“Easter says that there is more grace than sin, more reasons for hope than for despair. That is a message that Christians offer to our society … This Easter morning, we call to mind all those who have died cruelly and we remember, in particular, Lyra McKee. We pray for all those who are heartbroken at the tragic loss of Lyra” – Bishop McKeown
This Easter Sunday morning I welcome you to Saint Columba’s Church, Long Tower, built on this hill called Doire Cholmcille, where for 1,500 years people have gathered here to pray. Our beautiful building lies just yards from the house where the murdered journalist Lyra McKee and Sara Canning had decided to make their home. On Good Friday this whole community stood uncomprehending at the foot of a Cross. So, on this Easter morning, we gather with deep sadness in our hearts and without any simplistic message about the Resurrection. But we gather with faith in a God who can write straight on crooked lines – and for whom love is always stronger than hatred.
There is the story about the tourist standing on some glorious lookout point in Donegal on a summer’s day and saying to a local, “Isn’t this a beautiful place?” The local man replies, “You should see it on a wet winter’s day!” There are hearts that give thanks for current beauty – and others who seem afraid to rejoice.
There are those who lament loss and tragedy because they are trapped in a story about decline – or they can angrily blame everybody else for where the Church, or society, find themselves today. There are some who feel more comfortable weeping at Calvary than being unsettled by the possibility of Easter Sunday.
But Easter is about a group of people who learned to see every Calvary through the eyes of Resurrection. Through grace, they refuse to become prisoners of yesterday’s or today’s pain. The people of this community are strong because they have lived with many crosses in the past – and in recent days. It is not surprising that many people of faith – along with others – have played major roles in helping this society believe in the possibility of Resurrection, despite whatever brutality and betrayal they have experienced.
So the Resurrection of Jesus is not just an historical event that Christians believe in, whatever happened that Easter Sunday morning. It involves adopting a new way of looking at everything in the world. It means looking at history through the lens of His-story. Through the Resurrection, Christ wants to remake us in His image. So often we prefer a God made in our image and likeness. Jesus points to a future built on love and forgiveness, not to a rerun of the past built on guns and hatred.
Ultimately, Easter Sunday is not merely about understanding what could have happened when Jesus rose. What it challenges in us is the temptation to moan about where we are as if we were trapped by death and violence. Christians who simply despair about where the Church is/ have not heard about the Resurrection because they are trapped in their narrow understanding about how God should work. They do not trust that God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
The early Jerusalem Church was afraid to go out before Pentecost because they thought the time was not right for them to try to preach. Saint Paul imagined that preaching in the port city of Corinth would be a waste of time. But in both cases, the doubting and timid hearts were proven to be wrong.
The Peter and the Doubting Thomas in all of us assume that the Cross then and now is stupidity. But a Church that believes in Resurrection says that there is grace in every situation.
A faith that blossoms only when things are easy and comfortable has nothing to do with Good Friday or Easter Sunday. A faith that measures all by how comfortable we feel has not really read the Gospel passage about taking up the Cross.
We can learn from the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb that Resurrection is seen first by those hearts which love much and yearn till it hurts. Calvary and Easter take us beyond our comfort zone. That story of transcendence breaking through into our limited horizons tells us that we will never find life in being self-absorbed/ or dependent only on our own strength or the wisdom of our own plans for what God should be doing.
That story sends Mary as the first witness of the Resurrection to tell the apostles. And she knows they may laugh at her because she is only a woman. But she went.
Jesus then sends the apostles to make disciples of all nations, knowing that many will laugh at them for being uneducated fisherman. But still they went.
Weakness may damage our pride – but with Saint Paul, we are invited to say that we can boast of nothing other than the Cross of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Easter says that there is more grace than sin, more reasons for hope than for despair. That is a message that Christians offer to our society which often seems frightened rather than hopeful about the future. Many people hunger for that hope.
And so, today, we are an Easter people and Alleluia is our song. The Resurrection did not just change Jesus – it changes everything.
This Easter morning, we call to mind all those who have died cruelly and we remember, in particular, Lyra McKee. We pray for all those who are heartbroken at the tragic loss of Lyra. As the dead have slipped through our fingers, we pray trust in the Risen Jesus they will be at peace and we will find peace at their passing. Amen.
· Bishop Donal McKeown is Bishop of Derry. This Mass was broadcast by BBC Radio Ulster.
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