Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fear and Joy (Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011)

Readings:  Acts 10:34-43; Ps 118:1-2,14-24; Col 3:1-4; Mt 28:1-10

(Today's homily begins as a discussion with the children.  Invite the children to come forward.)

Now I have a question for you.  Have you ever been afraid?

What sort of things make you afraid?

Sometimes we’re afraid when something bad happens in our life, like when someone gets sick, or maybe sometimes nothing has happened yet but we think something bad might happen and that makes us afraid.

Sometimes we’re afraid when we don’t understand what’s happening or when we get into a situation we’ve never been in before.

Sometimes we might be afraid because there’s a bully at school, and no one is able to stop him or her from hurting or insulting others, and we feel kind of helpless.

In the Easter story which was just read, we heard about two women who were really afraid, Mary Magdalene, and another woman who was also called Mary.  These two women named Mary had been there on Good Friday when Jesus had been put on the cross and died.  They knew all about bullies who were powerful and hurt other people.  The two Mary’s had been Jesus friends, and they had loved Jesus and they thought that he was going to change things.  But in the end, Jesus’ enemies put him to death, and now the women were sad and afraid.

And I’m not sure why, but very early on the Sunday morning, just as a new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary decided to go and see Jesus tomb, the place where his body had been buried.  Maybe they wanted to put some flowers on the tomb, maybe they just wanted to be close to his body one last time.  But as they approached the tomb, there was a great earthquake, and they felt the ground move under their feet, and their whole world was shaken.  And they saw that the great stone which had blocked the entrance to the tomb had been rolled away, and they didn’t know what was happening and at that moment they were more afraid than ever.

Now I don’t know about you, but I think that if that had happened to me, I would have just run away as fast as I could.

Or maybe I would have been like the guards and fallen to the ground, shaking and unable to move.

But the two Mary’s didn’t run away, even when they saw someone in dazzling white clothes on top of the great stone.  I think that they kept going towards the tomb, because even though they were afraid, they wanted to see Jesus one last time.  And the messenger, or angel, whoever it was sitting on the great stone said to them, “Don’t be afraid.  I know you’re looking for Jesus.  Come and look in the tomb.”  And so the two women went into the tomb.  It was dark and it must have been a bit creepy.  They looked around and to their surprise, they saw that the tomb was empty.  And the angel  said to them “Jesus isn’t here, for he has been raised, just like he promised.  Now go and tell the rest of his friends.”

And after the angel said this, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came out of the tomb, and they were still afraid, but now there was something more, there wasn’t just fear, but they also started to experience a great sense of joy.

Has that ever happened to you?  Have you ever been just on the edge of something new and exciting, something where you felt both fear and joy at the same time? 

Well that’s what the two Mary’s experienced.  Something new was happening, and they weren’t sure exactly what it was, so they were a bit afraid, but at the same time they were really joyful and excited and they ran to tell the others and all of a sudden as they were running they met Jesus.  Jesus who wasn’t dead, but was alive and he said to them “Don’t be afraid, be joyful” and with that the last bits of fear left them, and they were overcome with joy.

I want to talk to you a little bit about fear and joy.

There are many things in this life that can make us fear.  There are many things that can shake our world, turn it upside down, tear it apart and render it virtually unrecognizable.  Loss, illness, abandonment, frustrations, even death.  Sooner or later, we, or someone we love, is faced with such challenges.  And it is perfectly normal, even perhaps inevitable that just like the women in today’s gospel, we experience fear.

But fear is not the last word.  Fear is not the end of the story. The message of Easter, the message of the resurrection, is that fear can be overcome, that fear can be transformed into joy.  Sometimes fear can be overwhelming.  Sometimes it can lead to despair.  But when you are afraid I want you to remember this.  I want you to remember that our God, the God who made this universe and made you and me, is the God who raised Jesus from the dead.  He is the God who is with you in times of sorrow and in times of joy, always seeking to bring hope and love and compassion into our lives, in all of life’s circumstances.

Many of you know this power of transformation, the power of resurrection in your own lives.  Many of you have experienced the joy that can emerge in the midst of fear.

We experienced this first-hand in our family.  Some of you may know that about five years ago my wife Guylaine was diagnosed with cancer.  It was a time of great fear for us.  Yet even in the midst of this fear and the stresses it caused, joy emerged.  Friends surrounded us with prayers and meals and support.  Doctors provided treatment.  Guylaine set herself to learning how nutrition, exercise and lifestyle can help prevent cancer from recurring. As a result of all this she changed careers, and now dedicates herself to teaching a healthy active lifestyle program geared specifically to cancer-survivors.  And she gets an incredible, immense joy out of her new found mission in life working with cancer-survivors, a joy that we could never have predicted on that day five years ago when we first received the lab reports.  This too is resurrection.

Now I don’t want to be naïve here.  The hope that we have, the hope which is grounded in the death and the resurrection of Jesus is not a naïve hope.  We know that it won’t insulate us from the challenges of this life.  We know that sometimes fear and joy may have to coexist, and that the transformation we speak of may seem agonizingly slow.  But the promise of Easter is that there is resurrection.  Just as God raised Jesus from the dead, God will raise us, will bring us out of the tomb of our fear and sorrow and despair and will send us with joy to do the things we are called to do.

So when your world is shaken, when you feel overwhelmed or overpowered or like you just don’t understand, do not be afraid.  Be joyful.  We are an Easter people.  We believe that love is stronger than hate, that joy will overcome fear, that hope triumphs over despair, and yes, that life will burst the bonds of death.  We are resurrection people.  We believe that Jesus Christ is risen today, is alive and will be with us, just as he promised, now, until the end of time. 


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