Easter Sunday Homily 2012
What happens after you die? Well, your body decays in the ground, and … what happens to … you? Are you anything more than your body? Is there anything, like a “soul,” that survives the death of your body?
We Christians, and those who live in Christian cultures, take it for granted that when we die, we don’t really die. We can’t imagine dying without some form of life after death—we say grandma became an angel or something that still moves. “Somehow I’ll be OK after I die,” we think. “All will be well in the end; Death can’t really be the end.”
But people didn’t always think like this. We assume there is life after death thanks to one historical event: the resurrection of the Jewish rabbi Jesus Christ around the year 33 AD in the city of Jerusalem. The people of that time—even the Jews themselves—all had different ideas about what happened after death. Some thought it was simply the end—the annihilation of existence. Others thought that people went to a kind of dark, sad, lonely pit called Sheol or Hades. Others thought that we returned to earth in the body of another person—reincarnation. But certainly, certainly, no one thought anyone could rise from the dead, to live forever as the same person. No one had ever done anything like that—to return to life, laughing at his own tomb, simply striding out the door of his mausoleum leaving his burial cloths behind. “I won’t need these anymore!”
That’s why everyone in the Gospels who sees the empty tomb of Jesus, or meets him after his resurrection, is absolutely confused, terrified, speechless. It’s never happened before, and no one ever expected what actually happened. What we call “Resurrection” was entirely new, and it would transform the human race. Mary Magdalene was bewildered and frightened to find the grave hanging wide open on Sunday morning. Did grave robbers get into it? She ran to get Peter, and breathlessly explained the situation, and then Peter and John themselves ran at top speed. We know this because John, the young man, outdistanced Peter. They went in and found the burial clothes neatly folded—no grave robber job here. They simply did not know what to think: “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” He is alive, he is not some kind of monster resuscitated like Frankenstein, and he will meet you in a few days back home. All is well, and all manner of things will be well.
Just a Myth?
It slowly dawned on humanity, in the decades after Christ’s resurrection that year, that God had destroyed the power of death by His death. Christianity began to spread across the globe, and to thoroughly transform humanity. People began to actually lose their fear of death. The growing emptiness of the decaying Roman Empire, growing more irrational and barbaric as it lost faith even in its traditional gods, was filled by the new vitality of Christians. They had nothing to fear, and nothing to lose. They had lost everything on that Friday afternoon in Jerusalem, and gained infinitely more back when Christ rose on Sunday morning. They lived their lives as if already dead, and already resurrected. They were citizens of a greater kingdom.
Is Christianity all just a myth? Did anyone really rise from the dead, or is this just desperately wishful thinking? Jesus Christ is not a myth. His resurrection has transformed the human race. You are witnesses to his death and resurrection. You who are at Mass this morning, just by being here, testify to this faith in a faithless world. Jesus Christ, and the Church he founded, are mocked daily in our culture. Persecutions are coming. I can see them on the horizon. But we have nothing to lose, because we have died with Him, and risen with him, and live in Him. Happy Easter!