The readings for today’s Mass for Easter Sunday, which focus on the Resurrection of the Lord, were the inspiration for this homily given by Father Robert McTeigue, SJ, a homilist par excellence who teaches Philosophy at Ave Maria University and preaches almost every day to the students and parishioners of Ave Maria, and who asks for your prayers as he completes his forthcoming book, I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel, which will include a sampling of his homilies and some essays on preaching. We invite comments below.
Would you mind if I asked you a question? It is a question with an obvious answer, but I want us to find a not-so-obvious answer. Are you ready? The question is this: How do you know when it is time to celebrate Easter? The obvious answer would be, “That’s easy Father—just look at a calendar.” A more sophisticated answer might be, “I think it’s got something to do with the full moon and the spring equinox.” Now, that’s ok, but that’s not quite what I’m looking for.
When I was a very little boy, the clue that it was time to celebrate Easter was the arrival of my father’s Aunt Florence. She would give us each a purple box. Inside the purple box were jelly beans and chocolate. Now, you might think, “Ok, Father, in a child’s mind, you associated colorful treats with Easter.” No, not quite. Even as a small child, I was conflicted about the arrival of the treats and the onset of the Easter celebration. The chocolate Aunt Florence gave us was not in the shape of a bunny, but in the shape of a crucifix. Now do you understand why my very little self was so conflicted? I very much wanted the sweetness of the chocolate, but I was a bit squeamish about getting it in the shape of a crucifix. Nonetheless, year after year, I knew it was time to celebrate Easter when Aunt Florence arrived with her sweet but awkward gift. That brings us to the first clue about when it is time to celebrate Easter: The joy of Easter can only be found by starting with the Cross of Christ.
I began by asking the question, “How do we know when it is time to celebrate Easter?” Let me rephrase the question slightly. What if I asked you, “What kind of time is the time of the celebration of Easter?” Could we simply look for Easter time on a calendar? Is Easter like that? No. That would make the Resurrection of Jesus a distant and completed historical fact, the kind of distant historical fact that even while remembered does not touch us or change us. If the Resurrection of Jesus does not touch us and change us, then the celebration of Easter is mere nostalgia, and the Risen Christ has no more power or glory than the Easter bunny.
So, I ask again, how do we know when it is time to celebrate Easter? We might acknowledge Easter if we accept the testimony of witnesses like Peter, John and Mary Magdalene. But I think it must be true that it is time for Easter to be celebrated when I can say that I have met the Risen Christ, Who is alive and at work in me, changing me from death to life.
I may be said to celebrate Easter, rightly and truthfully when I can see and feel and show that the Risen Christ is driving the death of sin out of me and He is filling me, making me alive with His new, glorified life. What do I mean by that? What I have in mind comes from what we just heard of Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Saint Paul wrote, “Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough…” In other words, the yeast of sin corrupted the whole loaf. The old yeast of “malice and wickedness” spoiled all of creation.
Saint Paul wants us to be sure that there must be no room for sin in our lives. He writes, “Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough…For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, 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.”
What do Saint Paul’s words tell us today? They tell us that to celebrate the feast, to celebrate rightly the time of Easter, we must say “Yes” to Christ with sincerity, that is, with our whole heart, and in truth, that is, with our whole mind. What might that look like in practice? I know that is time to celebrate Easter when I see that the Risen Christ is alive and at work in me. I know that He is at work in me when my heart rejects the idols and addictions of this world. I know that the Risen Christ is alive and at work in me when my mind rejects Satan’s lies that I am a spiritual orphan and that I am defined by my sin. I know that the Risen Christ is at work in me when I am sure that the greatest gift I can give you is to tell you in word and deed that Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. And when all of that is true, then I know that it is time to celebrate Easter.
So, on this Easter Sunday, here is my gift to you. I proclaim that Christ has died! When I rejected the law and grace of God and deserved the eternal absence of God, Jesus, Who is Son of God and Son of Mary, chose to wash away the stain of my sin with His own Blood. Yes, I am a sinner, and the death of Christ proves that I am a loved sinner.
On this Easter Sunday, here is my gift to you. I proclaim to you that Christ is risen! The tomb could not hold Him. Hell could not hold Him. Death did not destroy Him. Sin—even my sin—did not defeat Him. Christ our Lord is victorious over sin and death and He offers to share His victory with us.
On this Easter Sunday, here is my gift to you. I proclaim to you that Christ will come again! He will come in glory to judge the living and the dead. He will bring to perfection all touched by His grace. And He will honor the freedom of all who reject His gift.
My friends, surely now we are in the Easter season. Let us respond, in sincerity and in truth, with celebration, preparation and proclamation. We respond to Easter with celebration through prayer, worship and Christian fellowship.
What about preparation? Well, in this life, the cross cannot be avoided. It is the first step to eternal life. Let’s prepare for the joy of Easter by helping each other to carry our cross, spiritually, morally and physically.
What about proclamation? The world must receive from us what our Lord has commanded us to give. We must give the world the greatest gift. We must give by the witness of our words and by the witness of our lives the proclamation that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
If we do that, if we bear witness to the presence and power of the Risen Lord in this time of Easter by celebration, preparation and proclamation, then we can echo the psalm we heard this morning and say, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”
May God’s Holy Name be praised now and forever.