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Easter Sunday
April 1, 2018

 


    An old legend from Crusader times tells of a warrior who, in a reckless moment, and on a wager, accepted a challenge to carry all the way from Jerusalem to Paris the flame that burned before the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  Given the great distance involved and the formidable obstacles (winds and rains, rivers, robbers, and marauding armies), it was a very foolish wager, but he made it nonetheless.

     As the story goes, this tough Crusader soldier who had spent a lifetime proving his prowess, overcame nearly insurmountable odds and succeeded in carrying the holy flame all the way from Jerusalem to Paris. But it was a remarkably changed man who arrived there.  All his efforts to protect the flame from the forces of nature and the assaults of humans – cradling it and caressing it along the way as a mother would her child - had a transforming effect on him. The long, demanding journey changed his heart: now his deepest desire was no longer winning a foolish bet and making his mark on history, but simply protecting the tiny, fragile flame.  So, it was not a swaggering soldier who arrived in Paris many months later, flame still burning, but a humble and gentle pilgrim. It was Holy Saturday and, in an act of prayerful gratitude, he walked into the great Cathedral of Notre-Dame and lit the Easter fire with his flame.

     Standing next to me is the paschal candle, our Cathedral’s Easter fire, lit by the Archbishop last night in total darkness out on the front steps of the Cathedral and carried into the Cathedral where for some moments it was the only light in this vast space. Then, slowly, the entire Cathedral was suffused with light as one person passed onto another the holy flame.

     I thought of that old legend, and found myself praying that, like that tough, seasoned soldier, our hearts, too, might be changed by our carrying the light and passing it on to others.

     Easter is all about light: Christ, the light, who from the darkness of the tomb burst forth into the light of day. Christ, the light, who at a moment in time was completely overcome by the powers of darkness, but only so that he could in his very person turn darkness into light, doubt into faith, despair into hope, hatred into love.

     Easter is all about light. And it’s also all about life – the new and boundless life that Christ has made possible by his victory over death, the life that is already ours in the abundant sacramental life of the Church and that will one day completely overflow in us when the risen and glorious Christ raises our mortal bodies and makes them like his own in glory.

     Now, I know that, for some, the Resurrection of Christ is not real. It is metaphor, not actual event – a metaphor for the triumph of good over evil, of life over death; or it’s a poetic way of saying that Jesus and his teachings are timeless and enduring, or that his disciples, after he died and was buried, began to see and experience him in a new way. But, my friends, we did not come here this morning to celebrate a metaphor. We came here because we believe - or are at least struggling to believe - the astonishingly good news proclaimed to those three brave women at the empty tomb early on that first day of the week: “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.  He has been raised.  He is not here. He goes before you into Galilee; there you will see him as he told you.

     We need, my friends, on this Easter day, to hear that amazing news the way those women heard it.  We do. We need to hear it and to be set on fire by it, jolted by it as if by an electrical charge. The message those women received – that Jesus was risen – is gospel - Good News - the greatest news of all time, greater even than the “glad tidings of great joy” proclaimed one night by angels to shepherds on Bethlehem’s hillside, for in raising Jesus from the dead God was not only intervening in human history but transforming human history.

     We call the Resurrection the New Creation, and so we should. God, whose all-powerful Word at the dawn of creation brought light from darkness and sparked the first stirrings of life, was doing so again. God who, at the moment the Word became flesh, embraced our mortal flesh and made it his own, was now transfiguring that same flesh with glory, a glory that is already ours and will one day be fully ours!

     My friends, the Resurrection is mystery and miracle, but it is not metaphor. It is also Mission. That is why, like the crusading knight of the legend and like those three women at the tomb, we need to carry from this place the flame that is our belief in the Risen Christ. We need to proclaim that faith. And how do we do that? Here’s how Carlo Carretto, a favorite spiritual writer of mine, puts it: “Every time we forgive our enemy, every time we feed the hungry, every time we defend the weak, we proclaim our faith in the Resurrection. When we have the courage to marry, when we welcome a newly-born child, we proclaim it. When we wake at peace in the morning and sing Gods’ praise at the setting of the sun, we proclaim it.”

     My friends in Christ, we are Resurrection people. We must keep the flame of faith alive against some pretty bruising odds and some powerful storms. And as we carry it – and as far as we carry it - our hearts, like the heart of that knight of old, will be changed. It is Easter, friends. Christ is risen! May the flame of faith, and the fire of love that is the Eucharist, burn so brightly within us that people will know beyond a doubt that Christ is risen. Risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
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