Easter Sunday is the last day of Fr. Joe Nassal’s Holy Week Retreat. Today features the homily Fr. Joe wrote for the Easter Mass.
April 12, 2020
The Gift of Hope
The great science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, wrote a fable many years ago that seems particularly appropriate this year as we celebrate Easter Sunday sheltering in place because of the coronavirus that as of Saturday afternoon has claimed more than 20,000 lives in the Unites States and more 100,000 worldwide.
The fable is about a time when because of the state of the world people were full of dread, teetering on the brink of despair, and hanging on by their fingertips to the slimmest of hope. Their future looked bleak until one day a young scientist comes into town hauling a strange looking contraption. He sets it up in the center of town and people gather around to look at it. The young scientist tells the crowd that it’s a time machine and if they would like, he would travel into the future on their behalf and see what has happened.
Some people think he’s crazy, a mad scientist. Others are ambivalent and still others are fearful—if what the young man says is true, do they really want to know the future? But the crowd tells him to go ahead and the young scientist climbs into the time machine and it shakes and rattles and rolls until it finally disappears.
A short time later, the scientist reappears, steps out of the time machine, and the people gather to receive what they believe will be bad news. But the scientist has a big smile on his face and he says, “Great news! In the future there is peace and justice, enough food and water for all, people live in cooperation and walk gently upon the earth.”
The people are stunned. They can’t believe their ears. Given the current state of affairs, this was not what they had expected to hear. But even though they don’t quite understand how this is possible, something begins to stir within them. They feel a spark, a fire, a desire they haven’t experienced in a long time. They want to help make this future happen. They want to participate in such a future that has been promised them.
Fifty years pass and while life is not perfect, the world is a much better place than it was before the pandemic. So, in preparation for the 50th anniversary of that young scientist and his time machine arriving in town, a reporter from the local newspaper went out to the edge of the city where the scientist, now an old man, sits on his porch, the time machine rusting in the garden by his house.
“Tell me about your journey,” she asks the scientist.
The old man smiles, “My dear, I didn’t go anywhere. I just gave the people hope.”
Empty Tomb: Eternal Time Machine
On Easter morning we celebrate a similar kind of story. This one isn’t a fable but a faith story. Though Jesus was a young rabbi and not a young scientist, he still attracted a lot of attention wherever he went. The main difference in the story is that in the end, Jesus did indeed go somewhere. After experiencing torture and execution, he was placed in a tomb and spent three days among the dead. But what we celebrate this Easter morning is how Jesus turned that tomb into an eternal time machine and gave the world hope.
The Easter story is a story of hope—how life conquers death, spring follows the longest, harshest, coldest winter, and those who are separated or distant or apart will be reunited again. Initially this hope is based on a missing body. As we hear this morning, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb “early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.” The gospel doesn’t report whether or not she went inside the tomb to check for the body of Jesus. She assumed someone has stolen the body and runs to tell Peter and the other disciples, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.”
Peter and John race to the tomb. John, being younger and in better shape arrives first. Remember, Peter has been munching on foot-long bold proclamations that didn’t pan out for most of his life. When Peter finally arrives, out of breath and gasping for air, he barges in “and saw the burial clothes there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.” One thing you can say about the Risen Christ: he was neat. He always made his bed and prepared the tomb for the next guest.
Peter and the others did not know what to make of this since “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” But by the time Peter stood up to tell the story that is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles—the first reading for Easter Sunday—he was a believer in the empty tomb as the eternal time machine. “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree,” he says. “This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”
Though he didn’t know it at the time, hope is born in Peter’s heart that Easter morning. It is a hope that invades his bones and pervades his soul. It is a hope that will never disappoint and gives him the courage to testify that the Risen Christ is the “judge of the living and the dead…that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Living inside Hope
The writer, Barbara Kingsolver, has noted, “The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is to live inside that hope.” On Easter Sunday, we hear how Peter, after stumbling, bumbling, and fumbling his way through much of the gospel, has finally figured out what he hoped for and he would spend the rest of his life living “inside that hope.”
On this Easter morning, we are once again encouraged to remember who we are and why we are people of life, not death. What do we hope for this Easter morning as we look out on the world from our windows, trying to stop the spread of Covid-19 by practicing social distancing and sheltering in place? We have seen small signs of hope as the curve flattens in some places. Certainly, individual stories of people and neighborhoods around the world standing at a safe distance each evening to sing or to applaud or to howl at the moon to thank those who are on the front lines, those heroes putting their own lives at risk in this pandemic as they try to help those who are afflicted, are signs of hope. This is what Easter hope does: it looks in the teeth of adversity and refuses to be swallowed by despair.
This morning we share that Easter story of hope as we look inside the tomb and like John, we see and believe. Like our churches this Easter Sunday morning, the tomb is empty but this eternal time machine provides us with a future full of hope. So, I invite us to live inside our hope by lighting our Easter candles and put them in our windows to tell all our neighbors and friends that we are people of life, not death! And we shall rise from this pandemic and once again gather around the table of Eucharist to share the body and blood of Christ. Live inside that hope, my friends. Light a candle for those who have died. Light a candle for those who have survived. Light a candle for all those who are helping others through this dark and difficult time. Light a candle to tell the world we are a resurrection people, an Easter people, a people of hope!
A Blessed and Happy Easter to all!