Sermon by Fr. Joshua Bell SSC, Sunday 4th April
Readings: Acts 10:34,37-43; 1 Corinthians 5:6-8; John 20:1-18
Happy Easter! It’s such a joy to say that today, this year, after a long forty days of Lent, and an even longer spiritual Lent – part of me has felt like it’s still Lent last year.
I think there’s a strange symbolism over the past year. Lent last year was the time that Coronavirus’s grip on our planet really began to take hold, and so of course our Easter celebrations were all held in our homes, on our screens, instead of being together like we are today.
In the first weeks of the first lockdown, I remember watching on TV as the Pope led the world in prayer: not accompanied by the usual crowds in Rome, instead he led prayer from St. Peter’s Basilica, almost entirely empty, before taking the Blessed Sacrament into a deserted St. Peter’s Square, dark and rainy, and offering Christ’s blessing to the whole world. It was a promise: God will not leave us.
Mary Magdalene is one person who prayed that Jesus would not leave her. Mary, we heard on Monday, is somebody who has much to be grateful for, to be thankful for – and her gratitude is matched by her love for him. She is one of the three people who stay with Jesus through the crucifixion; she goes in secret – as early as 3AM – to anoint his body, since there had not been time to do so before his burial.
And when she find the stone rolled away, she assumes the worst – that it has been taken away – and it is a heartbreak for her – it is as though she has lost him all over again.
So I think it is fitting that she, Mary, is the one who first witnesses the truth of the resurrection. On Tuesday we hear how Mary is the first person to see Jesus after the resurrection, and here she is the first to see the empty tomb. She who cast her whole self on Jesus is rewarded with this privilege.
In the empty tomb, we can see the whole defeat of sin and death that takes place in this Triduum – on these three Great Days, the old order has passed away, giving way to the eternal life brought by the death of Jesus.
Last year, in Lent, our first lockdown began. I think that there is a poetic quality to the hope that, if all continues to go well, this Eastertide will mark the lifting of many of the restrictions on our daily life – just as Jesus has freed us from sin and death, so too, I hope, we will be freed from this pandemic.
Of course, amidst the cost to our liberties and enjoyment of life, which we have all shared, there has, of course, been a great cost in the lives lost to Coronavirus.
This Thursday will be the first anniversary of the death of Maurice Kerrison, who many of us knew – and I would invite you to come to Mass on Thursday evening when we will offer the Holy Sacrifice for the repose of his soul. He died in Chester Hospital from Coronavirus last April. Maurice was a faithful Christian – he came to Mass when he was able, and before that, I was privileged to take him Holy Communion each month. He died on the Wednesday of Holy Week last year, and I think that he – who for so many years looked to Jesus – would have appreciated the date of his passing: as we waited for the sacrifice of Christ that reconciles us to the Father, Maurice received the fruits of that sacrifice as he went to the Father’s arms – and this year, we will pray for his soul in the new light of Easter.
Because the events of Easter remind us that amidst the tragic loss of life this past year, there is the promise, the assurance, of the resurrection: death does not have the last word; the grave will not remain full for ever; those who have died, and those who mourn, need not do so without hope.
Last night at the vigil we heard of the creation of Adam, our first parent. As in Adam, St. Paul says, all die; even so in Christ – the new Adam – shall all be made alive. Because of these three days: because of the death and resurrection of Jesus: the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised.
As St. John Paul II said: we are the Easter People, and Hallelujah is our song!