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Homily - Easter Sunday - Bishop McKeown

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Sunday, 17 April 2022


We have come through the challenges of Lent. Fasting, prayer and penance – dying to ourselves - are never easy, especially when our culture almost commands us to indulge ourselves. And then we had to come through the terrible stories of Good Friday and Holy Saturday. But now, in the middle of the apostles' despair and uncertainty, a new message bursts. Jesus has risen from the dead. Death and violence have not had the last say. There is something stronger than human certainty. Goodness is not in vain. What might that say to us this year?

Firstly, the Resurrection of Jesus overturned all the expectations of his contemporaries. It was unimaginable that someone should rise from the dead – even if he had foretold it. And its message is equally outrageous today. That is why many prefer to deny the Resurrection or explain it away or think that Jesus was just a nice person asking us all to be kind to each other and to the environment. But faith is not just a soothing idea, a belief that you have, a spiritual experience in our heads. The raising of Jesus' body challenges all our cosy assumptions. It says that our bodies are of eternal beauty and value. God has sanctified the earthly. Human life is not a product to be played with or sacrificed for someone else's comfort. The Resurrection breaks down our shallow wisdom and challenges our self-confidence that we are masters of the universe. Our human nature has a divine dimension that will not be ignored. Easter celebrations are a statement that God has burst into the world.

Secondly, when the apostles first head Jesus talk about Resurrection, they told him he was wrong. When St Paul talked about Resurrection of the body in Athens, people laughed at him. It is still unwelcome to those who say that salvation and hope come within our capacities. Jesus bursts those who would market the illusion of self-sufficiency. The Resurrection dares us to believe that we can dream of greatness here and hereafter, that self-sacrifice is not merely a stupid delusion and that we are always capable of a fresh start, no matter what mistakes we make.

In history, there were always courageous people who rebelled against religious intolerance. But now there is a new intolerant secular dogma that wants to populate the minds of us all. In a new narrative, Christianity is portrayed as an evil force that decent people want to remove from the public sphere. All sorts of agendas insist that faith is a conduit of culturally unacceptable teachings for modern people. Education is a particular area where intolerant secularising forces resent anybody else influencing young people except themselves and their ever-fluctuating ideas. In church circles, there are also voices which say it would be much more convenient if we attuned our beliefs to what public opinion likes.

But Christ's Resurrection breaks the blinkered worldview that says human wisdom knows better than divine foolishness. The proclamation of the Resurrection of Christ and of our bodies is not a call to narrow logic but to the leap of faith. It is an invitation to see our lives through divine eyes and not just be trapped in the limits of what we want to control. Resurrection is central to our faith for it calls for a decision to dare to believe. Being nice to people is no big deal. Believing that Jesus rose from the dead is a challenge. It is on that teaching that our faith stands or falls.

Thirdly, much of the new secularising dogma is obsessed with the body and its functions. It is nor surprising that an earthbound preoccupation with the body cannot see far beyond the end of its own nose. A me-centred culture insists that I am a little god who becomes divine and infallible in own self-contained universe. Young people find it hard to stand up for anything other than the pressure to behave like what are described as normal people. But we see the destructive results of that ultimately hopeless and meaningless vision of human life. We crave meaning. We have a desire to believe that our life is valuable and not just a joke. Our bodies are sacred and not merely toys to be played with. An obsession with the superficial and with what is fleeting leaves so many without a point of reference and they are easily exploited by all sorts of unscrupulous forces. They are confused by a threadbare ideology that exalts the body but seems to scorn the human dignity of those who inhabit those bodies.

Jesus and his Resurrection point us to a different way of seeing life and cherishing the body. There is one outside my body who gives meaning to my life and my body, whatever age I am and wherever my body has been. There is One who tells me what is good, true and beautiful, One who offers endless forgiveness and encouragement when I fail to cherish my divine dignity and destiny. Jesus in his death and Resurrection reveals the dignity of the human person and the greatness of spirit that we can be capable of. Christ's being raised from the cold tomb invites us all to be freed from dark place where self-indulgence and low expectations imprison us.

During Lent, we were asked to join Jesus in his prayer and fasting. During the last few days, he has asked us to watch with him and pray in his agony and suffering. But this Easter day, he tells us who died with him to rejoice because we can join with him in his Resurrection. This outrageous message of Easter is needed in our own sad days that are marked by fear and violence. We do not have to be crushed by the heavy stone of gloom that seems to be unmovable. We are not doomed to the dark of the tomb of meaninglessness forever.

This Easter, in the midst of all the darkness that surrounds many people, we shout out that we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song.

Jesus Christ is risen today, Alleluia.

+ Donal McKeown

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