and change any situation into one that burst with life – not even death has power over our God! “Behold, I make all things new.”

My friends, we need to be mindful of this message today. In the midst of all of the challenges in our lives, God tells us that He will raise us to new life, new possibilities, new ways to care for one another, to love one another, to establish peace. God will renew us, transform us, change us, make us new, bring us to new life!
The empty tomb has become the womb giving birth to eternal life! Jesus has risen as He promised – behold, He makes all things new! Will you let Him make you new again?

Happy Easter and may God give you peace!

(Special thanks to Dusty Cabral who shared the story of the three trees with me!)

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