Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Homily

(Cathedral Church of St Paul the Apostle, Springfield
Easter Vigil and Easter Morning)

Facebook makes some changes to its user interface, and the social networking world says, “Life as we know it will never be the same.” A couple of large countries unhook their own currencies from the U.S. dollar, and economists and pundits intone the same refrain, “Life as we know it will never be the same.”  The City of Springfield contemplates moving the passenger rail corridor from Third Street to Tenth Street, and what do we hear? “Life as we know it will never be the same.” As you can see, this figure of speech can have a wide range of meanings, from the trivial to the profound, from the planned to the accidental.

But what about “life as we know it”? Behind the hype and beyond the humor, what are the defining characteristics of human existence? Should we be afraid if life as we know it will never be the same, or should we be grateful if life as we know it will never be the same? There is certainly joy in human experience. There is beauty in human experience. There is laughter and there is love in human experience, as well as holiness and heroism and hope. At the same time, “life as we know it” is the venue for disease and disappointment, depression and despondency. Cancer and drunk driving and domestic violence exist in life as we know it. In life as we know it, children are abused by people they trust, terrorists blow themselves up inside crowded hotel lobbies, the clouds dry up and the crops fail and people go hungry, tornadoes plow through small towns, and the earth moves under the Pacific ocean, causing buildings to fall on people in Japan, and sending a tsunami that not only devastates the northeast coast of Japan, but the personal fortunes of commercial fishermen as far away as California and Oregon.

This is all what happens in life as we know it. So how do we balance the joy and the beauty and the love against the misery and ugliness and hatred? Can we assign some sort of relative point value? How many Mona Lisas or Beethoven symphonies or family reunions does it take to balance off … say, the Holocaust? I don’t really pretend to know, but it seems to me that one could make a case that Good and Evil play one another to a draw, that there is an essential parity between the two, that the positive things about being human will never be completely overshadowed by the negative. That may be true, but, I have to say, it’s cold comfort, because to say that Evil will never triumph over Good, that they have played each other to a stalemate, also means that Evil will always be with us, that disease and dysfunction will always be part of human experience, that suffering and death are permanent characteristics of the human condition.

It’s that last one, of course, that’s the clinker. Death is a trump card. Whatever beauty and joy there may be on the way, whatever love and kindness we may know en route, Death is waiting for us at the end of the journey—indeed, Death defines the end of the journey. This is surely the most enduring and most profound characteristic of life as we know it. It overshadows everything else.

And that’s why we have Easter. That’s why we’re here at this moment, doing what we’re doing. We are celebrating the ground, the basis, the essential foundation of all human hope, which is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead puts an end to “life as we know it.” Death is swallowed up in victory. Death no longer has the last word. Death no longer defines the end of the journey; it is transformed into the gateway of abundant and eternal life. Because of Easter, “life as we know it” will not only “never be the same,” it is no longer even recognizably itself. If we’re honest, we have to admit that’s a little bit of a scary thought. The landscape has changed; the old maps are no good anymore. Living on this side of the Resurrection, we face a future that is secure, but not entirely clear. We are citizens of a homeland we have never even seen. We get nervous without all the familiar landmarks, and wonder whether a misery that is known might be preferable to a bliss that is unknown.

The fact is, though, we can’t ever go back. Good and Evil have not played themselves to a stalemate; Evil has been defeated. Worse still—from the standpoint of Evil—God has not only defeated Evil, He has enslaved it. In my bolder moments, I am tempted to say that God has redeemed Evil. God has reordered suffering and death toward His own purpose of life and joy. We say in our prayers that the cross—on which the Son of God bore the full weight of human suffering—we say that the “way of the cross” is “none other than the way of life and peace.” We also say that God has transformed “an instrument of shameful death into “the means of life.” Do you see the implications here?—How far-reaching they are?  If the death of the only fully innocent human being who ever lived is transformed and redeemed by his resurrection, so are cancer and crime and wars and terrorist attacks. If the suffering of Good Friday is transformed and redeemed by the glory of Easter, so are poverty and divorce and racism and flat tires and bad hair days. Nothing escapes, nothing gets away. Everything is taken up into that victory.

The risen Christ, having put an end to life as we know it, now wants to introduce us to life as we have never known it, life as we have never imagined it. I can’t even describe it to you, because it’s “new every morning.” All I can say is that it’s a life of deep peace, even if there’s a great deal of turbulence on the surface. It’s a life grounded in unshakable love, even as it is lived in the midst of disappointment and betrayal. It is a life a profound wholeness, even as it is incarnate in the midst of extensive brokenness. It is a life of unquenchable hope in a sea of despair.

This life is ours. It is given to us in baptism. It is nourished over and over again in Holy Communion. It is imprinted on our souls through the concrete daily experiences of a life lived in faith. It is ample reason for unrestrained rejoicing. Therefore let us keep the feast. Alleluia and Amen. 

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