Easter Sunday Homily 2017

Easter Sunday                                                                                                                            April 16, 2017

In her book, “Seeing Anew” Martina Sheehan tells a personal story; and she writes:

On an Easter Sunday morning, I was sitting in the garden trying to journal something about resurrection or transformation.  I sat with pen and paper but nothing came to mind, no inspiration.  I thought of various images of transformation, but still no words came.  Disappointed, I was about to give up when suddenly a butterfly landed on my page!  I gasped as the little creature moved its wings as if to say, look, can you not see?  I sat for quite a long time, captured by a sense of wonder, looking and listening to the silence between us.  I just gazed at this butterfly and marveled at how it had once emerged and resurrected from the tomb if its chrysalis.

Filled with excitement that I imagined Mary must have experienced running from the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, I too wanted to run and tell someone about my butterfly.  I ran to tell someone, anyone…but unfortunately chose a wet blanket!  My excitement was met with, ‘Oh, that was probably an old winter moth; they are around everywhere this time of year, just looking for somewhere to die’!

And Sheehan concludes:

The critics within and without are always ready to kill the new, to recall the past, to haul it back up and create a backlash against the new deed.  The choice to see the world filled with new life and butterflies, or just old winter moths waiting to die, is a defining one….We see things not as they are, but as we are.  (19 and 27)

We see things not as they are, but as we are.

Our way of seeing life either expands or limits due to our perspective; those various lenses by which we view what is happening around us.

An optimist has a very different take on life compared to the pessimist.  One sees the glass half-full, the other half-empty.  As in the story, Sheehan sees a butterfly and life’s transformative nature.  The other sees nothing more than a winter moth looking for somewhere to die.

The way we choose to see expands or limits.  My sense is that, too often, we choose to limit life and so curb our enthusiasm and life’s possibility; at times ready to kill what is new because we find ourselves living in a past lost to us.

Thomas Merton said that we have this tendency to “Whittle down life to a manageable size”.  We empty life of its mystery to our own detriment.

In the Gospel, Mary of Magdala, Simon Peter and that Other Disciple who outruns Peter, each experience the tomb differently.  Initially, Mary suspects body snatchers.   Someone has taken the body of Jesus away; a loss that overwhelms her to the point of tears she continues to weep until Jesus calls her by name and her eyes open.

Simon Peter sees the burial cloths, yet nothing seems to register; still numb from his denial.  The Other Disciple, however, “sees and believes.”   They look into the same tomb, yet see differently.  Only one of them that first Easter Day and in that defining moment is able to see the transformative nature of such emptiness.  His belief has the clearness of vision to see what truly is happening. 

We see things not as they are, but as we are.

One Sunday morning and many years ago, I entered the church where I was stationed at the time to unlock the doors and get ready for the first mass.  At the time we were in the midst of a major building endeavor:  adding a more spacious narthex to the front of the church.  It had been wet and blustery during the night, and continued to rain as I made my way into the church.   It was then I discovered rivulets of water running down the walls as well as tiny waterfalls springing from small openings where tarps that had been blown off during the night once covered the new construction.  I felt this empty feeling in the pit of stomach like I was about to get sick.     All I saw was disaster.  I immediately phoned the architect—a parishioner—got him out of bed and told him that I wanted him at the church, and fast.  

As I looked on, overwhelmed, a woman next to me said, “Isn’t this wonderful!”  I looked at her and thought to myself, “Are you crazy, lady?”  She had noticed all these parishioners running to get pails to catch the water and others mopping it up.  She said, “This is church at its best; everybody pitching in to help!”   Like the Other Disciple that first Easter Day, this woman next to me “saw and believed”; whereas I saw only disaster and as the skies continued to empty from above.  I could see nothing good at the time.   Yet, I did learn from her and now see the hidden grace of that moment; the goodness   alive and present.  My vision had been myopic, tied only to the momentary.   She, however, was able to see beyond all that, connect the dots and perceive what was truly happening.

We see things not as they are, but as we are.

In his book,” Rumors of Another World” Philip Yancey writes how there are two ways of looking at the world.  One takes apart while the other seeks to connect and put together which, for Yancey, is the way of encounter; the vision of the gospel.  He goes on to say that we live in an age that excels at the first and falters at the latter. (p. 15)

Whenever we take a reductionist approach to life it limits our capacity to believe and so become blind to the sacred within life which leaves us in a state of confusion when it comes to life’s bigger questions: questions of meaning, of purpose and morality. (p.19)

Devoid of mystery, life becomes one-dimensional; empirical; flat.  Devoid of mystery we no longer connect the dots and so miss the meaning.

I’m reminded of a passage in James Martin’s book, “Jesus, a Pilgrimage” when he writes: 

Often we find ourselves incapable of believing that God might have new life in store for us.  “Nothing can change,” we say.  “There is no hope.”  This is when we end up mired in despair, which can sometimes be a reflection of pride.  That is, we think that we know better than God.  It is a way of saying, “God does not have the power to change the situation.”  What a dark and dangerous path is despair, far darker than death.  (p.415)

It is then we see nothing more than a winter moth looking for somewhere to die instead of the transformative nature that is the butterfly.  Often we become blind to the innate resilience inside us all. What the Resurrection of Jesus wants us to see and believe is that we are—all of us—connected to a vast Mystery that “goes on and ever on” as C.S. Lewis describes it in his “Chronicles of Narnia”.

Only then will we begin to see what truly is; to connect the dots and so find the courage to believe   in this age of unbelief.  And, what is seen is Christ:  the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End; the living face of love who holds it all together.

In an Easter homily, Thomas Merton writes: 

True encounter with Christ liberates something in us, a power we did know we had, a hope, a capacity for life, a resilience, an ability to bounce back when we thought we were completely defeated, a capacity to grow and change, a power of creative transformation….(p.188 in “Essential Writings”)

Anthony de Mello tells the story of a journalist who wants to write a book about a guru.  Therefore he   visits a guru and begins with the question,

“People say you are a genius.  Are you?”  “You might say so,” the guru answered none too modestly.  But the journalist—who was not particularly shy either—immediately fired another question, “And what makes one a genius?”  The guru responded, “The ability to see.”  With this response the journalist was at a loss and helplessly mumbled, “To see what?”  The guru quietly answered, “The butterfly in a caterpillar, the eagle in an egg, the saint in a selfish person.”  Whoever sees this is a genius, a genius in love.  He picks up what is hidden in the other and is able, through his loving way of looking, to call it forth.  (p .98 in “The God Who Won’t Let Go” by P. van Breemen)

It’s this way of seeing that is the vision of the gospel.  A way of seeing that comes to life in the disciple Jesus loved and as he enters the tomb; who is a genius in love and with a faith that connects the dots.   He sees beneath the apparent emptiness the hope and promise that is there and as he learns to trust;   seeing it with the eyes of faith.    To see in this way is to “practice resurrection”; seeing in a butterfly its transformative nature rather than a winter moth looking for   somewhere to die.

Let me end with words I came upon in Peter van Breemen’s book, “The God Who Won’t let Go”; words written in an Easter letter by Bishop Klaus Hemmerle of Aachen and just before his death:

I wish each of us Easter eyes, able to perceive in death, life; in guilt, forgiveness; in separation, unity; in wounds, glory; in the human, God; in God, the human. (p.98)

This is my wish for all of us this Easter Day!

Father Tim Clark, Pastor

Our Lady of the Lake Parish

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