Easter Vigil and Easter 2016

You probably do not remember the name Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin. During his day he was as powerful a man as there was on earth. A Russian Communist leader he took part in the Bolshevik Revolution 1917, was editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda (which by the way means truth), and was a full member of the Politburo. His works on economics and political science are still read today. There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly on the subject of atheism. Addressing the crowd he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity hurling insult, argument, and proof against it. An hour later he was finished. He looked out at what seemed to be the smoldering ashes of men's faith. "Are there any questions?" Bukharin demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium but then one man approached the platform and mounted the lectern standing near the communist leader. He surveyed the crowd first to the left then to the right. Finally he shouted the ancient greeting known well in the Russian Orthodox Church: "CHRIST IS RISEN!" En masse the crowd arose as one man and the response came crashing like the sound of thunder: "HE IS RISEN INDEED!" I say to you this morning: CHRIST IS RISEN! (congregational response should be: HE IS RISEN INDEED!). I am convinced! I have faith that Christ was dead and he was buried. That I believe. But, this too I accept as true: He rose from the dead and will come again in glory. This is Easter. And to stand here on this day in this pulpit and proclaim this word. . . I cannot begin to tell you how this defines all that I am. But, you will say to me, how do you know that the resurrection is real? How do you know that it is really valid? 1. Because someone told me about the Resurrection 2. Because the Resurrection as stood the test of time 3. Because I have experienced the Resurrection










empty-tomb-jesus

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Michel de Verteuil1.
General Comments for the Vigil

The resurrection of Jesus which we celebrate on this night is the universal story of God’s grace triumphing over evil. Meditating on the biblical texts ahead of the liturgical celebration will help us enter personally into the mystery.
Each of the four gospels tells its own story of how the women discovered that Jesus was risen from the dead. Our meditation must always be based on the text we have before us. Being conscious of what is proper to the author often helps us to read the passage as if for the first time.

St Luke’s account, which we read this year, has its own sequence  of events. He says that the women discovered first that the body of Jesus was not there; as they were standing there, the angels (two, not one as in Matthew and Mark) announced  to them the good news of the resurrection.
Only St Luke includes the words of the angel which express very dramatically the mystery of the resurrection as it is always experienced, “Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?”
St Luke generally gives more importance to the role of women than the other evangelists. It is significant then that in his account the women are not told by the angels to bring the good news to the eleven; they do so of their own accord.
In verses 11 and 12 he highlights the incredulity of the eleven, with a hint that this was “an old wives’ tale”. As always in St Luke, the lowly are raised up while the mighty are cast down from their thrones (1:52).
Scripture reflection“Two men looked out through prison bars; one saw mud, the other stars.”  Traditional saying
Lord, we thank you for faithful women,
spouses, mothers, members of our church communities.
When the rest of us give up on others
– a wayward child,
– a parish group that has lost its way,
– a political movement dogged by corruption,
– a relationship that is going nowhere,
they continue to hope.
What we call the end they see as the first day of a new time,
what we call night they recognise as the first sign of dawn.
Because they are at the tomb with spices they had prepared,
they are the first to discover that the stone has been rolled away
from the tomb and the body is not there;
while we continue to look among the dead for someone who is alive,
they receive the good news that he is not there and has risen to new life.
Jesus and 3 crossesLord, we thank you for resurrection moments
– we had given up hope that we would ever be reconciled with a friend,
when all of a sudden we were relating as before;
– one morning a loved one gave up drink or drugs;
– a dying friend who had long refused to see a priest asked to do so;
– opposite sides in a dispute started to negotiate.
We remember how when we understood that the large stone
Which was blocking new life was now rolled away,
We were like the women at the tomb of Jesus,
We stood there not knowing what to think.
It was all so unexpected that we dared not raise our eyes in case it was not true.
Only gradually we understood that we were looking among the dead
For someone who was alive.
We remembered the words we had been told many years before,
That sooner or later we all have to be handed over into the power of evil,
To be crucified and rise again on the third day.
Thank you, Lord.
“When we love the other, we obtain from God the key to understanding who he is and who we are.”    …Thomas Merton
Lord, faithful love, the kind that brings people to a tomb with spices
on the first day of the week and at the first sign of dawn
is the only power that can roll away the great stone
blocking crucified ones from rising to new life.
“Lord, look through my eyes, speak through my lips. May my poor human presence be a reminder, however weak, of your divine presence.”    …Don Helder Camara
Lord, we pray that in spite of our sins,
our church communities may be signs of hope for society;
that like the two angels in brilliant clothes
who appeared to the women at the tomb of Jesus,
we may announce to those who mourn that,
though it may seem that love has been handed over
into the power of hatred and violence
and securely locked away with a great stone blocking the way out,
it is not among the dead, but still alive in the world.
“When I tell people that above all I want justice for my people,
they look at me as if I am crazy. Idealism is alien to them.”
President Aristide, speaking about government officials, 1994
Lord, forgive us that we have become so accustomed to evil,
– in ourselves, in other people, and in society –
that we have become cynical.
When people speak to us about resurrection and new life
Their story seems to us pure nonsense and we do not believe them.
Even when, like Peter, we go running to the tomb
and see the cloths that once kept men in bondage now left lying on the ground,
we merely go back home amazed at what happened and still do not believe.
“The seed does not see the flower.”    Chinese proverb
Lord, we always like to know what the future holds for us.
At this Easter time we think of people of faith whom we have known
– elderly people in our communities, parents and grandparents,
teachers, founders of a movement we now belong to.
As they walked the roads of whatever peaceful  Galilee they lived in,
they knew a day would come when they would be handed over
into the power of sinful men, perhaps even to be crucified,
but they trusted that with your help they would rise again on the third day.
Today we remember their words with gratitude.
cross sunburst
2. General Comments for the Easter Day Mass

John’s account of the resurrection is in two stages:
– verses 1-2 are about Mary of Magdala’s experience;
– verses 3 to 10 tell us about the experience of the two disciples.
In verses 1 and 2 you might like to focus on the symbolism of it being “still dark” and yet a “first day” of a new time. The large stone symbolizes all the forces, human and other, that keep God’s grace in the bondage of the tomb.
Your experience will help you interpret how Mary responded. Did she run in confusion? Or in fear?
Peter and John run to the Tomb of Jesus
Peter and John run to the Tomb of Jesus
The story of Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved can be read from various points of view. You can take them together as experiencing the resurrection, focusing on the details, especially the cloths lying on the ground, useless now since Jesus was alive, but also on the fact that until they saw the empty tomb they did not believe the teaching of the scriptures.
St John makes a point of contrasting the two apostles. If you would like to meditate on this aspect of the story, see Peter as symbol of the Church leader, while “the other disciple” is the one who, while having no position of authority, is specially loved by Jesus and, perhaps as a result, is first in faith.

Scripture Reflection:

Lord, we thank you for moment of grace.
We had been in a situation of death
– a relationship that meant a lot to us seemed dead
– an addiction held us in its grip
– our country was locked in civil strife.
Then the day came that would turn out to be the first of a new era.
We were mourning as usual,
Like Mary of Magdala making a routine visit to the tomb of Jesus,
But saw that the stone had been moved away from the tomb.
Naturally, we looked for some simple explanation,
“they have taken the Lord our of the tomb and we don’t know where they have put him,”
but it wasn’t anything like that,
it was what the scriptures teach us, that your work must always rise again.
“They can kill a bishop, but they cannot kill the Church which is the people.”
…Archbishop Romero, some days before he was martyred
Lord, we thank you for people of faith.
They believe the teaching of the scriptures
That your work may lie in the tomb for some days
But it must rise again.
“When the underprivileged unite and struggle for justice, is that not a sign of the presence and action of God in our time?”
…Musumi Kanyaro, Committee of Women in Church and Society, Lutheran World Federation
Lord, as we look around the world today
we see what Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved saw as they entered his tomb.
Cloths are lying on the ground that we can recognise for what they are
– attitudes of passivity that look like fine linen but in fact kept your chosen ones in the tomb.
Whereas you have once more fulfilled what you taught us in all the scriptures
and we had not really believed until this moment:
that you will always raise up your chosen ones when the world imprisons them in a tomb.
Easter BaptismLord, we pray today for those who were baptised last night,
Today they have enthusiasm, for them you are alive and present;
But there will certainly come a time when they will experience you absent,
When prayer will be like Mary of Magdala going in the gloom of early morning
To visit the tomb of Jesus.
In fact they will be like people who mourn for a spouse or a child
Without even having the comfort of the dead body to look at.
This is the way they will have to pass
because until they have had experiences like this they will not really believe
the teaching of the scriptures that your grace cannot be overpowered by evil
and that your presence within us must always, like Jesus, rise again from the tomb.
Lord, we like to feel that we have you within our grasp:
– that our prayers are always answered;
– that we are living in a way that is pleasing to you;
– that the times, gestures and words of our prayers are just right.
Teach us that we must be prepared to lose that security
and experience being abandoned, until we live in trust only
and see all those things that we considered important
like the cloths in the empty tomb of Jesus –
fine linen cloths, but they were keeping  him in the tomb.
Now we see them on the ground and also the cloth that had been over his head
not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.
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Thomas O’Loughlin

Homily notes
1. The resurrection is the source of Christian hope: our lives are lot circumscribed by life as we know it now, but can open onto a new life in the presence of God. This is the mystery beyond words, yet somehow today it has to be the subject of our preaching. However, there are two widely held misconceptions which prevent people hearing what the liturgy says about the resurrection today in its symbols, prayers, and readings. A useful task in the homily is to draw attention to these mistaken ideas. The first is that it was some sort of resusscitation, a trick to prove that Jesus was right, an event which you either believe happened or did not happen back then. This misconception distracts from a hope in a ressurection in the future. The resurrection is not about resuscitation, but our future transformation. The second, and far more widespread notion, is that resurrection is just a fancy terms for a belief in an afterlife of some sort or other – the number of practising Christians who think that re-incarn­ation can be squared with Christian faith is an indication of this confusion’s prevalence. Our faith is not about some kind of post mortem survival, but in God’s gift of the fullness of life.
butterfly
2. So, the first point is to avoid ‘explaining’ the mystery as if it were a series of ‘facts’ that can just be acknowledged as having happened so-and-so many years ago. In earlier times each item in the resurrection accounts was studied like the clues in a detective story with the aim of building an apologetic that would explain the ‘how’ of the resurrection and the ‘what’ of the risen body of Jesus. But the kerygma of the resurrection lies not in the details of ‘the first Easter,’ but in the reality that those who join their lives with the Christ shall share a fuller, glorious, transformed life as the gift of the Father. We can inherit the Father’s gift of glory as the final fulfilment of human life. It is worth pointing out that the disciple today must not be distracted by the ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions of ‘the first Easter’ from remembering that Christian faith strains onward to the future: the cost of discipleship now and tomorrow is worth it for the path of right­eousness does not end with a grave. Many wonder whether or not they ‘can believe’ in the empty tomb, but this misses the point. Belief in the resurrection is seen when someone, even in the face of still follows the of love with
3. Second, belief in the resurrection is not some christianised version of a belief in the immortality of the soul. A belief in immortality is a human sense that a bit, some sort of spiritual residue, can survive without a body. The belief in the resurrection is that we are each creatures willed by God, in whose histories God is interested as the loving Father, and into whose history he has sent his Son sharing our humanity, and therefore whose whole existence’ spirit, soul, and body’ can be transformed to become part of his Son’s glorious body. Easter is not a celebration of a ‘survival factor’ in humanity, but of the Father’s love so that nothing good shall perish, but be given even fuller life.
god-speaks4. To believe in the message of Easter is not a matter of tombs long ago in Palestine, but having the conviction that it is worthwhile to seek to bring light in darkness, to oppose lies with truth, to work for justice in the face of human corruption, and to say that death does not have the last word.
5. When we profess our faith in the resurrection of Jesus we are not setting out something with the intention that our understandings should grasp it and comprehend it. Jesus has been transformed to a new kind of existence by the Father beyond our understanding and we can only express it in symbols such as that of the empty tomb – tombs, after all, are designed to hold their remains indefinitely. By contrast, the proclamation ‘Jesus is Risen’ is an invitation to share in a new way of seeing God and the universe, and it is only from within this new vision (faith) that it makes sense. Hence, the ancient theological dictum, based in Isaiah 7:9, ‘unless you believe, you will not understand.’ The message of Acts and the gospel is that we are invited to live, to live in a new way, to live in Christ – and that in living in this way we discover in that the Father will raise us
6. If we join with those who accept the invitation Christ, which is what we say we are doing in accepting baptism and renewing our baptismal promises, we become part of a new people. The Christian ‘thing’ is about being part of a people, not about individualist survival or a privately-defined relationship with ‘the Wholly Other’, and as such it
commits us to a way of living. The early followers were referred to as being on ‘The Way’ (see Acts 9:2; 18:26; 19:9 and 23; 22:4,14 and 22) and our oldest extant teaching manual (The Didache) begins by contrasting ‘The Way of Life’ (to be followed by disciples) with ‘The Way of Death.’
7. The thought of resurrection may fill us with joy, but the life­demands that accepting it makes on us can be great: we must do as we would be done to (cf Didache 1:2; Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31), we must practice the forgiveness we desire from the Father (cf the ‘Our Father), and we must act with gentleness. Only in constant effort to live life in this way can we glimpse the truth of the empty tomb.
8. To live this life demands patience, a waiting for the good things to be revealed – the practice of the virtue of hope: we must always be of good courage … for we walk by faith, not by sight (cf 2 Cor 5:6f). Today is our day for rejoicing in the risen Christ, for thanking the Father for his love, and for reminding ourselves of that to which we have committed ourselves: The Way. Death has contended with Life, yet despite tombs and symbols of death all around us, we proceed to commit ourselves to life, confident that as the Father transformed the existence of Jesus, so he will transform the whole creation.
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3. Sean Goan
Gospel: John 20:1-9

This account of the first Easter Sunday morning is significant in that it highlights how each of us as believers must come to terms with the mystery of the resurrection. Mary reports to Peter and the beloved disciple that the tomb is empty. They in turn run to investigate and, while the disciple reaches the tomb first, he holds back in deference to Peter, the leader of the twelve. It is only when the beloved disciple enters the tomb that we are told an appropriate response to the event -‘he saw and he believed’. The beloved disciple is unnamed but in John’s gospel he is present and close to Jesus at all the key moments: the last supper, Calvary and now the tomb. In a sense he symbolises where all true believers should be, for each of us is called to be a beloved disciple who accompanies Jesus on his way: ‘Where I am there also my servant will be’ Jn 12:26.


Reflection
Easter is what makes us Christians. Jesus the way. 1jpgThe life of Jesus is not put before us merely as a good example of someone who was true to his beliefs. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life and it is Easter that demonstrates this. In Jesus God has taken on our life and transformed it. Through baptism we share in the very life of the crucified and risen Christ and so we are made new. It may be that at times we are like Peter, who on reaching the tomb just looks in and wonders, but there comes a point when we are asked to take the risk of faith of seeing and believing that God could indeed love us this much.
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4. Donal Neary S.J.
Gospel reflections

EASTER SUNDAY 
Death is not final
The first Easter parade was just a crowd of women going down the street where once they had sang Hosanna. Another time they had gone with him to death. Now if s just themselves – two Marys, Joanna and other women. The parade was dull, without the one they followed – but they wanted to care for the body with spices, using only the best.
women at the resurrection
And then it was all different. They saw no body, which frightened them more than any death could have. Then there were angels with strange messages, but their hearts believed quickly and they remembered what he had said. Often, he had talked of death and resurrection. He was the sort of man for whom evil and death could not be final.
They were then to go to the apostles, and they were to find out that caring for Christ’s body now would be a different thing. The women announced this divine news to the men. This would have been contrary to the culture at the time, but Jesus went against a lot of beliefs and prejudices.
Caring for the body of Christ now means caring for each other. They would spend the rest of their lives caring for the new body of Christ, and we’re the same in caring and being cared for. The risen Christ is in all of us.
We are his body. Not a word of God can be spoken without human words. God reaches us through each other.
The Easter parade now is made up of all of us following our risen Lord, following life that never dies, and the truth of the gospel that can keep us going. This is the love of the risen Lord, which is the lifeblood of the Church.
Jesus Christ you are risen, you are risen indeed, alleluia, alleluia.
Easter Eggs
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From the Connections:
Easter Vigil;
THE WORD:
Luke’s Easter Gospel brings to completion the ancient prophecies foretold concerning the Messiah.  The two men “in dazzling white garments” at the tomb invite the terrified women to “remember what he said to you.”
   
Remember – not the mere recollection of a previous conversation but to understand with new and deepened insight the meaning of a past action and bringing its power and meaning into the present.  It is in such creative and living "remembering" that the Church of the Resurrection is form.
Typical of Luke, women – who possessed no true autonomy, whose testimony was considered of little value before a Jewish court – are the first proclaimers of the Easter Gospel.  Sure enough, the disciples refuse to believe their wild story (in his original Greek text, the physician Luke describes the women’s story as the excited babbling of a fevered and insane mind).  Peter alone goes to investigate; Luke writes that Peter is “amazed” at what he sees, but still does not understand what has happened.

HOMILY POINTS:
On this night in early spring, we celebrate God’s new creation, the “second Genesis.”  Death is no longer the ultimate finality but the ultimate beginning.  The Christ who taught forgiveness, who pleaded for reconciliation, who handed himself over to his executioners for the sake of justice and mercy, has been raised up by God.  We leave behind in the grave our sinfulness, our dark side, our selfishness, our pettiness – the evil that mars God's first creation.
The Risen Christ is present to us in the faithful witness of many good people who share the good news of the empty tomb by their day to day living of the Gospel of compassion and reconciliation.  Like Mary Magdalene and her companions, we can bring into the darkness of our own time and place the joyful light of the Resurrection; into the cold, spiritless winter around us, we can bring the warmth and hope of the Easter promise.
Easter pushes us out of the tombs in which we bury ourselves and challenges us to discover fulfillment in living a life centered beyond ourselves.  Easter throws us out of the lifeless cemeteries where we hide in order to embrace the love of Christ present in family and community.  Easter dares us to look around the rocks we stumble over and find the path of peace and forgiveness.  Jesus has been raised up from the dead.  He is not bound by burial cloths of hopelessness and cynicism.  He is no longer entombed by fear and distrust.  His cross is not the dead wood of shame and ridicule but the first branches of a harvest of compassion and justice for every one of every time and place.

Easter:

THE WORD:
John’s Easter Gospel says nothing of earthquakes or angels.  His account begins before daybreak.  It was believed that the spirit of the deceased hovered around the tomb for three days after burial; Mary Magdalene was therefore following the Jewish custom of visiting the tomb during this three-day period.  Discovering that the stone has been moved away, Mary Magdalene runs to tell Peter and the others.  Peter and the “other disciple” race to get there and look inside.  Note the different reactions of the three:  Mary Magdalene fears that someone has “taken” Jesus' body; Peter does not know what to make of the news; but the “other” disciple – the model of faithful discernment in John's Gospel – immediately understands what has taken place.  So great are the disciple's love and depth of faith that all of the strange remarks and dark references of Jesus now become clear to him.

HOMILY POINTS:
While the Easter mystery does not deny the reality of suffering and pain, it does proclaim reason for hope in the human condition.  The empty tomb of Christ trumpets the ultimate Alleluia – that love, compassion, generosity, humility and selflessness will ultimately triumph over hatred, bigotry, prejudice, despair, greed and death.  The Easter miracle enables us, even in the most difficult and desperate of times, to live our lives in hopeful certainty of the fulfillment of the resurrection at the end of our life's journey.
The Risen Christ is present to us in the faithful witness of every good person who shares the good news of the empty tomb, who seeks to bring resurrection into this life of ours: to rise above life’s sufferings and pain to give love and life to others, to renew and re-create our relationships with others, to proclaim the Gospel of the empty tomb.
Today we stand, with Peter and John and Mary, at the entrance of the empty tomb; with them, we wonder what it means.  The Christ who challenged us to love one another is risen and walks among us!  All that he taught – compassion, love, forgiveness, reconciliation, sincerity, selflessness for the sake of others – is vindicated and affirmed if he is truly risen.  The empty tomb should not only console us and elate us, it should challenge us to embrace the life of the Gospel.  With Easter faith, we can awaken the promise of the empty tomb in every place and moment we encounter on our journey through this life.

‘Let him easter in us’
On December 8, 1875, the German ship the Deutschland sank in the North Sea, off the English coast.  Among the 157 passengers who perished were five Franciscan sisters traveling to Missouri to take up new teaching missions.  The young nuns sacrificed their own lives so that others might be rescued.  According to one account, the sisters remained below deck as the ship sank.  As the water rose around them, they clasped hands and were heard praying, “O Christ, O Christ, come quickly!”
The Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was profoundly moved by the story and wrote a poem about the tragedy, “The Wreck of the Deutschland”, which he dedicated to the five Franciscans.  He saw in their deaths a parallel to the suffering of Christ.  Hopkins concludes the poem with this line:
Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us . . .
As used here, the word “easter” is a nautical term.  It means steering a craft toward the east, into the light.
“Let him easter in us.”
Easter as a verb — not just the name of this great festival we begin today, not just the mystery of God’s unfathomable redemptive love that the Gospel can barely articulate, but Easter as something we think, something we feel, something we do. 
“Let him easter in us” that we may live our lives in the light of his compassion and peace, his justice and forgiveness.
“Let him easter in us” that we may be a humble servant like him, a healer like him, a teacher like him, a footwasher like him.
“Let him easter in us” that we may bear our crosses for one another as he bore his cross for us.
“Let him easter in us” that we may, at the end of our voyage, “easter” in him.

Throughout the forty days of Lent we have been steering our lives toward the light, trying to shake the darkness, the doubts, the burdens of living, the heaviness of hearts.  May Easter become a verb in our lives — a way of living, a way of loving, a way of seeing and hearing and understanding.  Let us not just celebrate this Easter day, but let us “do” Easter every day.  Let us not just mark this milestone of the life of the Gospel Jesus, but let this day mark our lives with the compassion, humility and joy of the Risen One.  Let us “easter” every moment of our lives in the light of Christ.   
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From Fr. Jude Botelho:

In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we listen to Peter as he witnesses to the Risen Lord; this Peter who in a moment of weakness swore he had nothing to do with the master, this Peter who instead of being a solid rock was in truth a pile of sand. The great proof of the resurrection was not the empty tomb but people like Peter, transformed into fearless witnesses of Jesus Christ. In today’s passage we hear Peter fearlessly proclaim that the same Jesus who suffered and died had risen from the dead. This was the mission of Peter and the disciples, to proclaim that Jesus was alive and this is our mission, to witness that Jesus is alive and that we have experienced Him in our lives and His power at work in our world today.

What we have seen and heard and felt….
I have often heard of the Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon and the Eiffel Tower. What I had was factual or academic knowledge. When I visited these places, and saw them for myself, I had crossed the line into experiential knowledge. Experiential knowledge is not something that can be taught. The only way I could share such knowledge with you is to bring you to share the experience. Quite a great deal of our religion has to deal with academic knowledge, where we learned catechism answers and memorized whole passages of the gospels. Bill Wilson was the founder of Alcoholic Anonymous, together with a man called Bob Smith. One day Bill was in the horrors, when he fell on his knees, and cried out “God, if you are there, please help me”! Suddenly the room was filled with a bright light, and Bill just sat there filled with awe. Eventually, as it were, the light entered his heart and soul and he came out of that room feeling totally changed, exclaiming, “Now I know the God of the preachers.” It is in that way that we can read John’s account of the resurrection.
Jack McArdle in ‘And that’s the Gospel truth’

The Gospel tells us of the events of that first Easter morning. It was still dark so they cannot see that the tomb no longer contains the risen Lord. Mary goes to the tomb because she believes that it is all over. It is the same with many believers whose faith is sometimes shattered by the heavy burdens we carry and the moments of death we encounter. Though Christ has risen we still do not experience Him. ‘It is all over’ we think, but God has not finished with us yet! There are signs that this is not the end. Mary sees that the tomb is empty and she runs to Peter complaining, “they have taken away the body.” Peter and John rush and see the empty tomb and Peter enters the tomb and sees beyond, his faith tells him the master has risen. Then the other disciple entered, he saw and he believed. Every disciple of the Lord has to enter into the tomb, enter into the mystery of suffering and death and only then will the eyes of faith be opened to see and believe. At Easter we are celebrating not only the victory of Jesus over death but the hope that we too will be victorious, we too will conquer not because of our strength but in the power of the risen Lord. The challenge of Easter today is to understand human suffering in the light of Jesus’ resurrection. As it was the Father that raised Jesus to life, so we as Christians are called to play our part, to play God’s part in protesting against violence and injustices that are readily accepted as inevitable. As Christians we have to make our protest against death in the midst of life. Ultimately the resurrection reminds us that though we cannot rise, our God can and will help us to rise again and become witnesses of the resurrection when we stand for life for others in the midst of death.

And there was Resurrection!
“There is no way a black person will ever ride in front of a bus in Birmingham. We’ll keep our customs no matter what anyone else says.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. persisted in his movement, 99 percent of the black people in Birmingham courageously stood their ground……and there was Resurrection! “Be reasonable. There is no way that a person without sight, hearing or speech could possibly communicate in any meaningful way. We can make her comfortable, but not much more than that.” But Helen Keller strained and wrestled with every detail of her existence, poured herself into every effort-filled day….and there was Resurrection! “With your illness, no use of your hands and arms, you will never be able to write or draw at all. I’m sorry but we have done all that we can do.” Ann Anders never gave up. She learned to take a pencil in her teeth, developed a great skill in sketching in this way, and became a professional artist……. and there was Resurrection!
Eugene Lauer in ‘Sunday Morning Insights’

Abide with me
In the King James Version of the Bible, the invitation of the two travellers reads, “Abide with us; for it is towards evening and the day is far spent,” words which were the inspiration for that beloved hymn, “Abide with me, Fast falls the eventide.” The hymn was written by Henry Francis Lyte, for 25 years the vicar of the parish at Devonshire, England. He was 54 years old, broken in health and saddened by dissensions in his congregation. On Sunday, September 4, 1847 he preached his farewell sermon and went home to rest. After tea in the afternoon, he retired to his study. In an hour or two, he rejoined his family, holding in his hand the manuscript of his immortal hymn. Despite what most think, Lyte’s ‘eventide’ has nothing to do with the end of the natural day but rather the end of life. “Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day, Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away.” The words are about the faith that faces life and death fearlessly and triumphantly in the light of the cross and the empty tomb. Thus Lyte could conclude, “Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee, In life, in death. O Lord, abide with me.” Vicar Lyte died three months later.
David Leininger in ‘East of Easter’

Now I can go on living again
There was a young woman living in Washington, DC during the Second World War. Her husband, who had been stationed at a nearby army base, was killed a year earlier during a training exercise – they had been married just four months. During that whole year, this young widow felt more dead than alive. Easter Sunday came along and a friend asked the young widow to go to church with her. It happened that they went to hear the legendary Peter Marshall, who preached in a historic Presbyterian church. That morning, Peter Marshall spoke of Mary coming to the tomb and how her tears turned to joy. He described the sound of a wind rustling through the tomb as if the breath of God were blowing by. He described the sight of Jesus rising up from that cold stone slab, swaying a bit on wounded feet and then walking out into the garden. He described the smell, the whiff of strange scents which must have drifted back to the Man from that tomb, [the smell] of linen and bandages, spices and myrrh, closed air and blood. By the time Peter Marshall finished that sermon, the people in that church felt as if they had been there in the garden to witness the first Easter themselves! When the service was over, the young widow practically walked on air as she left the church and her friend couldn’t believe the change which had come over her. “What happened to you in there?” She asked. “The weight has finally been lifted,” the young woman replied; “now I can go on living again.”
Erskine White in ‘Together in Christ’

Through the Valley of Death
Ernest Gordon wrote a book called ‘Through the Valley of the Kwai’. It documents the true story of what happened in a Japanese prison camp along the Kwai River during World War II. There 12,000 prisoners died of disease and brutality while building a railroad. Men were forced to work in the heat that reached 120 degrees. Bareheaded and barefooted, their only clothes were rags they wore and their only bed the bare ground. But their worst enemy was not the Japanese or their hard life; it was themselves. Gordon says that the fear of the Japanese made them paranoid. They stole from one another, they distrusted one another and they informed on one another. Then something incredible happened. Two prisoners organized the others into Bible study groups. Through their study of the Gospel, the prisoners gradually discovered that Jesus was in their midst as a living person. More than that, they came to discover that Jesus understood their situation. Everything about Jesus - what he was, what he said, what he did -began to make sense and come alive. The prisoners stopped thinking of themselves as victims of some cruel tragedy. Nowhere did their change of heart manifest itself more clearly than in their prayers. They began to pray not so much for themselves, but for one another. Slowly the camp went through a transformation that amazed not only the Japanese but also the prisoners themselves. One night, Gordon was hobbling back to his shack after a meeting with his study group. As he walked along in the darkness he heard the sound of men singing. Someone was keeping time with a stick on a piece of tin. The sound of the stick hitting the tin, and the sound of men singing, made the darkness come alive. The difference between that joyful sound and the deadly silence of the past months was the difference between life and death – the difference between death and resurrection. The story of the transformation that took place in that Japanese prison camp is what Easter is all about!
Mark Link

Did you see Jesus?
A preacher was baptizing a man in a lake. He dunked the man’s head under the water for about fifteen seconds and pulled his head up. The preacher said: “Did you see Jesus?” “No. I didn’t see Jesus,” the man replied. The preacher dunked his head under the water for another thirty seconds and pulled him back up. “Did you see Jesus?” the preacher asked. Again the man said, “No, I didn’t see Jesus.” So the preacher dunked the man’s head back under the water for a third time, this time keeping him there for another forty-five seconds. This time as the minister pulled the man back for the third time he was gasping for a breath of air. The minister said, “Did you see Jesus?” The man blinked and thought for a moment and asked: “Are you sure this is where he fell?” -At the Easter vigil, the elect will be baptized, and all others who are already baptized will be renewing their baptismal promises. Today’s gospel does not present us with the risen Jesus. Instead it presents us with an empty tomb! Unfortunately, we humans are still looking for the living among the dead. We look for life among things that have no life in them. The message of Easter is that we can enter the grave and come out of it, because Jesus has arisen!

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ILLUSTRATIONS:

From Fr. Tony Kadavil:


 
1: Incredible, not impossible:
Those who visit Seattle, Washington never miss Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. They have many oddities there. Would you believe that they actually have a pin with the Lord’s Prayer carved on the head of that pin? It is incredible, not impossible, just incredible. They have a piece of hair with the name “Ripley” written on it. The Guinness Book of World Records mentions a little four-year old boy in Korea who spoke four languages: Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and English. There are many things that seem to be impossible but they are only incredible. Did you know that Mrs. Vasalay in Russia gave birth to 69 children? That’s incredible! Did you know that there was a healthy baby born in Turkey that weighed 24 pounds? That is painfully incredible! Did you know that there was man who grew a moustache that was a 102 inches long? That is incredible! One gymnast from the Cirque De Sole climbed up a rope sideways with his arms and his body perfectly perpendicular 90 degrees to that rope. There was a woman juggler with hands so fast you couldn’t even see the speed of the nine balls or knives. There are many things in life that are absolutely and wonderfully incredible, but they are not impossible. It was Jesus who said: “With God, all things are possible!” The women came to the tomb and noticed that the big stone had been rolled away. They wondered what had happened. They looked inside, and incredibly, a young man was sitting there and he was dressed in white. He said to them, “Jesus is not here. He has been raised from the dead by the Power of God.” “Incredible, absolutely incredible!” they thought. Today we celebrate this incredible fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead.

 2: El Dorado:
The Spanish conquistadors were exotic explorers of the 1500s. These Spanish sailors were brave, daring men of adventure, searching for gold and silver, jasper and emeralds, braving the insecurities of their little bobbing boats in the seismic swells of ocean waves, not knowing what was out there before them in the uncharted seas of a strange new world. These Spanish conquistadors were adventurous people like Hernando de Soto, Francisco Coronado, and Ponce de Leon. It was in 1513 that Ponce de Leon began his search for the legendary El Dorado, a land where gold nuggets were as plentiful as the pebbles found on ocean beaches. Near that legendary El Dorado was the one thing that everybody was looking for. It was more valuable than gold and silver, more valuable than precious jewels. All of his life, Ponce de Leon and everybody else had wanted to find it. He was looking for the legendary “fountain of youth.” He had sailed half way across the world, wanting to taste the waters from that fountain of immortality. He wanted to drink from those waters and be eternally young, eternally vibrant, and eternally energetic. He wanted to drink from those waters of eternal youth and never grow old and die. He searched and searched and, like every person who wanted to find the legendary El Dorado on this side of the grave, he did not find it. But the Risen Jesus is our guarantee that we will have a real fountain of youth when we begin our life after death with him sharing in his heavenly glory.

 3: The phoenix bird:
The late Catholic Archbishop of Hartford, John Whealon, who had undergone cancer surgery resulting in a permanent colostomy, wrote these very personal words in one of his last Easter messages: "I am now a member of an association of people who have been wounded by cancer. That association has as its symbol the phoenix bird of Egyptian mythology. When the bird felt its death was near, every 500 to 1,461 years, it would fly off to Phoenicia, build a nest of aromatic wood and set itself on fire. When the bird was consumed by the flames, a new phoenix sprang forth from the ashes. Thus the phoenix bird symbolizes immortality, resurrection, and life after death. It was one of the earliest symbols of the risen Christ. In the same way, any person who has survived a struggle with cancer is considered phoenix-like, having risen from the ashes of disease and been given a new lease on life. Suddenly life becomes more precious to that person. Each hour is lived more fully. Each friend seems much more real. The sky seems more blue, the sunshine more beautiful, and the colors more vivid. Even dull and ordinary things are causes for gratitude to God.” Archbishop John Whealon could have lived in a gloomy tomb of self-pity, hopeless defeat, and chronic sadness, but his faith in the resurrected Lord opened his eyes to new visions of life.
 
4 . See what happens:

One lady wrote in to a question and answer forum. "Dear Sirs, Our preacher said on Easter, that Jesus just swooned on the cross and that the disciples nursed Him back to health. What do you think? Sincerely, Bewildered.

Dear Bewildered, Beat your preacher with a cat-of-nine-tails, nail him to a cross; hang him in the sun for 6 hours; run a spear through his side...put him in an airless tomb for 36 hours and see what happens." Sincerely, Charles. 
5 . Rented for a week end: Joseph of Arimathea was a very wealthy Pharisee, a member of the council, and a secret follower of Jesus. It was Joseph who went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body after the crucifixion. And it was Joseph who supplied the tomb for Jesus’ burial. I wonder if someone pulled him aside and said, "Joseph that was such beautiful, costly, hand-hewn tomb. Why on earth did you give it to someone to be buried in?" "Why not?" Joseph might have answered. “He only needed it for the weekend."
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6. Happy Easter, Church. Christ Is Risen. He Is Risen Indeed. 
The resurrection of Jesus is God's final word spoken in the face of sin, suffering, evil and death. Thanks Be to God.
Easter egg hunts have been in the news all week, both because of the controversy in the White House over the invitations that went out warning that the one on the White House lawn might need to be cancelled, as well as the refusal of some school districts to refer to "Easter eggs," only "Spring eggs."
Come on. Easter egg hunts? They are part of our most beloved childhood memories, even though they have very little to do with the real Easter. Or do they?  
Coloring eggs; that sweet smell of vinegar; getting those same six colors all over fingers, clothes, and countertops year after year. Then getting up early enough to compete against brothers and sisters to find the most baskets of eggs and goodies.
As parents we have different memories of the same event. Easter egg hunts mean bleaching out those Easter egg-colored clothes and counter tops; getting up even earlier than the kids; making lots of egg salad sandwiches (with strange colors staining the bread); and finding Easter grass still lurking in corners of the house on the Fourth of July. 
But while some of the traditions behind Easter egg hunts have remained the same, there has been one big change that has transformed large community-wide egg hunts, Sunday school class quests, and our own living room look-fors.  
Let's get real: we might still color and decorate real eggs. But how many of those actual hard-boiled eggs get taken out of the fridge and hidden in nooks and crannies anymore? Real eggs have been replaced with plastic eggs. The realities of lurking bacteria and potential lawsuits have banished actual eggs from almost every "egg hunt." Instead, plastic eggs filled with store-bought candies have, for the sake of sanity and sanitation, replaced the hand-colored hard-boiled real egg.
In other words rather than searching for an egg, a symbol of new life, we have a petroleum based plastic shell filled with candies made of artificial colors and sweetness. Not a very life-affirming symbol. Not a very Easter-y symbol...
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7. More Hope than We Can Handle 
Earlier this week, an old couple received a phone call from their son who lives far away. The son said he was sorry, but he wouldn't be able to come for a visit over the holidays after all. "The grandkids say hello." They assured him that they understood, but when they hung up the phone they didn't dare look at each other.

Earlier this week, a woman was called into her supervisor's office to hear that times are hard for the company and they had to let her go. "So sorry." She cleaned out her desk, packed away her hopes for getting ahead, and wondered what she would tell her kids.

Earlier this week, someone received terrible news from a physician. Someone else heard the words, "I don't love you any more." Earlier this week, someone's hope was crucified. And the darkness is overwhelming.
No one is ever ready to encounter Easter until he or she has spent time in the dark place where hope cannot be seen. Easter is the last thing we are expecting. And that is why it terrifies us. This day is not about bunnies, springtime and girls in cute new dresses. It's about more hope than we can handle.

Craig Barnes, Savior at Large
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8. Yes, There Is Hope 
In the early part of World War II, a Navy submarine was stuck on the bottom of the harbor in New York City. It seemed that all was lost. There was no electricity and the oxygen was quickly running out. In one last attempt to rescue the sailors from the steel coffin, the U.S. Navy sent a ship equipped with Navy divers to the spot on the surface, directly above the wounded submarine. A Navy diver went over the side of the ship to the dangerous depths in one last rescue attempt. The trapped sailors heard the metal boots of the diver land on the exterior surface, and they moved to where they thought the rescuer would be. In the darkness they tapped in Morse code, "Is there any hope?" The diver on the outside, recognizing the message, signaled by tapping on the exterior of the sub, "Yes, there is hope."

This is the picture of our dilemma as we worship this glad Easter Day. Humankind is trapped in a dreadful situation. All around we are running low on hope, and we look for a word from beyond offering it to us. This world in which we live is plagued with war and famine, mounting debt and continual destruction. The more we try to rescue ourselves the more we seem to fall behind. We wonder: Is there any hope?
Bill Self, Is There Any Hope?
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9. It Opens on the Dawn
Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark. But the darkness was soon overcome with light. Maybe that's the message you need to hear this day. Perhaps for whatever reason you are in darkness right now. Family concerns. Problems at work. Anxiety about your health and your future. The loss of someone you love. Easter promises us more than the stars in our darkness. Easter promises us that in the midst of our deepest darkness the Son rises to overwhelm the darkness forever.

Victor Hugo once put it like this, "For half a century I have been writing my thoughts in prose and verse and history and philosophy . . . But I feel I have not said the thousandth part of what is in me. When I go down to the grave I can say, I have finished my day's work,' but I cannot say, I have finished my life.' My day's work will begin again the next morning. The tomb is not a blind alley; it is a thoroughfare. It closes on the twilight; it opens on the dawn." Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark "but the darkness did not remain. The dawn broke. God's Son had risen.
King Duncan
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10. The Easter Choice
When faced with new realities, you have at least three options for how to respond (and it is nearly certain that you will opt for one of these three possibilities). First, you can stay bewildered. You can let this event knock you flat on your back and then stay there. Second, you can engage in world-class denial. You can look at the facts and ignore them. Or third, you can, slowly perhaps, assimilate this new information. You may get knocked as flat on your back as the next person by this new realization, but eventually you pick yourself up. You embrace this new truth and then go through the long, sometimes painful, process of re-assessing life in the light of this new evidence.
This is the Easter choice. When faced with the incredible proclamation that Jesus rose again from the dead, you can be agnostic and cynical by saying that you don't know what to make of this but then neither are you going to try. Who cares anyway? Or you can deny it. The whole thing is fiction, fantasy, a pious wish but something that never really happened. Or you can move past the shock toward acceptance. But let me caution you: if you are going to accept the truth of the bodily resurrection, you need to let it change you totally.
That's the Easter choice. The problem for most of us is that we are not surprised enough by Easter to realize we face a choice. Easter is a part of the background scenery of our lives. We've never been afraid of Easter, never been bewildered by it. Believing that Jesus rose again from the dead becomes a little like believing the earth is round and that it orbits the sun. Once upon a time people didn't know that. They thought the earth was flat and that the sun orbited the earth. It caused quite a stir when this view had to be revised. But that was a long time ago and now we accept that picture of our solar system without much thought. Sure the world is round and we orbit the sun, but what does that have to do with anything? It doesn't change what I have to do at work tomorrow, does it?
 Is that what Easter becomes for us? We believe it happened but then, we've always believed that. Even Easter has somehow become part of the "routines" of this world. So why would it have much of an effect on what we do tomorrow? Easter is no longer shocking for us--it surely does not make us re-evaluate everything else we think we know. And anyway, we're not sure we want to have everything in our lives changed. 
Of course, if we can believe in the resurrection at all, it is a gift of faith granted to us by the prior gift of grace. But if we have received that grace and accept the truth that gets proclaimed from every Christian pulpit in the world each Easter Sunday morning, then we have to know that this truth changes everything. This is not some fact we can ponder just once every twelve months. This changes everything.... and on EVERY day.
Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations
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 11. The Cape of Good Hope 
I can still recall a geography lesson from elementary school in which we learned that the southernmost point of Africa is a point which for centuries has experienced tremendous storms. For many years no one even knew what lay beyond that cape, for no ship attempting to round that point had ever returned to tell the tale. Among the ancients it was known as the "Cape of Storms," and for good reason. But then a Portuguese explorer in the sixteenth century, Vasco De Gama, successfully sailed around that very point and found beyond the wild raging storms, a great calm sea, and beyond that, the shores of India. The name of that cape was changed from the Cape of Storms to the Cape of Good Hope.
Until Jesus Christ rose from the dead, death had been the cape of storms on which all hopes of life beyond had been wrecked. No one knew what lay beyond that point until, on Easter morning, those ancient visions of Isaiah became the victory of Jesus over our last great enemy. Suddenly, like those ancient explorers, we can see beyond the storm to the hope of heaven and eternal life with the Father. More than that, we dare to believe that we shall experience in our own human lives exactly what the Son of God experienced in his, for the risen Christ says to us, "Because I live, you shall live also." This is the heart of the Easter faith.
Robert Beringer, Easter People, CSS Publishing Company
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 12. Ongoing Easter 
Ongoing Easter gets us finally home at last, for life is not an endless circle but life is moving to an end point. The crowning achievement of the risen Lord is to bring us finally home together with the whole family of God in that transition from time into eternity. It is a great privilege to witness that transition in the lives of people and I think of one this Easter day. Her name was Augusta. She lived 100 years, raised in the prairies of South Dakota, faced every manner of hardship and heartache, but was buoyant and lived on the resurrection side of the cross, raised a family. In the last hour of her life standing with her daughters around her in the hospital room, I heard her bless her daughters. Being a mother to the very end and with a twinkle in her eye, looked at the faces of her daughters around her and pointed to them each one and said, "Too much lipstick," and then closed her eyes in peaceful death.
That is the goal toward which the ongoing Easter draws us and transforms our dark, gloomy mornings into a shining doxology. We say with all the faithful of all of the ages, blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By His great mercy, we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, unfailing and undefiled, kept in heaven for you. Though you must go through various trials, all this is so that your faith may redound to the praise, glory and honor of Jesus Christ. Without having seen Him, we love Him, and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy. The outcome of your faith is the salvation of your souls.
F. Dean Lueking, Ongoing Easter
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13. Billy Graham responded to someone who shouted out "God is dead! God is dead!" Dr. Graham with tenderness replied, "That's strange because I just talked to Him in prayer a few minutes ago." Yes, the day you believe in the resurrection is the day you change the universe, and most importantly, you can reflect that transforming truth. 
Eric S. Ritz