08 April 2012

Seek what is above. . .

Easter Sunday (2012)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Our Lord, Jesus Christ, is risen! His tomb stands empty! Three days after his trial and humiliation, three days after walking the Way of Sorrow, three days after his grisly execution on a Roman cross, and three days after a stone sealed his grave, our Lord, Jesus Christ, is risen. His tomb stands empty. This is the historical fact of the first Easter morning: where we should find a broken and decomposing body wrapped in a burial shroud, all we find is dust and cloth. Mark tells us that when Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James; and Salome arrive at the tomb to anoint their Master's body, they find the stone rolled away and sitting inside a young man clothed in a white robe. The women are amazed. The man says, “Do not be amazed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” John tells us that Simon Peter and another disciple run to the grave. They search the tomb, and seeing that Jesus is not there, they believe. And though they believe, “they [do] not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” The disciples, mourning the brutal death of their teacher, seek for him below, literally, in the ground. They believe, but they do not yet understand. Paul writes to the Colossians, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” We are raised with Christ, therefore, we must seek what is above. 

In the Garden, on the day of his execution, our Lord asks Judas and the temple guards, “Whom do you seek?” They answer, “Jesus the Nazorean.” Jesus says, “I AM.” In the same moment that he is betrayed by his friend, Christ reveals (again) that he is the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob; that he is the voice that spoke to Moses; that he is one with the Father and one with the Spirit; he reveals his nature, and in doing so, reveals his purpose: to die on the altar of the cross in sacrifice for the salvation of the world and to rise again into the heavenly tabernacle. If the history of our redemption had ended on Golgotha with the bloody execution of one man to save us all, ours today would a religion of human sacrifice. But our history does not end at the Place of the Skull. In fact, our history doesn't even begin there. The story of our redemption begins at the creatio ex nihilo, the creation of everything from nothing when God breathed His Word across the Void and all things came to be and were made good. The Word of our creation speaks through the Law and the prophets, revealing His will; he speaks through all the things of creation, revealing His design; and he speaks in the voice of one divine person, Jesus Christ, to reveal, finally and uniquely, His merciful love. Dying on the cross, the Christ utters his final sentence, “It is finished.” He is dead. The final sacrifice is complete. His work is done. Now, he is risen by the Spirit and our work in the Spirit has just begun. 

Where do we begin? On Good Friday, we heard Jesus ask his betrayer, “Whom do you seek?” At our vigil last night, we heard Isiah say, “Seek the Lord. . .call him while he is near.” We also heard the man inside tomb say to the women, “You seek Jesus, the crucified.” This morning, we heard Paul, writing to the Colossians, say, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above. . .Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” We begin the work of bringing to the world the saving Word of God by first seeking that which is above, seeking after the one from whom we receive our salvation. We begin by dying to sin, turning from disobedience and death, picking up the cross we've been given, and following Christ. We begin by setting our hearts and minds to trusting in God's promises to provide for us, to forgive us, and to always love us. We begin by believing that his tomb is empty so that we might come to understand that he is raised in glory to sit at the right hand of the Father, to understand that we too will be raised in glory to eat and drink at His eternal feast. When we seek what is above, our lives are directed toward, aligned with the divine will, the holy purpose encoded into the DNA of creation. When we seek what is above, we come to believe and understand that we were given life to propagate life—the life we now live and the life we hope to live with God forever. As seekers of what is above, we come to believe and understand that all of creation, all of God's creatures, reveal His presence among us, reveal His purpose to us, and direct us along the path to both righteousness and peace. Whom do you seek? Whom do you follow? Who are you here at this feast of the resurrection of the Lord? And who will you be when we lay you in your grave? 

Peter says, “You know what has happened. . .” He then recounts the life and death of Jesus. He ends by reminding the disciples that “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.” You know what has happened. Our Lord is risen. His tomb is empty. Through his resurrection we are made children of the Father and commissioned to preach to the people and testify that Jesus is the long-promised and long-awaited Christ. If we are preachers of his Word, then we are also prophets who bear witness to the guarantee that anyone who believes in him will be forgiven their sins, brought back to righteousness, and gifted with eternal life. To be the preachers and prophets of the Good News of the Father's mercy, we must always seek him who is above, seek him who is beyond, and keep all that we are focused on the holy purpose of our graced lives. In his Easter homily in Rome, our Holy Father, Benedict, said, “Jesus rises from the grave. Life is stronger than death. Good is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Truth is stronger than lies.” Make your lives a living witness to this fact: not even death itself can contain the glory and power of God!
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