Homily for the Solemn Mass of the Sunday of the Resurrection
ST MARY’S BASILICA, SYDNEY, 17 APRIL 2022
Simon Peter and John come running to the tomb (Jn 20:1-9). In Eugène Burnand’s impressionist painting of the incident (1898, Musée d’Orsay, Paris), it is a glorious dawn and Peter is staring ahead, hand-on-heart, finger pointing forward, face confused like a rabbit in headlights. John has his hands together in prayer, his hair flying in the wind, his face full of religious fervour. As the Gospel tells us, the younger guy outpaces the older but defers to him on entry. When heady and impulsive Peter enters the empty tomb, he emerges wondering what on earth has happened. When hearty and idealistic John goes in, “he saw and believed”—saw the emptiness and believed the resurrection. When people come to church—and I’m not sure how many of you actually ran to get here first today—they come with their own temperaments and motives. But on a day like Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, All Souls Day or even Easter, they mostly do so, not out of sentimentality or habit as they might at Christmas, but rather because the feast and ritual speaks to some challenge in their lives.
We’ve had plenty of challenges lately, and there are striking parallels with the story of Jesus’ last days. Rome was an imperial power occupying the Holy Land at that time and its officials were willing to use military force and spill innocent blood to attain their objectives: the Russian invasion of Ukraine has many similarities. Jesus’ disciples fled the violence and went into hiding for fear of their lives, and Jesus himself was imprisoned and isolated, and this resonates with the experience of Ukrainian refugees, flood evacuees, those isolated by COVID, and those neglected in aged care facilities. There are echoes in our legal system and in other parts of our community of failures of justice as there were in Jesus’ time. Jesus’ agony in the Garden and cries from the cross resemble the depression and anxiety of many today. And the ‘weather events’ of eclipse and earthquake as Jesus died remind us of our seemingly endless series of natural disasters—bushfires, floods, mice and pandemic—that highlight nature’s power and our vulnerability. In other words, the Holy Week story is our story!
Is there light at the end of the tunnel, or just another dark tunnel? Two thousand years ago, Mary Magdalene, Peter and John were wondering the same thing as they took it in turns to look into the tomb of Christ. Their hero, who they thought would liberate Israel and help every suffering soul, had been hailed one moment and damned the next. With his horrible execution the movement had seemingly come to an end. His nearest had deserted and his dearest were desolate. Come this Easter morning they were numb with grief and disoriented.
How do we respond to our own challenges? Our culture says suffering must be avoided at all costs, fixed quick by negotiation, regulation, money, technology, therapy, drugs, whatever it takes. When there’s no fix, those who suffer are put out of sight and out of mind. And our state of New South Wales is poised on the verge of legalising the killing of some people judged better off dead.
Easter proposes a different way of seeing things. We know that the way we undergo hard things can either ennoble us or demean us. We’ve seen in Judas and Peter how a moral lapse can end in self-destruction or in renewal. The mettle of all the apostles and holy women was tested in fact, and they came through it by the end of Eastertide on fire with God’s Spirit. In Holy Week the calibre of the civil and religious authorities of Jesus’ day was likewise examined, and in some cases found wanting…
We saw on Holy Thursday Night that Jesus is God-with-us: how He suffered all we do, not to trivialise suffering but to accompany us through it, and so made us a Church of fellow travellers who care and will administer the medicine of word and sacraments.
We saw on Good Friday that Jesus is not just God-with-us but God-for-us, given completely so we might live: He doesn’t just sympathise with our fears and sufferings but redeems them, bringing new possibilities and purpose, the ‘post-flood reconstruction’ for those renewed by Baptism.
And we see on this Easter day that Jesus is not just God-with-us and God-for-us but God-in-us, transforming our fears and suffering by divine grace into love. Jesus himself demonstrated that fear and suffering can be transfigured, as He was turned to pure light at Easter by the love with which He had endured the darkness the day before.
Indeed, to love is, among other things, to learn how to suffer well. Our word passion, which we use to describe the ardour of love, is the same word we use for the suffering of Christ and the martyrs. The passion of loving means learning to be with others, for others, in others, to see the tough times as opportunities to demonstrate faith in sympathetic accompaniment, to offer hope in renewing redemption, and to persevere in a love that transforms and glorifies. “If you love until it hurts,” Mother Teresa once said, “there can be no more hurt, only more love.” Or as the Apostle of Love, John, put it: “perfect love casts out fear” (1Jn 4:18).
Christ loved us when it hurt Him very much. He died praying: God, I thirst for them; Father, forgive them; Mother, care for them; Friend, join Me in Paradise; Into your hands, all of you, I command My spirit. Easter is God loving us till the end.
Many misunderstood Him. His followers can expect no better. Some misunderstand our views of fear and faith, suffering and redemption, dismissing them as hopelessly naïve or even sado-masochistic. Our goal, of course, is to relieve suffering in every morally and practically available way, which is why the Church is the biggest palliative care provider in the country, and the oldest and largest provider of healthcare in the world. Yet some would seek to exclude such experienced voices from the public square, especially from debates over euthanasia and the like. Some would even seek to conscript us to act against our Christian conscience: lawmakers are talking about forcing Catholic hospitals, aged care facilities and health professionals to be complicit in euthanasia, in solving suffering by killing sufferers.
If Holy Week teaches us anything it is that when misunderstood and pressured like this, we must reconsecrate ourselves to the truth, stick to our principles, and explain ourselves honestly, patiently, compassionately. In the face of fright, Easter gives us new heart for fight rather than flight, especially for the spiritual combat, the internal warfare of character, so we cultivate virtue in our souls.
The dying Christ was ready for resurrection because of the way He suffered, with courage and love, not bitterness or recrimination. The light that was Christ was ready to be relit because of the way He had used it to lighten people’s fears with hope and enlighten hearts with faith and love. Death could not be a full-stop for Him but only a colon, a break before the Word was made Resurrected flesh and the love-song of God was sung again. Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen! Alleluia!
Introduction to the Solemn Mass of the Sunday of the Resurrection
People of Sydney and beyond, I bring you a message of great joy, the message of Alleluia. Χριστὸς ἀνέστη – Ἀληθῶς ἀνέστη! Christus resurrexit – Resurrexit vere! Christ is Risen – Truly, He is Risen!
Welcome to St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney for the Solemn Mass of Easter Sunday. It is a joy to have a full basilica of God’s holy people after having been closed for Easter 2020 and severely limited in numbers for Easter 2021 due to COVID-safety measures. We give thanks that things are so much better now, even as we continue to pray for an end to this pandemic, to an end to the war in Ukraine, to an end to natural disasters here at home, and for relief for the victims of pandemic, war and floods.
In preparation for the renewal of our Baptismal promises and to receive the plenary indulgence granted by the Pope under the usual conditions to all who devoutly assist at this Mass, let us repent of our sins.
Word of Thanks after Communion
Dear friends: before our final blessing may I thank you all for joining me for this solemn celebration of the Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord at St Mary’s Cathedral. It has been a truly beautiful Mass, and the climax of a holy week of extraordinary liturgies and devotions. For that I want to thank the Cathedral Dean Fr Don Richardson with the cathedral clergy, the Precinct Manager Helen Morassut and Cathedral House staff, the Sacristan Mr Chris Backhouse, our Master of Ceremonies Fr Lewi Barakat, our deacons and seminarians, and our team of cathedral staff, readers, ushers, bell-ringers, acolytes and ministers. They’ve worked hard all Holy Week, prepared this cathedral church, rehearsed and then assisted at this Mass and many other ceremonies: I am hugely grateful.
The news of Christ’s rising from the dead is hope for every troubled heart and so must be shouted from the rooftops and sung as an Alleluia chorus. For this we thank the Director of Music Mr Thomas Wilson, the Assistant Director Simon Nieminski, our musicians, lay clerks and choristers: they have done splendidly yet again this year.
Finally, on behalf of the Dean, clergy and staff of the cathedral, and my own behalf, a very Happy Easter to you and to all your loved ones. May God bless you abundantly in this holiest of seasons.