EASTER SUNDAY - THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD
Acts 10:34a, 37-43 | Colossians 3:1-4 | John 20:1-9
Oh, God, who on this day, through your Only Begotten Son, have conquered death and unlocked for us the path to eternity, grant, we pray, that we who keep the solemnity of the Lord’s resurrection may, through the renewal brought by your Spirit, rise up in the light of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
THIS holy season, these last weeks of reflection on key images that we have in the scripture of who this God/man is and what he is doing for us and how he has changed our life, all of that has been going on throughout the world, and we’ve been all concentrating on it on some level, some seriously, some not so seriously. But I think it’s a time that we’ve all wondered about this whole thing called God, religion and spirituality.
For some reason, I always thought the goal of religion, the goal of my Catholic faith was to keep me from sinning, so I thought it was there to really increase my will and my discipline. So instead of doing the things that I wanted to do that were not according to rules the right thing, I would do them because I was told I must do them, and that was, in a way, a way of imagining my life as a way of saying, “God asked me to go against my nature in order to please him, and if I believe that by doing that I will gain favor with God, I will receive salvation.” So doing the right thing was always in my mind when I’m in that disposition I just described as the most important thing. Along with that is the sense of the image that I am the things that I do. So if I do something good, refrain from something I’d rather do but I do what I’m supposed to do, that makes me feel like I’m good. If I fail at what I was supposed to do and fall into a temptation and do what doesn’t feel like — well, that I think is wrong, then I think there’s something wrong with me, so then I’m no good. It’s all this focus on action, doing the right thing. If I do the right thing, I’m a good person. If I do the wrong thing, I’m a bad person. I’m so fascinated by the fact that there will be days when I really think of myself as a really good man, and then other days I think I’m the worst. It’s like, “Wait a minute. Which am I?” Is it just my opinion, or is there something essential about me that makes me good or bad?
I think if you look at the message of Jesus carefully, you’re going to realize that what he’s been saying all along to us is that there is something about us that is precious and good. It is our essence, and this essence is something that God created. It existed before we live in this world. We live in a body with it in this world. Then we move to another world, and all along that essence never changes. It’s the core of who we are, and one of the ways it’s described in St. Paul, in the second reading you just listened to, he’s talking about this core, essential goodness that we have. And he calls it God in us. Interesting. A reflection of God is in us. The beauty, the goodness of our soul, our essence is the presence of God, and it’s Christ who awakens us to this goodness. So he uses the phrase it’s, “With Jesus in God”, which means Jesus is the one that awakens us to this awareness of who we are. We talk about Jesus, and he says — Jesus says himself, “I would like to come into you, and if I come in and dwell inside of you, if you eat my body, drink my blood, then when I come into you — the Father is in me, so what I do, I bring God into you, goodness into you, an awareness of your reflection of the most powerful, loving, life-giving force.” It’s in all of us, and what a tragedy when we evaluate ourselves based on action.
Look at the way we treat each other when we say someone has done a horrible thing. Well, he’s a murderer. He’s a rapist. He’s a thief. But that’s that binary world that we fell into in the story of Adam and Eve when the devil convinced us that either things are all good or all bad based on how we act. The truth is there’s a goodness in us. There’s a weakness in us, and we sometimes go against our nature. When we go against our nature and realize we’re going against our nature, then we’re in what is called the truth. We are enlightened. The promise of salvation is that you and I have been given a power to see through evil’s intention. What is evil’s intention? To destroy that essence in each of us, to destroy it. It’s a kind of self-destruction that we get caught in, and it’s devastating. So when you think of salvation, what it is that this whole Easter mystery is focused on, it’s our being given a gift that frees us from that illusion causing us to destroy our essence.
Redemption, what is redemption? It’s a ransom that’s paid to free someone from something that enslaves them, from blindness. So we’re playing around with an image of an act on the part of Jesus, who is God, that pays a ransom so that you and I can be freed from a place of self-destruction. So what is it like to be freed from self-destruction? What does it feel like? Well, Peter talks about it when he says, “When you look at the whole notion of everything that Jesus has taught, it boils down to believing in something, and what you believe in is forgiveness.” Forgiveness. In some ways, what I’m about to describe seems so simple, but then that’s what Jesus said about his message. It was so simple that a child can understand it. If you make it complicated, then you have to figure it out. And if you work at figuring it out, you probably will figure it out, and what you will have is something less than the truth. So keep it simple. So there’s something about being freed from self-destruction that is about judgment and forgiveness. What is it Jesus has taught us? No more judgment, only forgiveness.
Let’s look at judgment for a moment, judgment. The word to judge means — the first meaning is to condemn something, but if you look at it further, it says that judgment is an opinion, an opinion that then is connected to authority. So we have the judge’s opinion, the opinion of the jury. What they’ve done is discerned what was going on, and to discern what is at stake and to make the most fair and just resolution of a conflict of some kind — are you guilty or not guilty? Are you no good, or are you redeemable? It’s interesting. So we’re told that we should not do that, yet we say God can do that. Well, if you don’t use the word condemn to describe judgment, then it makes much more sense that God is the only one with the authority to have an opinion that is absolutely truthful. He’s the only one that knows the truth. So God can judge, but we can’t. Why? We don’t know enough. We really don’t. And what do most of our judgments turn into? Condemnation. Someone does something to us. It chips away at our esteem, our self-worth, and our judgment is to condemn. And how do we condemn? Two ways. Like the earliest evolutionary levels of human beings, we go back to almost an animal part of our life. It’s reptilian brain, and when you’re attacked, you have two choices. You either fight, start with things like revenge, retaliation, or you flee. Shame. “I’m no good. You’ve overpowered me.” Think of that. Two things that, when we’re attacked, we tend to go to. I’ll get back at you, or I’ll go away and feel like I am nothing. Both are wrong.
So Jesus’ major issue is for us to understand what he did on the cross and what he’s asking us to do, but not just asking, he is empowering us to do it, because we’ve never had the power to do it before. And what do we call that? Forgiveness. Forgiveness. Can it be that simple? Instead of worrying about whether we fail or not, could it be as simple as whenever we’re experiencing someone failing at being who they should be, a person supporting us, loving us, building us up, when they do not do that, could the way that whole insanity stops is that people stop wanting revenge, stop counterattacking, stop running away, wallowing in self-guilt and shame? Those are the two things that God is trying to say that you and I have been enlightened and empowered to be able to do. Amazing how simple that seems to me right now. I have the choice whenever things are done to me to change the world. It’s not up to me to try to be the one that always does it right. Does that make sense? In other words, you don’t make the world right by you being the perfect person. It’s you countering the negativity in another person with forgiveness, because it then stops infecting. Evil stops infecting people with evil. Isn’t it interesting? Evil’s done to us, and what’s our response? “I’ll be even more evil to you, or I will be even more self-condemning.” Both are so dangerous and so wrong and so the opposite of what salvation has given us, the power not to fall into that trap.
So we look at the wonderful story in the gospel that I read about these people, and just listen to their conversation. It’s like, “Well, this good man came into the world, and then he got condemned and judged, and they told him that he was a blasphemer.” It was the official church condemning him and saying he was no good, and so of course they saw him as attacking the church, so they could do anything they wanted to him. They could just put him through an excruciating death, because that was their right, to keep him from attacking them. The fact that he didn’t — he didn’t return evil for that — he didn’t want to condemn them. He didn’t even want to get out of the situation he was in, because it was so important for him to show people the power of this one simple act of a non-judgmental forgiving act of love. It’s so interesting to forgive. It’s to give up, to give away something, and what it’s giving up is resentment, revenge, retaliation.
I want so much for my life to change in that direction. I want so much to have that response automatically. I sometimes do and sometimes don’t. Sometimes something can happen. I can project something into someone, and their opinion is everything to me. And then I’ll find that, if their opinion isn’t good, then I fall into the same trap. I’m probably, personality-wise, more likely to go off in the corner and wallow in shame, because I don’t like conflict. But I’ve watched people who are attacked at times, and to see their anger and to see them retaliate is terrifying. Both are what God has promised to free us from, those two natural reactions. There is a higher reaction, one that is more like a higher consciousness that we have. It keeps our eyes fixed on what is above. What we’re made for — our enlightened state. That state is our inheritance because of this marvelous act of redemption.
Father, our minds are often closed and not aware of what you have done for us, not even conscious of the gifts and abilities you have paid such a high price for. Bless us with this freedom from blindness and let us know your goodness and know the power that comes from believing in how you see us, how you forgive us, how you empower us to forgive one another. Let this Easter mystery, this great gift permeate the world and change it from a place of violence to a place of peace, and we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.