Easter Sunday
31 MARCH 2002
Scriptual Reference: Acts 10:34a, 37-38; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9

God Stomps So That We Won't Be Afraid

       Kids have a natural tendency to push their parents to the limit. This is true even for kids who grow up to be priests. My younger brother and I used to fight a lot, well, that is until he grew five inches taller than me. My mom had some pretty strong non-verbal cues that would indicate that we would be in big trouble if we did not stop our bickering. There was of course, the infamous scowl. But, we always knew that we were in big, big trouble if mom started to stomp. She would come at us in the house, stomping, when she really wanted to get our attention. And, she got it! It seemed like the wrath of God himself was descending upon us when mom stomped towards our room to stop our fighting or yelling.

       God has a tendency to stomp when He wants to get our attention, too. During this past week, we have heard about the suffering and death of Jesus from Matthew's gospel. Right after Jesus dies, scripture says, "the earth quaked (and) rocks were splitů" God was trying to indicate something important, and the Roman centurion and the other men keeping watch over Jesus remark, "Truly, this was the Son of God!" Today, God starts to stomp again by sending another earthquake to precede His angel. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, most likely the mother of Jesus, witness several other signs of God's power: this angel rolls back stone, a stone that had been tightly sealed. The angel sits upon the stone, an indication that the angel possessed authority to deliver an important message. The angel's appearance is like that of lightning, and his clothing was white like snow. So magnificent is this scene that the Roman guards pass out as if they were dead. God certainly is trying to get their attention, and ours too.

       There was an elderly man who had never flown on an airplane before. In his golden years, he desired to make a pilgrimage to Rome to see the Vatican, so he screwed up the courage to buy a plane ticket and make the trans-Atlantic flight. He noticed with some delight that in the row behind her were four bishops traveling together to a meeting in Rome. After the plane was flying over the Atlantic Ocean, he was looking out her window, and to his horror, one of the four jet engines actually fell off of the wing! The plane shook a little, and soon the captain spoke over the loudspeaker. He explained that they could get back safely to New York with only 3 engines. The gentleman was still panicky, however, and the flight attendant tried to calm him down by saying, "Don't be afraid, sir, surely we'll be safe with three engines on the plane because we have four bishops on the flight!" This did not allay the old man's fear, and he retorted, "I'd rather have four engines on the plane and three bishops on the flight!"

       The women in the gospel today must have been filled with great fear as well. They had witnessed the execution of Jesus, and they journeyed with him along the terrifying way of the Cross. The presence of the soldiers guarding the tomb no doubt brought some fear to the women. Finally, when the two Marys saw the angel fall out of the sky, their fear must have grown. That's probably why the first words from the angel are, "Do not be afraid!" The angel goes on to describe what had happened. Jesus had been raised from the dead just as he said. The angel then gives them a commission to go and to tell the disciples what had happened. They went away quickly from the tomb, overjoyed, but still fearful.

       I read a story in the news about a caretaker of an elderly woman who made a verbal agreement with her to split any lottery winnings from tickets that she would buy. The old woman won big: over 7.2 million dollars! Suddenly, the old lady was saying that they never had any such agreement. The judge said that witnesses for the caretaker, including a grocery delivery boy, were not credible. But the old lady's witnesses were not all that credible, either. The woman's son admitted he had originally lied and said he bought the winning ticket. The lack of credibility of any of the witnesses made it hard for the judge to decide, but in the end, she ruled for the old woman, saying that the caretaker failed to prove any partnership.

       Witness credibility comes into play in our gospel today. In the last part of the passage, Jesus meets the women who are on their way to see the other disciples. They recognized him immediately, and embraced his feet. Jesus himself offers the same message of the angel: do not be afraid, go tell my brothers to go to Galilee where they will see me. This is remarkable, for in Jewish cultures, women were not considered to be credible witnesses. They could not testify in the juridical proceedings of the day in Jewish courts. Yet, Jesus chooses to appear to them first, and then commissions them to tell others about his resurrection. Jesus shows us that in his Resurrection, he has turned the order of humanity upside down. The Resurrection defies reason; it shakes up the order of our lives. Jesus thus chooses women as the first heralds of the Good News to the disciples, despite their lack of credibility in the culture.

       You know, the Catholic Church has suffered a blow to its credibility lately with the bad press we have been getting. Certainly, these reports are welcome when they help us to protect children and avoid future incidents of abuse. But some believe that the scandals strip the Church of credibility. Yet, Catholics have not left the Church, much to the surprise of the media. It's not because we Catholics always have the best services, or the best music, or even the best sermons. But, we have something which gives the Catholic Church a credibility that can never be stripped away: we have the power of the Good News to shake up the world. So many people in the world live in fear, palpable, tangible fear like the fear of the women on Easter morning. So many people fear the unknown, they fear death, and they even fear love. But we as Catholic Christians proclaim the message of Jesus Christ to a fearful world: be not afraid. We believe that Jesus Christ died for us, because he loves us so much, and that God raised him from the dead. We believe that he gives himself to us, body and soul, in the Eucharistic bread and wine that we share. We believe that he gives himself to us in the love we share with one another. Through the Resurrection of Jesus, God is going to shake up and rock our sinful, needy world. And he will do it by using people like you and me, sinners and fools who nevertheless can spread the Good News. When we come here to be nourished and loved, we go out and stomping through the world, and shaking it upside down with God's love. Today we are here to celebrate the rising of Christ from the dead, Alleluia! May all of us leave here as joyful witnesses to the Good News. +

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