24 April 2011

Do not be afraid. . .Joy overwhelms!

Easter Sunday (A)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Joseph Church, Ponchatoula

You know what has happened all over North America, South and Central America; all over Europe and Russia; in China, Japan, and Australia; in Washington, London, Rome, and Tokyo; you know what has happened in all of creation: from our beloved ball of dirt and water, circling the sun to the edge of space-time itself; from massive stellar nurseries to the theoretical objects of our scientific imaginations. You know what has happened. Our Lord is risen! Alleluia! Our Lord is risen indeed! Betrayed, arrested, mobbed, mocked, whipped, and nailed to a cross as a criminal, he died, was buried, and on the third day, he rose from the tomb and appeared to two of his most loyal disciples, Mary Magdalene and Mary. “[F]earful yet overjoyed, [they] ran to announce [his resurrection] to the disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them.” Through their fear and in their joy, Mary Magdalene and Mary hear him say, “Do not be afraid.” Christ message to all of us, to all of creation, on this Easter Sunday morning is: do not be afraid. You know what has happened: our Lord is risen. He is risen indeed. We have nothing to fear.

On this Easter morning 2011, it seems that we have much to fear. We hear that men, women, and children are dying in wars in Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Government troops are killing protesters in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, and Egypt. Civil wars rage in half a dozen African nations. Earthquakes and tsunamis have devastated Japan. A severe drought lingers in central and western Europe. Closer to home, we are still struggling with the destruction of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the BP oil spill; wildfires burn across Texas; tornadoes in Missouri laid waste to whole neighbors and the St. Louis airport; unemployment continues to rise, and we are threatened with a national and international economic collapse. Set along side these natural and economic disasters are the man-made disasters of our cultural decline: abortion; the failing family; governmental assaults on marriage and child-rearing, personal achievement and responsibility; and our own battles within the Church to teach and preach the apostolic faith with a clear, authentic voice. We have much to fear. But the Lord is risen, and his message to us this morning is: do not be afraid! 

Mary Magdalene and Mary are afraid. An angel of the Lord visits them at their teacher's tomb. The angel appears like lightning. His garments are as white as snow. He rolls back the stone of the Lord's tomb and announces to the frightened sisters, “Do not be afraid! I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for he has been raised just as he said.” He tells them that Jesus is going to Galilee. “[F]earful yet overjoyed, [they run] to announce this to his disciples.” Fearful and overjoyed, they run to announce the resurrection of their Lord. They meet Jesus on the way, and he says, “Do not be afraid.” Unsaid, b/c it needs no saying, is our Easter theme: “Be overjoyed!” And once again Mary Magdalene and Mary serve as gospel examples for Christ's 21st century disciples. Mourning their teacher's brutal death, overwhelmed by fear and grief, the sisters approach his tomb only to find that his promise of his resurrection from the dead has been fulfilled. Strengthened by the angel's proclamation of the empty tomb and his admonition not to be afraid, the sisters run to announce spread the good news, and along the way, Christ finds them. Christ finds them as they run to do his work. He does no less for us, finding us along the way as we do the work of faithful disciples.

It seems that we have much to fear. Wars, natural disasters, economic collapse, rampant disease and social decline. And even if we tempted to fear, we do not have time to waste on the luxury of being afraid. Fear paralyzes us; it freezes our hearts, draining our spirits of the joy we need to do Christ's work. Fear confuses us; it clouds our reason, depriving our minds of the clarity we need to seek out and find God's wisdom. And fear deceives us; it lies and cheats and steals, obscuring God's truth; it offers nothing but ulcerous worry and desperation. We cannot afford the luxuries of despair, anxiety, or confusion. As the redeemed children of the Father and the adopted brother and sisters of the resurrected Lord, we cannot surrender the time, energy, talent, or treasure to feeding the fantasies of fear. We have too much to do. Too many have yet to hear God's promise of mercy to the repentant. Too many have yet to see the miracles of new life in Christ. Too many have yet to taste the food and drink from the altar of thanksgiving. Too many for too long have spent their lives in debilitating servitude to sin and death. Unafraid and overjoyed and in the name of the Risen Christ, we are charged with spreading the Good News that all of creation—from the smallest points of matter to the largest stellar clusters—all of creation—man, woman, and child—stands redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and his empty tomb. 

Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid of ridicule, or persecution, or death; do not be afraid of your failures, or your flaws. Joy overwhelms. Joy overcomes all obstacles, breaks all barriers. Set your minds on the sure knowledge that Christ's victory is complete. As one Body, the Church, with one heart and one mind, we proclaim with one voice that our Lord is risen from the dead as he promised! Death is defeated. You have died in Christ. A new life in him awaits. “When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.” With Mary Magdalene, Mary, John, with all the disciples then and now, set out to announce to the world that our Lord is risen, and that he waits for us all to join him. There is nothing to fear. The battle is won; the war is over. Victory goes to our King. From an empty tomb, victory has always and will always go with the Risen Christ!

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  1. Thank you, Father...

    "Easter is about life: life after sin and life after death." (From a wonderful homily I heard today.) Alleluia!

    I wish you a blessed Easter Day and Easter Season, KathY