Sunday, April 1, 2018

Set your course on Christ!


Three people died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter greeted them and said they could enter if they could answer one question, “What is Easter?” The first one replied, “That's easy, it's the holiday in November when everyone eats turkey, and is thankful.” “Sorry,” said St. Peter, and moved on to the second, “What is Easter?” They replied, “Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter just shook his head and looked to the third person, “What is Easter?” The third one smiled and said, “Easter is the Christian holy day that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus was turned over to Roman authorities who took Him to be crucified. He was hung on a cross, buried in a nearby cave which was sealed by a large stone,” the man paused before finishing, “Oh, and every year the stone is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if He sees his shadow there’s six more weeks of winter.” So close!

My friends, as we gather on this beautiful Easter Sunday morning, St. Peter’s question is a good one for us to ponder as well, “What is Easter?” We know the easy answer, which is good news for us in case St. Peter asks, that Easter celebrates Jesus resurrection from the dead. That’s a deeply powerful theological reality, one that we all hope to share in when our lives come to an end. We want to be raised too. We want to live with Jesus in Heaven forever too. But, what does Easter mean for us today, here, hopefully long before we’re called home?

You see, today isn’t just another day. We gather today because we are a people who believe in something that should be impossible. We commemorate that a man was raised from the dead. We say it so often that it seems normal, but it isn’t. It shouldn’t be possible. People don’t rise from the dead all around us. Yes every Sunday we profess this belief, “in the resurrection of the dead.” We believe in the impossibility that death has no hold on us. So what does Easter mean for us today?

Let me tell you a story. Empress Zita of Bourbon was the last Empress of the Astro-Hungarian Empire. She died in 1989 and was the last royal of an age that we usually associate with many centuries ago. Her funeral in 1989 was full of pomp, circumstance and ancient rituals. The most interesting moment came when the funeral procession led to the Franciscan church where she would be buried in the Imperial Crypt. Eight thousand mourners filed out of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and fell in line behind the catafalque drawn by six black stallions.

Two hours later, when the procession reached the entrance of the Church, the pallbearers and friars played out an ancient ritual. A friar opened a small window in the church door and asked, “Who wishes to enter?” The pallbearer answered, “Zita, Queen of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, Galicia. Queen of Jerusalem. Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Cracow.” The friar responded, “We know of no one by that name,” and closed the window. A second knock and the friar again asks, “Who wishes to enter?” The response, “Zita, Empress and Royal Apostolic Majesty of Austria, and Apostolic Queen of Hungary.” Again, the friar responded, “I do not know this person.” Finally, a third knock. “Who wishes to enter here?” and the answer from the pallbearers, “Zita of Hapsburg, a poor sinner.” With this answer, the doors of the church opened to receive the queen.

So, what does Easter mean for us today? It means that the resurrection transforms us and raises us to something new. It completely changes our relationship with God, our relationships with each other, our relationship with the world – bringing to each of them new life and conquering even what has seemed impossible. It means that in the end the only thing that matters is allowing ourselves to be transformed and becoming that transformation in the world. Empress Zita had all that the world could offer – fame, power, wealth. None of that granted her entry into eternity. Only faith in Jesus, a recognition that in the end we are all the same – simple sinners in need of God’s redeeming grace; a recognition of our need for God, and following God’s ways could do that.

The resurrection of Jesus reminds us to once again set our course on Christ, to live lives that give witness to resurrection by what we say and more importantly by what we do. We make the resurrection present today when we love when it is difficult to love, when we welcome those who live on the margins of our society with love and compassion, when we go the extra mile and show the unexpected kindness.

To a world that chooses vengeance, we are called to offer compassion and forgiveness; to a world that seeks only power, money and prestige, we are called to offer humility and kindness; to a world that selfishly cares only for itself; we are called to show great love and concern for everyone. Change often feels impossible – sometimes as impossible as rising from the dead – but we are reminded today that we are the people of the impossible and so let us change the world by our peace and care, our compassion and joy – especially in the situations, times and places where they are least expected.

There’s a wonderful line at the end of the movie Chocolat. In the final scene on Easter Sunday, the young priest says in his homily, "We can’t go around measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist and who we exclude. We’ve got to measure our goodness by what we embrace, what we create and whom we include." This is what Easter means for us today.

Ultimately, belief in the resurrection asks us to believe that, despite a strong experience to the contrary, reality is gracious; that light triumphs over darkness, love conquers self-interest, justice banishes oppression, peace calms chaos, fulfilment quenches every hunger in our lives. Faith in the resurrection is the trust that, in the end, everything is good and will work as God intended.

Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.

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