Fr. Joe wasn’t able to make a video for Easter, but he shared a printed version of his homily.

Easter Sunday
April 4, 2021

You Can’t Bury Hope

Last year Easter Sunday was on April 12 and I wrote in my journal, the death toll from the coronavirus had surpassed 20,000 in the United States and 100,000 around the world. A year later, the death toll in the U.S. is more than 550,000; with almost three million worldwide. Last year, the churches were closed on Easter Sunday. At least this year, churches are welcoming a limited number of people to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

Certainly, after more than a year of living in this pandemic and seeing so many die it would be easy to keep hope buried; to keep the stone in front of the tomb. But as Pope Francis implored in his homily at the Easter Vigil two years ago, “Do not bury hope!” He called us “to rediscover in the Risen Christ the one who rolls back from our heart the heaviest of stones.” He quoted one of Emily Dickinson’s poems where she wrote, ““We never know how high we are/Till we are called to rise.”

One day soon we will all rise from this shelter in place, take off our masks, and be able to close the distance between us. But until it is safe to do so, what do the Easter Sunday Scriptures teach us so we do not bury hope again but rather rise to new heights of hope and holiness?

In gospel for Easter Sunday, Mary did not go to the tomb to look around. According to John, Mary came by herself to the tomb, not with the other women, but alone. The gospel doesn’t say whether she was bringing spices to anoint the body or simply to sit by the grave to pray, to remember, to grieve. Perhaps she brought flowers. But if she did, when she saw the stone removed for the tomb, she dropped the flowers in fear and ran for help.

Not that Peter would be much help. He was locked away, hiding in fear, and sulking in his guilt for running away as he grieved the death of his friend, mentor, and savior. Once upon a time, he had said it: “You are the Christ.” Jesus responded by giving Peter the nickname, “Rock.” But when Jesus needed him most, the Rock crumbled.

Now Mary, breathless, races into the room where they are hiding in fear and screams, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him!” They probably thought Mary was hysterical, delusional, out of her mind with grief. But she was so insistent, that they left their fear inside the upper room and ran to the tomb.

Free at Last

John was younger and faster than Peter. He had not spent the journey with Jesus as his friend Peter had—constantly putting his foot in his mouth. Chewing on one’s foot can slow one down. Peter was slow. Oh, he was quick once upon a time as when he proclaimed, “You are the Christ” and got rewarded with the keys to the kingdom. But this time, Peter’s feet were sore, blistered, and bitten. And he didn’t have a clue where he put the keys to the kingdom.

Why did John who arrived first at the tomb not go in? Out of respect for his elder friend, Peter? Or out of fear? No one knows what one may find roaming around inside an empty tomb. Of course, the tomb was not completely empty. John saw the burial cloths that he had helped to wrap Jesus’ bruised, tortured, and naked body in when they took him down from the cross.

He knew something was up but didn’t know what.

John, more than most, would have remembered. After all, he was there at the cross, holding on to Jesus’ mother for dear life. He promised his dying friend that he would take care of Mary. But what would his mother think now that the body of her beloved son is missing? He didn’t know what to think, but his wandering mind was distracted when Peter, huffing, puffing, limping, finally arrives at the tomb.

Right on cue and in character, Peter barges right in to look around. He sees the same thing John saw from the entrance to the grave. Peter did not know what to think either but when John followed him in, it all made sense now: “He saw and believed.”

Though they did not understand “that he had to rise from the dead,” John saw the circumstantial evidence and believed in his heart that Jesus was alive. The evidence was slim but John knew what Jesus had been buried in and these cloths were the ones. The Risen One was gone. He was free of the tomb. Free at last.

Sincerity and Truth

What did John see that stirred his belief? He saw the burial cloths and “the cloth that covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.” Was this what sparked John’s belief? Since he was there at the death of his friend, promising Jesus that he would take care of his Mom after he died, I wonder if John was the one who had covered his friend’s face with burial cloth after they took him down from the cross? He saw the burial cloth rolled up and neatly placed off to the side. This was Jesus’ way of telling his friend it was true. What he had been telling them about all those years—that he would suffer greatly and die but he would rise again. John didn’t know until that moment what his friend meant by that phrase, “rise again.” But now he did. Now he saw and believed.

A new day has dawned. Hope no longer is buried in a borrowed tomb. As Paul says in the second reading, “Let us celebrate the feast not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” The Easter Season offers us fifty days to nibble on the bread of sincerity and truth.

That’s the thing about bread, this Easter Bread: it never goes stale. No need to put it in the freezer to keep it fresh—that would only result in freezer burn. No, sincerity and truth are always fresh and taste like Grandma’s homemade bread. This isn’t store bought. This is baked in the oven of an empty tomb and rises like no bread ever did before. For this is the Bread of Life that fills the senses with the aromas of grace.

So, this becomes our Easter challenge: though there is more than enough evidence in our world to keep hope buried deep in the ground, God will not allow it. Spring has come! The flowers are blooming and life is bursting all over the place. Yes, there are problems and pains and violence and fear in the world. Yes, the obstacles of yesterday remain today. But we will not bury hope again! Hope is rising to new heights!

Are you ready to hope again? Are you ready to rise from the year-long pandemic with the promise of new life that never ends? Then, let’s get on with it! Let’s live with sincerity and truth! For we have seen and we believe: we will never bury hope again!