Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter and Good Friday: Inseparable

(Easter 2006: This homily was given on April 16, 2006 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Romans 6: 3-11; John 20: 1-9.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Easter 2006]

What did you do on Good Friday?

How did you commemorate the Lord’s passion and death?

What did you do to enter into the spirit of the day?

Did you do anything?

Or was it business as usual?

You might think those are strange questions to ask on Easter Sunday, but I can assure you they aren’t.

That’s because Easter only has meaning in light of what happened on Good Friday. Or to put it another way, Easter only makes sense, if we understand and appreciate the deep meaning of our Lord's passion and death.

Easter is about life and joy; Good Friday is about death and sacrifice. We want life and joy (that’s why churches tend to be filled at Easter); we don’t like death and sacrifice (which is why those same churches are relatively empty on Good Friday). But Jesus teaches us that we can’t have the former without the latter. We can’t have life—specifically eternal life—without dying to our selfishness and sin through baptism and a life of faith.

It’s impossible.

We can’t even have a fulfilling earthly life if we’re not willing to “die” and sacrifice—although many people nowadays trick themselves into thinking that they can! Of course, the irony is that they end up empty and miserable—even if they’re rich and successful in the eyes of the world.

I’ll give you one contemporary example of what I mean. The other night, as I was flipping through the channels with my TV remote (as we men love to do), I caught part of a new show on the Bravo network called, “The Real Housewives of Orange County.” Quite frankly, it made me thankful for the gift of celibacy!

This is a “reality show” that’s obviously trying to capitalize on the popularity of two other programs, “Desperate Housewives” and “Laguna Beach”.

The women in it are all rich (you don’t live in homes like they live in unless you make a 7-figure salary); they’re all relatively attractive; they all have lots of leisure time. And they’re all—to one extent or another—bored and unhappy!

Take Jo, for instance. She’s not even married to Slade, the man she’s living with (which means that this show should actually be entitled “The Real Housewives and Live-ins of Orange County”!)

Slade has two young children from two previous relationships, who are currently living with him and Jo.

Jo is upset with Slade because his devotion to her definitely isn’t total: he still goes out when he’s at work during the day and has close relationships with other young women. And Slade’s upset with Jo, because she wants to go out every night and party with her female friends, and doesn’t want to spend any quality time with his two children.

The bottom line is that neither one wants to make any serious personal sacrifices for the other. In effect, they each want a perpetual Easter without any Good Fridays. They want a loving relationship without any self-denial or personal discipline.

Well all I can say is “Good luck, Slade and Jo—because you’ll definitely need it!”

Some people were upset with Mel Gibson a couple of years ago, because in his movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” he portrayed the resurrection of Jesus only in a very brief scene at the end of the film. There Jesus stands up in the tomb on Easter Sunday, with the marks of the crucifixion on his hands, and walks out.

It’s the only reference to the resurrection that Gibson makes in the entire movie.

I think he did that for a very good reason. He understood the mindset of “Orange County” (which is the mindset of many Americans these days). He understood it because for many years he himself embraced it—and he nearly fell into despair because he did.

Mel wanted the world to understand the importance of the cross and the fact that the cross and the resurrection are connected. Yes, Jesus rose from the dead—but that was only after he offered his life in loving sacrifice for our sins!

And we needed him to do this. The fact is, you could never atone for your own sins—as I could never atone for mine! We’re finite human beings, and our actions have only relative value. We can’t possibly heal the rift between ourselves and an all-holy God who is infinite and perfect.

Only a God-man could do that. And he did—by dying for us on that cross. He was a man like us, and so he could represent us before the Father; but he was also God, which means that his sacrifice had infinite value. It made possible the forgiveness of every sin—and it made possible eternal life for every sinner!

As Isaiah the prophet put it, “By his wounds we are healed.”

This is what we celebrate today as a Church. It’s what Easter is all about.

This means that if we’re faithful to Jesus here on this earth, we have the hope of living forever with him in a life that’s far, far better than this one. And the good news is we can all be faithful in the future if we want to be, regardless of what our past has been like. In fact, for some of us, all that’s required to move from a condition of unfaithfulness to a condition of faithfulness is a simple stroll into one of those reconciliation rooms, followed by an honest, thorough confession.

I’ll conclude my homily today with a little story that shows how important it is that we leave this life in a condition of faithfulness (which is simply another way of saying ‘in the state of grace’). This story also illustrates the close connection between the suffering of Good Friday and the new life of Easter Sunday—and at the same time it makes clear just how much Jesus Christ loves each and every one of us. The story was written by C.S. Lewis, and it’s found at the very end of The Silver Chair, which is the 6th book in his Chronicles of Narnia series.

One of the good and faithful kings of Narnia, King Caspian, has died at a ripe old age. Two children from our world, Eustace and Jill, are present for his funeral. The ceremony begins, but in the middle of it—while the funeral music is still playing—Aslan, the powerful Lion who represents Jesus in these books, magically transports the children to “his country”. (It was Aslan, you will recall, who, just like Jesus, died and rose from the dead to save sinners in another book of the Narnia series, “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”)

Aslan brings Eustace and Jill to a beautiful stream in his country, and when the children look down into the shallow water of the stream they suddenly see the dead King Caspian lying there on his back, with the water flowing over him. And they begin to weep—as does Aslan—as we all weep when someone we love dies.

But then the Lion tells Eustace to go and pluck a thorn out of a nearby thicket. At this point I’ll read from the book itself and let C.S. Lewis tell you the ending:

Eustace obeyed. The thorn was a foot long and sharp as a [sword].

“Drive it into my paw, Son of Adam,” said Aslan, holding up his right fore-paw and spreading out the great pad toward Eustace.

“Must I?” said Eustace.

“Yes,” said Aslan.

Then Eustace set his teeth and drove the thorn into the Lion’s pad. And there came out a great drop of blood, redder than all the redness that you have ever seen or imagined. And it splashed into the stream over the dead body of the King. At the same moment the doleful music stopped. And the dead King began to be changed. His white beard turned to gray, and from gray to yellow, and got shorter and vanished altogether; and his sunken cheeks grew round and fresh, and the wrinkles were smoothed, and his eyes opened, and his eyes and lips both laughed, and suddenly he leaped up and stood before them—a very young man, or a boy. (But Jill couldn’t say which, because of people having no particular ages in Aslan’s country. . . .) And he rushed to Aslan and flung his arms as far as they would go round the huge neck; and he gave Aslan the strong kisses of a King, and Aslan gave him the wild kisses of a Lion.

The blood of the savior of Narnia—that had been shed on the Stone Table many years before—had the power to raise King Caspian to eternal life.

That, of course, is a fictitious story.

But it’s based on a true one!—the one we recall today.

Lord Jesus Christ, risen and glorious Savior, help us all to BELIEVE! And help us always to LIVE like we believe!