Saturday, April 7, 2012

Nothing can separate us...

“Dear Katie,

I wrote this little poem for you and I hope that when we are married and celebrating our Golden wedding anniversary (50 years) that you will have this little love note from your sweetheart. My Darling I will always Love you and hope and pray that you will always love me. This is a …Valentine I am giving you, one that means everything that it says… written by your darling (I hope so).

I will close with all my love, to my love, from her Love. My Darling, My Katie, My Dear,

Loads of Love,

What I just shared is a love letter written from my grandfather to my grandmother a few years before they were married. It was 1935 and he was in the Navy, just 18 years old. I came across that letter in my desk drawer today and was shocked to realize it has been 10 years since my grandmother died. We buried her on the Wednesday of Holy Week 10 years ago. When preparing for her funeral, I found that love letter in her bedroom. Up until that moment, no one knew of that letter other than my grandmother and my grandfather. After finding that letter I shared it with my family and those gathered at her funeral.

I share it with you today because that experience has been on my heart this week because it taught me in a profound way what Easter is all about. It was the lesson learned while experiencing the grief of losing a loved one so close to the celebration of Easter, the celebration of resurrection. I remember heading back to my parish on Holy Thursday that year, the day after burying my grandmother and thinking about my Easter Sunday homily not knowing if I could preach in the midst of my grief. But I realized in that moment, that if I couldn’t preach about the resurrection specifically when someone close to me had died, then perhaps I didn’t have the right to ever talk about it. You see, it is precisely when we’re in the midst of mourning, that the message of the resurrection is the most powerful message ever – it is the message that says death is not the end, death doesn’t get the last word – there will be newness of life, and life everlasting!

Grief is a common experience and as we gather this Easter. I’m sure most of us have experienced some form of loss over the course of this last year or so. Just in my own life in the last few months I lost a cousin just a few years younger than me who took his own life and a good friend not much older than me who died suddenly of a heart attack. Perhaps you also come here tonight with a heavy heart, or are praying for someone else experiencing that kind of grief. If you do, there can be no more powerful message to the grieving heart then the message of Resurrection from the dead.

We began tonight with the singing of the Exultet, which is the great hymn of resurrection sung only on this night. You may have picked up on a powerful line in the hymn that said, the “power of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners.” Joy to mourners. I was struck by that last line – the power of the resurrection does so many things including bringing joy to those who grieve and mourn. Why? Because there can be no greater joy known in the world then the realization of the resurrection in the face of mourning and grief. There can be no greater joy when faced with the sudden or tragic or even expected loss of someone than to remember – this is not the end; life goes on; I will see you again; Heaven is our true home; death has no power over us.

We have to shake off the way our culture wants to trivialize this day and reduce it to fancy clothes and colored candy eggs. This day isn’t about pastel colors, lots of candy and a good meal. If we are conscious of its meaning, Easter promises us something that seems to good to be true – it promises us eternity and glory with Christ. Easter isn’t just another day; it is an event that brings the most profound joy into the most difficult moments of our lives.

This great event and celebration can’t be something that we merely commemorate today at this Mass, but it must be something we connect with at the most painful and difficult moments in our lives with the firm trust and firm faith that God can bring new life to any situation. Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the Thessalonians, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” We do believe and we do have hope.

The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the very center of what we believe. We must ask ourselves today more than ever, do we believe it? Do we truly in our hearts believe that Jesus was raised from the dead, that we too will be raised from the dead, that the loved ones whose loss we grieve have been raised from the dead? Can we stand with family members and friends who have lost someone and say, “He or she is with God now. They have been saved by the resurrection of Jesus.” We absolutely must have a faith that can say precisely that; otherwise, what is the point?

And why? Because we are a people who believe in the empty tomb. Our gospel stories today leave us with that silent and powerful image – that empty tomb. The stone has been rolled away and there is no body left in that tomb because it has been raised! We are people of the empty tomb.

It is yet another of the paradoxes that our faith presents us with this week. Thursday brought us from the wine of the Eucharist to the water of foot washing; Good Friday transformed the cross, an image of death, into an image that promises so much more – life; eternal life. And today, that empty tomb is also transformed. The tomb that held the dead body of Christ has now been transformed into a womb that gives 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 this God of ours!

My friends, we need to be mindful of this message more today than ever before. In the midst of all of the danger and violence and strife and war in our world, 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 becomes a womb of new life!

Nothing can triumph over this. As St. Paul said, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

My brothers and sisters the tomb has no power over we who believe! O death, where is your sting? Nothing at all can keep us from being born to a newness of life – as individuals, as a community, as priest and people, as Church. I can say with confidence my grandmother is raised, my grandfather is raised, all the loved ones that we’ve lost have been raised, this Church will be raised, our warring world will be raised, each one of us will be raised - if we open ourselves and embrace the resurrection that Christ has planned for each of us.
The empty tomb has become the womb giving birth to eternal life! Jesus has risen as He promised – let us rejoice and be glad!

Happy Easter and may God give you peace!

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