Kerygmatic Homily for Easter Sunday
Reading 1 ACTS 10:34A, 37-43
Peter proceeded to speak and said:
“You know what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem.
They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.
He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Reading 2 COL 3:1-4
Brothers and sisters: If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.
Gospel JOHN 20:1-9
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.
Kerygmatic Homily for Easter Sunday
Brothers and Sisters, this is the day of all days that we celebrate. Easter Sunday is the day that God triumphed over sin, death and darkness in order to bring peace and restore us back home to the Father. This is the day that Jesus Christ ratified that he truly is all that he said he was, and that what he alone could accomplish- the forgiveness of our sins- was done for us.
Wherever you are in your faith, I want you to know that you are welcome here today, but Christ wants more for you than a passing attachment to Church. Jesus wants His Church filled with not merely believers. He wants followers.
In the First Reading we find St Peter, an eye-witness to the events of Holy Week, powerfully proclaiming the Gospel in the face of intense persecution. He speaks in Acts 10 as an eye-witness, but also as one speaking to, and calling on, other eye-witnesses. “You know what has happened all over Judea.” In essence, Peter was saying Jesus’ words and deeds were not done behind closed doors. You were there. You heard what he said. You saw what he did. He didn’t do evil things, he didn’t say evil things, and yet, we put him to death as if he were an evil-doer!
Peter says something significant we need to pay attention to: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.” In the OT it says, “Cursed be anyone who hangs on a tree.” The jealous leaders were discrediting Jesus, trying to prove that He couldn’t be the Messiah because, look, he’s accursed! And yet, powerfully and ironically, this very notion is the hinge of the Gospel!
The prophet Isaiah would say 600 years before Jesus was crucified, “We thought of him as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted, but he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed.”
St Paul expresses this exact thought in Galatians 3 when he says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree”— that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.”
What do we make of this language? Why are Peter and Paul emphasizing the “hanging from a tree” image of the crucifixion? Why is this “the hinge of the Gospel”?
Brothers and sisters, I hope you can hear with fresh ears what the Apostle is saying. Peter is being a realist, which should appeal to us modern listeners. He’s saying: “Look. You all saw him. You all heard him. And we all witnessed his brutal murder. And I’m telling you, as sure as you’re standing here in front of me, I saw him raised from the dead. There’s hope for humanity.”
We fancy modern people, so scientific and rational, tend to think with Chronological Snobbery. We think all ancient people were idiots in their pre-scientific magical, mythical thinking. “Sure, Jesus is magic. Sure, he rose from the dead. Sure, buddy. Whatever.”
But of all generations, these ancient people knew one thing far more clearly than we do. Death.
Death was all around them all the time. There were no hospitals, no NICU, no advanced surgery centers, no MRIs or CAT Scans, no Memorial Hermann Cancer Treatment Centers. Infant mortality was sky high and a mere infection from a cut easily became fatal for an adult. They knew death when they saw it. And they saw the Romans, the most efficient killers in history, brutally and exactingly murder Jesus in front of a screaming, crying, insulting crowd. They knew he was dead, hung from tree for all to see that he was crushed, cursed and gone.
But Isaiah reveals to us centuries before the Crucifixion happening that this “crushing” was the point. Jesus was crushed for our sins by the instruments of Roman torture so that our sins would be crushed as well. That’s why Peter said, “To him all the prophets bear witness.”
Every single religion knew one thing about God, the gods, the deity, the Spirit of the Universe… he was Holy. Every religion has purification rites and sacrificial rituals to appease the deity just enough to let us enter his/her/its presence. We must be good enough, pure and holy enough to win the deity’s favor.
But the God of the Bible reveals to us that these rituals and animal sacrifices are not enough because they don’t alter the heart. Sin is a heart problem. It is sin, not socio-economic status, gender, or anything else we fallen humans cook up, that separates us from God. St Paul says what we all know to be true, “All have fallen short of the glory of God.” So the question remains, “How do we get that holiness back so we can enter God’s presence?” The answer is Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. He’s fully and truly the God of the Universe. He doesn’t just have God’s glory or holiness, he is God’s glory and holiness. “He is the image of the invisible God” and in taking on our human nature He was able to overthrow sin, death and the devil by taking the guilt of us all upon himself. Jesus laid down his life for us to receive our curse upon himself, to take the abyss of sin, death and darkness and in dying, destroy their power over us forever.
That is why the 2nd Reading says, “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” He took your misery into himself and was swallowed up by the grave. But, on THIS DAY, Jesus Christ conquered the grave. Your life is hidden with Christ now because Christ was publicly hung from a tree then. He took the punishment. He paid the ransom. He redeemed us, buying us back from despair, sin, death and darkness so that He may be our righteousness.
Mary Magdalene went to the tomb that Sunday not because she was expecting a risen savior, but because she was expecting a dead body. Those people knew oppression and death and they knew no one comes back from the dead. They all thought that Jesus’ enemies stole his body. Peter, the first Pope, and the Apostle John, had no understanding as to what just occurred. They had no idea that the Man who was cursed and brutally hung from a tree just conquered death itself.
Maybe this is true for you. Maybe you have been coming to Church for years, or maybe this is your first time back in years, and there is something external, lifeless, or empty about Church. You come here and wonder why you leave the same way that you enter. Maybe you are sitting in the pews today expecting to experience lifelessness. The same memorized Mass responses, the same rituals, wash, rinse repeat.
The problem is that for many Catholics we were never really taught how to pray, but only how to repeat. We recite the rituals and say the Mass, but don’t know how to pray the Mass, how to make the ritual prayers of the Church become life-giving and not life-draining. The reality is many of us do not have what the Bible calls a “living faith.” We have the capacity to believe put into us by our infant baptisms, but it lays there, unused and dormant. It’s a dead faith. The body, as it were, is still in the tomb. For many of you, your faith is locked on Holy Saturday and has not reached Easter Sunday.
I’m here to tell you that Jesus Christ does not want this to continue any longer. He wants the dead to rise, especially when it comes to your faith. He wants you to grow in holiness, but in order to do that, your faith absolutely must come alive. What does it mean to have a living faith?
Right now, before you come forward for the Eucharist, you need to surrender your heart and life to Jesus Christ. What this means is that you make a lifelong commitment to following Jesus and his Church. This commitment is one of “total adherence” to the person of Jesus. Mass is boring because we don’t have a living faith in God our Savior. We’ve reduced him to some pleasant stories and some old rituals we say together out loud. God desires more. He desires you, all of you, the whole you.
Total adherence means just that. You give Jesus first and foremost your sins, especially those sins that have shaped your character the most. We call them “idols” in Scripture. Idols are the false gods that we worship and sacrifice to instead of to God. Idols are good things- like money, career, beauty, pleasure, family, marriage, autonomy- that are made THE MAIN THING and thus ruin everything. Cast down your idols to the foot of the Cross of Christ. They are robbing you of resurrection. They are imprisoning you in the tomb. This part of the “total adherence” to Christ is called repentance.
Some may object here, thinking that repentance is old fashioned or too negative, and doesn’t square with the God of love we fancy Moderns celebrate. This is false. It is only when we know that God is indeed love that we have sure footing to repent. It is only when we know we can trust God from top to bottom that we can be moved to confess our sins to Him. Why? Because we know that He will forgive us, have mercy on us, and never, ever use it against us.
So there is no reason to hold back today. Give your heart to Christ today, on this Easter Sunday, the Day of Days, the Day Jesus triumphed over sin, death and darkness in the world, but especially over the sin, death and darkness in your heart and in mine.
Mary Magdalen went to the tomb expecting lifelessness. You came to Mass today perhaps expecting the same thing. But the promise of the reality of Easter transcends our human expectations. St Paul in that short Second Reading says it best, “If you were raised with Christ…” You cannot be raised with Christ without a living faith in Him as your Lord and God, your King, your Savior.
So on this great day of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ are you willing to give up what you cannot keep in order to gain what you will never lose?
We close with the words of St Peter in the First Reading… “everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Come, Lord Jesus.