Sunday, April 20, 2014

When It Comes To The Resurrection, There Are Only Two Possibilities.

(Easter 2014: This homily was given on April 20, 2014 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 2014]

When it comes to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, there are only two possibilities:

·         Either it’s true, or it isn’t.

·         Either it did happen, or it did not happen.

·         Either Jesus fulfilled his promise and rose from the grave, or he did not fulfill his promise and he remained quite dead.

There can be no middle ground here.  If the first possibility is true and he did rise from the grave, then all assertions to the contrary must be false.  And by the same token, if it isn’t true and it didn’t happen and Jesus remained dead and in the grave, then Christianity is a lie and, as St. Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15, “[our] faith [in Jesus] is worthless.  [We] are still in our sins, and those who have died in Christ are the deadest of the dead.”

But there’s even more at stake here than that (as if that were not enough!).  The question of whether or not Jesus conquered death on Easter Sunday affects EVERYTHING in our human experience—from how we look at ourselves to how we look at life itself.

For example:

·         If Jesus is risen—if he’s alive—if he overcame the power of sin and Satan and eternal death three days after he was crucified, then life always has meaning (even when it may seem to be meaningless).  There’s a purpose, in other words, to all this.  We’re here to decide whether or not we, personally, want to experience the risen life of Jesus Christ for all eternity.  That’s the central issue of life.
On the other hand, if Jesus did not rise from the dead on Easter Sunday, then life has no intrinsic meaning.  There’s nothing ultimately at stake during our lives on this earth, so we might as well just live for the moment and do whatever we feel like doing during the brief time we have here.

·         If Jesus is risen then I also have an objective value as a human person—from the moment of my conception in my mother’s womb.  I have that value because the Son of God came to this earth to redeem me—to redeem all of us—by his passion, death and resurrection; and he would have made that sacrifice even if I had been the only person in history who needed to be redeemed.  This means that, according to Jesus Christ, I’m so special and precious that I’m worth dying for!
On the other hand, if Jesus did not rise from the dead on Easter, then I have no objective value as a human person—even if everyone here on earth thinks that I’m really special and important.

·         If Jesus is risen, then what I believe about God and morality matters; and what I do to other people matters (my family, my friends—and even my enemies); and what I say to other people matters.
If he didn’t rise, then none of that stuff matters at all!

·         If Jesus is risen, then there’s never a reason for me to despair in this life—because Jesus is alive and with me, and he can forgive every one of my sins.
On the other hand, if he didn’t rise from the dead, then despair can sometimes be the logical—and even the acceptable—option.

·         This one follows from the last one: If Jesus is risen, then after I do something wrong, I can avoid some of the temporal consequences for my sins and, most importantly, ALL of the eternal consequences.
If Jesus did not rise from the grave, however, then I’m forced to deal with all the consequences of my actions: the ones here on earth AND the ones in eternity (which are even worse!).

·         If Jesus is risen, then I can have hope in my heart at EVERY funeral—even the funeral of a terrible sinner.
If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then I can’t have hope in my heart at ANY funeral—even the funeral of a great saint.  (This would make the canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XIII in Rome next Sunday nothing more than a joke—a charade—a meaningless and empty ceremony.)

·         And, finally, if Jesus is risen and alive, then the sacraments mean something.  They have value, in that they are the primary ways that the risen Jesus touches our lives here on this earth.  And so we’d better take them seriously!  If Jesus is risen and alive, for example, then he has the power to change ordinary bread and wine into his true Body and Blood—and we need to receive that Body and Blood worthily (as he said in John 6) in order to have his “life” in us.
On the other hand, if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then the seven sacraments are nothing more than empty, powerless rituals, and the smartest people in the world are those who don’t believe in them or take them seriously (like those who habitually miss Sunday Mass without a good reason).

Let me give the last word today to our Holy Father, Pope Francis.  He addressed this issue of the importance of the resurrection in a talk he gave on April 3rd of 2013.  On that occasion he said:

What does the Resurrection mean for our life?  And why is our faith in vain without it?  Our faith is founded on Christ’s death and resurrection, just as a house stands on its foundations: if they give way, the whole house collapses.
Jesus gave himself on the Cross, taking the burden of our sins upon himself and descending into the abyss of death; then in the Resurrection, he triumphed over them, took them away, and opened before us the path to rebirth and to a new life.

A new life or no life—which is it? As Pope Francis makes clear, it all depends on whether the resurrection of Jesus really happened.  That is to say it all depends on whether the message of Easter Sunday is actually true.

Hopefully our attendance here at Mass today is a sign of the fact that we believe it is.