Father THOMAS IDERGARD SJ
Homily for Easter Sunday
Acts 10:34, 37-43; Ps 118; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9
St. Eugenia Catholic Church, Stockholm (English Mass)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
When people say that “light will always triumph over darkness” as a general statement, it is unfortunately not true. Not in the sense that a “law” in our natural world would prescribe that everything always ends well. Our natural eyes help us to see what is visible. And it suffices to study some history or to follow a normal weekday newscast to become saddened. Many things seem to end in quite bad ways. The natural eyes saw the same in Jesus’s death. One of many cruel Roman executions, where the victim’s loved ones experienced what loved ones of deceased always experience, that their little part of the universe had come apart.
But where our natural eyes do not see anything else than darkness and death, where nothing “automatically good” comes and makes everything right, the eyes of faith however, see something more; something much more.
The truth that Jesus has defeated death by rising from it, is to us only accessible through faith. I.e. through trust in that, which was first revealed to Mary Magdalene and via her to the apostles, the first bishops of the Church, who together with a large group of people became eyewitnesses. Like St. Peter, whose own testimony we heard in our first reading from The Acts of the Apostles. We here tonight are connected to their testimonies of the miracle of miracles by a 2000 years long chain of trust.
Just because faith is our source of knowledge of Jesus’s resurrection, reason is not disconnected. Contrariwise, we can find arguments for assuming that the resurrection is more reasonable than the opposite, and use reason to what God intended it for, viz. to better understand God. In our gospel passage for today, we heard how the Apostle John reached the tomb first, but waited for Peter. The Irish Church father John Scotus saw in the empty tomb an image of God’s revelation in the Bible and the Church tradition. Peter represents faith, the trust in God, as our response to the revelation when we embrace it as true. John, on his side, represents reason, joining faith and assisting it in attaining a deeper understanding of what faith first enabled us to see.
The tomb is empty. The tomb in which a completely executed, a stone-dead, man was laid three days earlier. All ways to understand this without the resurrection are actually unreasonable. Let us look at the most common attempts.
In the first century, it was common to assert that the tomb had been looted. Our gospel depiction today directly polemicizes against this, as it points out the carefully order of the linen cloths that had covered the dead body in the tomb. Thieves seldom work like that. Besides, a looter would have taken the valuable linen cloths and left the corpse. Not the other way round! The theory that Jesus was only sham dead speaks against everything we know about Roman executions, above all that the soldiers themselves were executed if they allowed a condemned person to escape. A group of scared and unarmed fishermen would also never have been able to overpower the well armed Roman guard, if they now would have wanted to move the body. The most common prevarication today, claims that all eye witnesses were victims of a mass hallucination. This, however, is scientifically impossible. As an American, Agnostic psychologist once stated: that so many people, according to the historic sources, would have had the same hallucination, furthermore during a 40 days period of time, is less probable than someone rising from the dead!
In other words, we cannot escape the resurrection as the explanation to the empty tomb – with good, reasonable reasons supporting what is seen by the eyes of faith. And thus, we understand that this explanation, the resurrection of Jesus, is the sole assurance that the light really will win in the end, as a conclusion drawn in faith.
The eye witnesses meet the Lord, bodily risen but in a renewed form of matter, with other, extended properties than ours. Without body one cannot exist as human person. The human person is embodied spirit, and Jesus Christ is true human as well as true God. The body God has given us, with the vocation to express his plan, and not to do what we want, with it, will arise as a “spiritual body”, the Apostle Paul foretells. I.e. a physical body, but totally illuminated by the Holy Spirit, God’s love. No longer a delimiting screen, but an open story of whom the person is in full communion with God. In a dimension of reality not subject to the laws of our dimension, and previously totally unknown to us. But, with the resurrection of Christ, stretched into our time and space, now possible for us to attain knowledge about, and grow into share of. Above all through the seven sacraments of the Church.
In our second reading from the Letter to the Colossians, we heard that we already here and now are dead and risen with Christ. And exactly this happens at baptism, where we totally without merits are given a share in Christ’s death away from the anxiety-bringing death as the ultimate punishment for sin, as well as in his resurrection to the fulfilled life with God. With baptism as entrance ticket, we become fellow travellers on a life journey, through our response in faith, shown in deeds freed from the need to feed one’s ego and invent one’s own aims; thanks to “[t]his day … made by the Lord”, as expressed by our response to the psalm. A life journey fulfilled in our resurrection from the dead like Jesus Christ’s. Not as a freely flying spirit, a symbol or a memory. But as a whole person, with a glorious body, in a renewed matter that never again can be attacked by sickness or broken down by death, in a new existence, permeated by God’s presence.
Only if the central claim of the Christian faith is true – that Jesus Christ was bodily risen from the dead and promises us, through faith, a share in this new, eternal life, whatever happens to us here – only then, light cantriumph over darkness. Only then, the visible is not everything that is. Only then, death does not really tear anything apart. Only then, death and fear of death lack true power.
Do I trust the eye witnesses and do I embrace the profession of the Church as it has been from the very beginning, i.e. do I allow the eyes of faith, supported by reason, to determine my perception of the whole of reality? If I do, I understand my true task: to share the insights of Easter of what, or rather who, wins in the end, with everyone I can – and to live the rest of my life in that only, truly victorious light. Amen.