Most priests will tell you that Easter Sunday is one of the more difficult Sundays on which to preach. There are many reasons for this. In the first place, the Sacred Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil) is magnificent and beautiful but exhausting. By Easter morning, liturgical ministers of every rank are drained. Larger congregations with visitors and “twice-a-year” Catholics also change dynamics.
For me, the chief reason preaching on Easter Sunday is difficult is that the new life proclaimed is difficult to understand and challenging to accept. Most of us understand the cross quite well. This world is a valley of tears, an exile, a kind of banishment from the joy and happiness we seek. Suffering is very pointed and is common to us all. As a result, it’s not hard to preach on Good Friday or to preach the Seven Last Words or to make the Stations of the Cross.
What does it mean to rise from the dead? The Scriptures speak of new life; of joy; of seeing sins put to death; of victorious, confident living even in the midst of woe. Yet such experiences are remote for many (though certainly not all).
Even worse, there are some who, through sloth, see new life and victory over sinful drives as something less than appealing. It could mean giving up some favorite sins. It could mean being more generous, loving and forgiving. It could mean not excusing personal mediocrity. It could mean resisting the temptation to compromise with the world. Yes, the Resurrection is challenging — it’s somewhat like an unknown landscape!
Even the Apostles and first disciples had to make a journey to understand and begin to live the Resurrection, so unlikely and unknown was this new reality.
- On Resurrection morning, Mary Magdalene went looking for a corpse to anoint. She saw Jesus but thought he was the gardener. But then she heard his voice and recognized him! However, she could only understand him as before, and she clung to what was familiar, calling him “Rabbouni.” It was truly he, and yet something was different! Jesus asked her to step back and have another look. She then ran to the Apostles and testified, “I have seen the LORD!” (John 20:10-18)
- The disciples on the road to Emmaus were going in the wrong direction, toward darkness and away from the Resurrection in Jerusalem. Jesus joined them for the walk, but their eyes were downcast; they couldn’t imagine ever seeing him again. He set their hearts on fire with his Word and revealed himself in the Eucharist. The Resurrection caught them quite unexpectedly. It was a vision that both arrested them and sent them running to testify (Luke 24:13-32).
- In the upper room, 10 Apostles gathered. They had heard the rumors that Jesus was seen alive, but they dismissed it as foolish talk. Then, he stood in their midst, and a new and unknown reality broke into their tortured, negative, doubting world (John 20:19-23).
- Despite the testimony of the others and having witnessed numerous miracles including the raising of Lazarus, Thomas still doubted. The risen Christ broke into his world in a startling yet merciful way, offering him the proof he demanded (John 20:24-29).
- Despite witnessing at least three Resurrection appearances, St. Peter decided to return to fishing, and some of the other Apostles joined him. It took the Risen Lord to summon them, once again, away from fishing and to evangelizing (John 21:1-6).
- Even on the day of his Ascension, the Scriptures say that while the disciples worshipped him, some still doubted. It would take Pentecost to quicken their minds and make them realize the power of the Resurrection in their lives (Matthew 28:17).
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