Easter Morning Mass, Year C
Peace be with you on this, our celebration of The Mass for Easter Morning and on behalf of Good Shepherd Catholic Church, I’d like to wish all of you a Happy and Holy Easter. In my short time as a Permanent Deacon this particular holy weekend has become an even more rewarding spiritual experience because this is the time we welcome our newest adult Catholics into full Communion with our Church family. Last night at the Easter Vigil Mass I assisted Father as he baptized one adult woman and then confirmed her and four others. And then all five received Eucharist for the first time in their lives. There is something especially spiritual about handing the cup to an adult in our current culture and watching her cry as I said, “the Blood of Christ.” An old door closed for those five women last night and a completely new one opened – opened to graces and Sacramental gifts many of us “cradle Catholics” sometimes take for granted. Their excitement in receiving those spiritual gifts for the very first time should really touch and thrill all of us. In fact, I often tell “old time Catholics” who feel their faith lives are becoming a little stale, to consider joining the RCIA Team for at least one season and maybe even consider sponsoring one of the candidates. The experience can be totally spiritually invigorating.
So, here we are this morning, celebrating the Easter Mass. The Mass where we formally step from the Lenten Season into the Easter Season, where we move from the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus to his Resurrection. The image of the crucified Jesus was taken down from above our altar and replaced with the image of the resurrected Jesus.
I’m not sure how many of you were here at our Stations of the Cross service Good Friday afternoon? As I moved around the Church from Station to Station myself however, from Jesus’ trial to his burial, I looked up at an empty Cross hanging above the altar, representing a physically absent Jesus lying in the tomb. And I was struck by an awesome feeling of God’s great love for what must be his greatest creation made in his own image and likeness,,,, humanity,,,, us.
I’m thankful that when we take down the image of the crucified Jesus here at Good Shepherd we don’t put it away in a closest somewhere until next Lent however, we display it prominently in the narthex, that common meeting space we pass through, before we enter the sacred space of this sanctuary. There can be no greater image that better describes that most quoted and translated verse in the entire Bible, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son,” than that image of Jesus Christ Crucified. And if a crucified Jesus expresses God’s great love for humanity, what can we say this image of a risen Jesus expresses? My friends, this image of a resurrected Jesus Christ tells us clearly, physical death is not the end and it anticipates an eternity beyond description. Because of his great love for us demonstrated in the crucifixion, the resurrection prefigures God’s plan and promise for us all – in eternity.
In context of the Prologue from John’s Great Gospel these two images of the crucified Jesus and the resurrected Jesus can be said to encompass the entire Biblical message from Genesis to Revelation. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, validates both God’s love and God’s plan for us all in eternity.
As we gaze at this image of a resurrected Jesus above the altar and think about the image of the crucified Jesus out in the narthex and realize what they represent in reality, we should discern three important supernatural facts. First, this world is not it; it is not all there is. The most frightening feature of a purely physical and secular world is death. Everything comes into being and then everything ends. Whether we’re talking about a mountain, an entire universe, or a single person; in a purely physical sense, everything comes to an end. Jesus’ resurrection proves that God has planned something much greater than we can ever imagine however. Death is not the final reality. In fact, we can almost think of our physical lives and physical deaths as time in the womb before our rebirth into the eternal presence of God.
The second supernatural fact we should all glean from Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection is this; those who rule or exercise power through fear of violence, pain, and death should know their day is done. The martyrs down through history are proof of this. Those very first Christians who embraced the Gospel message preached by the Apostles knew Caesar’s real power over them had ended. Many bravely died in the name of Jesus Christ because they knew Paradise awaited them forever and ever.
And finally we must all know with confidence, Jesus opened the path of salvation to everyone. As we gaze upon the image of the crucified Jesus, know that he went all of the way down into the lowest human condition possible. He not only suffered physical pain by his passion and crucifixion, he suffered psychological pain when he was abandoned, betrayed, and denied, and as he cried, “God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” he must have even felt spiritual pain. Remember this however, the one who hung upon that terrible cross was not just a man; he was God as well. Therefore, God, as only God can, has taken upon himself all of the pain and sin that bedevils the human condition: physical, psychological, and spiritual. God, as only God can, goes into the darkest places that we inhabit. This means that sin, pain, and death do not have the final word! This means that sin and death have been enveloped into the divine mercy of God. And this implies, finally, that sin has been dealt with. Once we understand and accept that God’s love is more powerful than sin and suffering, we have lost, at least in principle, the motivation to sin.
So, as we go out today look up at the risen Jesus image and know that it represents God’s plan and God’s promise for us all and as we pass out into the narthex turn and look at the crucified Jesus image and know it represents God’s love for us all and that defines the reason for God’s divine plan.
Again, have a Happy and Holy Easter from all of us here at Good Shepherd.