Can you hurt an angel’s feelings?
Probably not. But I couldn’t blame the Easter angels for feeling rather unsuccessful.
They tell Mary Magdalene and the others that Jesus has risen from the dead, but they don’t get much of a response.
In this morning’s Gospel, Mary’s not reassured by the sight of the angels. And in Mark’s account, which we heard last night, the angel seems to make things worse. The women run out of the tomb in terror. Things go a little better in the Gospel of Matthew, but all in all the angels didn’t seem to get their message across.
What does convince Mary to announce—notice the verb—that Jesus has risen?
Very simple: Jesus himself appears and speaks with her. The same thing happens in Matthew, and a bit later in Mark.
St. Luke’s version adds a twist. Mary Magdalene and the other women do accept the angels’ words. But not at face value: Luke tells us that they remembered the words of Jesus. That’s what gave them confidence: the angels were reminding them of the things Jesus had taught them about his passion and resurrection.
Two simple conclusions emerge from these Gospel accounts of the first Easter morning. Simple, but at the heart of faith. If you don’t have faith, and would like to have faith, listen to these conclusions. If you have faith, and want it to be stronger, these conclusions matter to you also.
First: nothing can replace an encounter with Jesus, the risen and living Lord. Not historical arguments. Not theology. Not even angels.
Second: the words of Jesus—those he spoke, and the Scriptures as a whole— lead to faith in him. They also play a big part in making it possible to meet Jesus as Mary Magdalene did. The Word of God is not ink on paper but, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.”
To repeat: if you want the joy that Mary had, if you want to replace your deepest sorrows with hope, Easter shows you the path. Meet the Lord who is not dead but alive, not somewhere up there but here, waiting to encounter you.
If you want the peace that came to Mary and the women on that first Easter, remember the words of Jesus—or hear them for the first time. Read the prophecies about him that fill the Old Testament. Jesus himself used those Scriptures to fire up the hearts of the disheartened disciples on the road to Emmaus.
I said these were simple conclusions, and so they are. But how on earth do we make them happen?
Before I answer that question, I apologize to the active Catholics who've heard many times what I'm about to say. I don’t usually try to preach to you at Easter since Christmas and Easter are our chance to proclaim a message to those who are visiting or those who are curious.
This year is a bit different. I suspect we have fewer new faces online than we’d see on Easter Sunday in person. But I still ask the veteran members of our community to let me repeat myself for the benefit of our welcome visitors who are with us on this special day.
Still, what I have to say does matter for everyone, active and engaged or just checking church out. Because in the cold and barren religious climate in which we now live, all of us, though especially young Catholics and uncertain non-Catholics, need to encounter the risen Jesus the way Mary did—and to hear his saving words resonate in the hearts.
So, once again, I am going to try the patience of longstanding and faithful members of the congregation by addressing those who are still in the wings, watching and waiting.
How do we meet Jesus? How do we remember his words?
I’ll give you a one-word answer to those questions: Alpha. Which is a good place to start, because Jesus himself says he’s the Alpha—the first letter of the Greek alphabet—and the Omega—the last. The beginning and the end.
Alpha is a video-based program that has the goal of introducing you to the person of Jesus, and to his desire to know you and to let you know him.
And I’ll give you a two-word answer: Faith Studies. The Discovery faith study uses scripture and small group discussion. Like Alpha, it helps you to Jesus and how we can let him work in our lives.
Both programs are staples of life in our parish. After Easter, we will offer both online.
Alpha and Discovery can make this Easter morning the beginning of a new life for you, just as it was for the disciples who discovered all that Jesus had taught them was true.
If you’re a regular parishioner, you’ve heard me say all this before. And of course, many of you have participated in one program or both. But many haven’t, so this year I want to offer a special challenge: even if you know the Lord, even if you’ve studied his word for years, please consider signing up for Alpha or a faith study.
Why? So, you can follow the wonderful and inspiring example of Mary Magdalene. When she saw the Lord, she told others. The news just had to be shared. You also can follow the example of all three women, whose knowledge of Jesus’ teaching was what they needed to accept his Resurrection in faith and tell others about it.
Nothing is more convincing to others than our personal testimony. Stories about angels only went so far, until Mary announced, “I have seen the Lord.”
The pandemic has made life so much more difficult, in so many ways. But it’s also made a few things easier. A very helpful survey just conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, in partnership with Cardus, the Christian think tank, tells us that online services are no substitute for gathering together. But most people who regularly attend religious services hope online options won’t disappear after the pandemic is over.
In the weeks and months ahead, the parish will be unpacking this important survey as we plan our future. But even now, it hints that online activities other than Mass can be a blessing to busy people.
Before, you had to drive to the church to attend or help at Alpha. Same for faith studies; even if they were in private homes, the participants had to head out to meet others.
So, if you’re a bit reluctant, if you’re very busy, or even just a bit shy—this could be the best time to take the plunge.
The pandemic has even faithful Christians asking some tough questions. Where is God in all this? What better way to look for answers than in safe and nonjudgmental conversation with others?
If you’re a visitor to our livestream, or a parishioner who feels disconnected, whether from God, the parish, or just from other people, Alpha and Discovery can make a huge difference in your life as this wretched situation continues.
But I don't want to finish by sounding like a commercial! It’s not so much Alpha and faith studies that make a huge difference. It’s Jesus, the Risen One, who has overcome death and shown the way to the fulness of life, here and now, and forever.
Cheer up those disappointed Easter angels—listen to what they say, and prepare to meet the Lord.