An Easter Sunday preaching by Sister Rose Marie Riley, OP
Gospel: John 20: 1-9
This is a Gospel of “more to come.” Here we have darkness—no light. Emptiness, loss, bewilderment—no joy. For Mary, Peter, and John, dreams are dashed. Death, grief, and desolation prevail. No bells are chiming; no alleluia is sung. I find myself tempted to say to the three disciples, “Death isn’t the end; there really IS more to come.”
As the evangelist John writes, “They did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” How could they? In this most vulnerable moment Mary, Peter, and John felt as empty as the tomb looked. They could not imagine that experiences of the risen Christ would soon transform their lives. Realization that death is not the end but the beginning of new life in God would shift them into a new consciousness.
Today’s first reading from Acts shows us the incredible transformation that took place as these first disciples gradually awakened to their new reality. We find Peter filled with passion as he preaches the resurrection story. Further accounts in Acts tell us that the growing community of believers formed a Jerusalem Council. Here the disciples took on the threefold challenge of re-membering, relating, and hoping.*
First, they re-membered the message of Jesus, and applied it to the social, political and religious context of their expanding community.
Second, their response to resurrection evolved into a deeper way of relating and becoming. Their way of living became a work in progress at the heart of God’s Universe.
Third, with great hope and risk they journeyed into the unknown future of holy mystery.
Once the early disciples experienced the risen Christ, it no longer mattered that the tomb was empty. They were filled. Life would never be the same for them….or, for us.
Here we are, some 2,000 years later, with so much more scientific knowledge and theological awareness than our first disciples ever had. In the words of the late Judy Cannato:
Our entering the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection has the power to bring us to cosmic consciousness, awareness that all life is connected, not only in the moment, but in the past and future as well. Jesus takes us to the big picture and from that perspective we see more clearly who we are in the mystery of life. (Field of Compassion, p.73)
On this glorious Easter morning we celebrate the resurrection story as our way of living—our work in progress. Mary, Peter, and John have passed on to us the three fold challenge of re-membering, relating, and moving forward in hope. We do so within our particular individual, communal, and global context.
First, re-membering: We re-member the mission of Jesus and acknowledge that his transformed vision of a new heaven and a new earth is not yet fulfilled. As followers of the risen Christ and students of the profound Universe Story, we claim our place in the web of life. And so we say:
Trusting the grace of Holy Mystery, we stretch into understanding evolutionary consciousness and its implications for the cosmos. With active hope we choose to imagine the world we want to inhabit and accept the urgent responsibility to collaborate in bringing it to birth.**
Second, relating: We acknowledge that we live in a world fragmented by fear, greed, corrupt power and escalating violence. Within this reality we are called to birth the radical, prophetic dream of Jesus. We must not cling to the empty tomb of systems, structures, and beliefs that no longer give life. And so we say:
With profound gratitude and deep interior purpose, we choose to live sustainably in order to further the mission and to cultivate right relationship with all God’s creation.
As Dominican women we claim our power to nurture mutual relationships that offer healing and courage to a broken world. Vulnerable ourselves, we choose to stand with the poor, to accompany those on the margins, and to work toward systems that promote life.**
Third, hope: The evolutionary story confirms that God’s Spirit is always present, inviting us into the great mystery of co-creating and blessing us with unimaginable grace. And so, with great hope, we say:
Centering our lives in Jesus, the Word Made Flesh, we walk into the mystery unfolding before us.**
Death is never the end. Let the bells be rung and the alleluias be sung. We take our place at the Eucharistic banquet surrounded by the communion of saints who have gone before us and accompany us in our present day. Mary, Peter, and John are here saying to us, “Resurrection is your story. There really IS more to come!”
*”Re-membering, relating, and hoping” is a synthesis from Walter Bruggemann as found in The Transformation of Desire, p.180, by Diarmuid O’Murchu.
**2014 General Chapter Statement, Dominican Sisters, Springfield, Illinois.