Easter Sunday: Knowing With Our Hearts
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
April 22, 2019

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on Easter Sunday on April 21, 2019, at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. This homily is based on Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118; Colossians 3:1-4; and John 20:1-9.

Welcome, welcome! Welcome to our regular parishioners, welcome to those visiting from out of town, and welcome to those who don’t regularly attend Catholic Mass. We’re glad you’re here with us!

Easter is the holiest day of the year, the day of our greatest rejoicing. After being on a Lenten retreat for the past six weeks, we sing out our alleluias with renewed fervor. This is the day that the Lord has made!

But here’s the really strange part: today, of all days, Jesus does not appear in our gospel passage. Our story is about what the disciples did NOT see. In the darkness, they expect to find a corpse. Seeing that the stone had been rolled away, Mary Magdalene assumes Jesus’ body had been stolen. Peter is baffled to find a pile of fabric in the tomb. From the arrangement of the burial cloths, the beloved disciple discerns that something more is going on. John the Evangelist declares that none of them understand that Jesus has risen from the dead. 

Today, even more than any other day, when Jesus Christ does not appear in the gospel passage, we welcome you. We are reminded in an especially vivid way today, that the Body of Christ is present in our gathering, even if the person of Jesus of Nazareth is physically absent from today’s Scripture passage. WE are the Body of Christ. Your presence today makes us more fully the Body of Christ we profess to be. Let us take a moment to celebrate that we are gathered here because of God’s love and mercy.

In THE RAINMAKER, N. Richard Nash’s most famous play, Lizzie Currie is a strong and talented woman who faces a problem common to young adults everywhere – she’s about 30 years old, and she has not yet found true love. Lizzie’s world changes drastically when Starbuck, a brash-yet-charismatic dreamer comes to town for 24 hours. And on Easter Sunday, of all days, we can understand the profound difference 24 hours can make. 

Starbuck senses Lizzie’s discomfort. “You’re scared that nothin’ll ever come,” he says at one point. “You got no faith.” 

Lizzie retorts, “I got as much faith as anyone.” 

Starbuck responds indignantly: “You don’t even know what faith is. It’s believin’! Believin’ you see [light] when your eyes tell you [dark]! It’s knowin’ with your heart!” 

It seemed pretty dark to Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the beloved disciple on that first day of the week before the sun rose. Their friend and leader had been betrayed, sentenced, tortured, and murdered. What hope could they possibly have?  Unlike them, we know the whole story. In the darkness of night, Jesus had risen in a brilliant flash of light. As Jesus will proclaim in next week’s gospel passage, “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” I think our friend Starbuck would call that “believin’ with your heart.”

Within a few decades after that first Easter Sunday, as the faith spread across the Roman Empire and the eyewitnesses who had seen the resurrected Jesus died, Easter became a celebration of what could not be seen. [Pause.] Instead, it became a celebration of what could be believed. [Pause.] And when we get right down to it, the whole concept of “faith” is always about what we believe in our hearts rather than what we can see with our eyes. The great 2nd-century saint, Irenaeus of Lyons, taught that when God created the universe, God envisioned how all creation would eventually come to a magnificent end. At the completion of the Divine Plan, all would make sense, all would be more fantastic than any of us could ever imagine. Even though we cannot see it, God’s Divine Plan existed before God created anything else. And the name of God’s Divine Plan is … Christ! Where there is despair, Christ calls us to hope. When all we see is darkness, Christ urges us to see light.

We’ve been taught that Easter is the Feast of “the Resurrection of the Lord.” And indeed it is. But perhaps this name is too disconnected from our day-to-day world to register as the greatest reality of human existence. Perhaps we’d do better to call Easter something else, something that indicates God’s Divine Plan for each of us, something more concrete, more related to our day-to-day lives. Maybe we could call it the Feast of “Even though I’m not the greatest cook, I’m glad to spend the day with my family.” Or perhaps the Feast of “Even though I want to throw something at the TV whenever I listen to our politicians, I’m glad to be alive.” Or perhaps the Feast of “Even with all the famine and war in the world, there is hope for fellowship and peace.” Or perhaps the Feast of “The blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the lame will run free.” The darkness doesn’t always indicate an unending night – it can indicate the promise of a new day. A removed stone doesn’t always indicate the “breaking in” of a robber – it can indicate the “breaking out” of our bondage. A pile of discarded clothes doesn’t always indicate another load of laundry – it can indicate that someone has risen from the dead.

Easter celebrates that since the beginning, God has had a plan to redeem the whole of creation. Christ is that plan. But when our eyes tell us we’re seeing the darkness before dawn, when our eyes tell us we’re seeing boulders strewn across the landscape, when we find ourselves thrown into the discard pile with the graveclothes, it can be nearly impossible to believe we’re seeing the light, to believe we’re seeing God’s plan.  

And that’s why we come together to celebrate Eucharist. In our gathering, Christ is present. That means that God’s Divine Plan is present, too. When we renew our baptismal vows in a few minutes, we will affirm to God and to one another that we believe that there is reason in the midst of chaos, that there is light in the midst of darkness. And no matter how crazy our world becomes – amid burnt casseroles, politics, blindness, deafness, lameness, famine, and death – we will come forward to receive transformed bread and transformed wine, to taste the destiny God intends for each of us.