Homily of Bishop Leo O’Reilly for the Easter 2012 Vigil Mass
In Saint Mark’s story of the Resurrection of Jesus – which is really the story of the discovery of the empty tomb – the women who went to embalm the body of Jesus meet a young man in a white robe seated in the tomb. They are alarmed but he says to them: “There is no need for alarm. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified; he has risen, he is not here…But you must go and tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him, just as he told you.’”
Nobody actually saw Jesus rising from the dead. The apostles and disciples came to believe in the Resurrection because they met Jesus alive after His death. There are several accounts of those meetings in the gospels and they always emphasise two things.
The first: this is the same Jesus whom they knew on earth, whom they had travelled the roads with, who had suffered and who died. He was unmistakeable. The marks of the nails were there in His hands and feet to show that He was the One who had died on the cross. He was not a ghost. He was real. He ate and drank with them and talked to them. So He was definitely the same Jesus.
The second point the stories emphasise is that Jesus was different. For a start, when He appeared to them, they generally did not recognise Him at first. When He appeared on the shore of the lake while they were out fishing, it was only John, the Beloved Disciple, who eventually recognised Him. When the met the two disciples on the way to Emmaus they took Him for a stranger and began to tell him the story of Jesus. The ability of recognise the risen Jesus is a gift of faith. Jesus was different too, in that He could suddenly appear to them in a locked room and disappear again just as suddenly. Walls and doors no longer stood in His way.
What all this means is that Jesus did not simply return from the dead. He did not return to life in this world as we know it. Lazarus returned to life, but he had to die again. Fabrice Muamba, the Bolton footballer, returned to life after being effectively dead for 40 minutes. But that wasn’t resurrection. Jesus was raised up by God from death to new life, to the life of Glory, the life of God. He is still the same Jesus, but now His humanity has been transformed by the glory of the Resurrection. He is no longer subject to death. He is no longer bound by space and time, by doors and walls. He is eternal and his is still living and present among us today.
So the Resurrection is not just about what happened in the past. The Resurrection means Jesus is with us today. We meet Him today in His glorified body. He promised the disciples He would meet them in Galilee, and He did – when they were out fishing. But His promise meant more than just one meeting. For the disciples Galilee was the place where they lived their everyday lives. It was where they had their homes and reared their children, where they worked to earn their living, where they took their ease, visited their relatives and did the ordinary things that make up ordinary human lives. Jerusalem, the place of Jesus’ death and Resurrection, was not their world. It was the holy place they paid visits to on rare occasions – like we might go to Rome. Jerusalem was not the place they would normally meet the Risen Lord.
Through the Resurrection Jesus still meets us in the Galilee of our ordinary lives. He is still with us as He promised: ‘I will go before you to Galilee, you will see me there.’ Jesus comes to meet us in our homes and families, in our work and recreation, in our joys and sorrows, our prayer and worship.
The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus tells us that the celebration of the Eucharist is the privileged place of our meeting with him. But again, it takes place in a very ordinary setting. Two disciples meet a stranger on the road. They tell Him of their sadness and their hopes and disappointments. He speaks to them and explains God’s word to them and their hearts burn within them. He goes in to share a meal with them and they recognise Him in the breaking of the bread.
The Mass is our Emmaus journey and our Emmaus meal. We come to Mass bringing to Jesus our stories of joy and sorrow, of hopes and disappointments. He speaks His Word to us as we listen to the Scriptures. We recognise Him and are united with Him and with each other in the breaking of the bread. That brings us back again to the theme of our Eucharistic Congress: ‘The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another’. It reminds us that the Congress is really just another way of celebrating the central mystery of our faith, Jesus’ Resurrection.
- Bishop Leo O’Reilly is Bishop of Kilmore. This Easter Vigil homily was delivered in the Cathedral of Saints Patrick and Felim, Cavan, 7 April 2012
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