Tuesday, April 11, 2017

OUR NO, GOD'S YES


OUR NO, GOD’S YES

Easter.  Acts 10:34a, 37-43; John 20:1-9.

AIM: To instill hope by proclaiming the resurrection; and to encourage the hearers to be messengers of this hope.

 

          When we say No, God says Yes. That is the message of Easter. On Good Friday human beings said No. On Easter God overruled this No with his triumphant Yes. That is the earliest Christian understanding of Easter. It explains why a favorite text for preachers in the first generation after the resurrection was the verse from today’s responsorial psalm, which speaks of God choosing what human beings have rejected: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the corner-stone.” When we say No, God says Yes.

          When we look at all the evil and suffering in the world and say there is no hope, God says there is hope. God himself is our hope. He is stronger than all the forces of evil. 

          When we look at all the suffering and injustice in the world and say that there is no meaning in life; that there is no point in sacrifice, in trying to live for the best and highest we know, because self-sacrifice is always defeated, and idealism has no future: God says Yes! There is a future for us. God himself in our future. 

          On Good Friday the friends of Jesus thought evil had triumphed. They were wrong. “They put him to death,” Peter says in our first reading today, “by hanging him on a tree.” But — and it is the most important “but” in history: “This man God raised on the third day.” Not Satan and evil but Jesus Christ emerged victorious from that cosmic conflict. The sign of that victory is the empty tomb of Easter morning. It is a sign only, not a proof. A proof compels belief. A sign points beyond itself to something more and invites belief, without compelling it. Of the two disciples in today’s gospel reading who saw the empty tomb, one only understood the sign and believed. The other came to belief only later, when he had seen not only the empty tomb, but the risen Lord.

          When we contemplate the finality of death, and are tempted to think that there is nothing beyond death, no goals beyond such happiness as we may be able to achieve in this world, and in this life; God says Yes! There is life beyond death.  This life is a preparation for that life.   

          This message of our No and God’s Yes is central in the letters of St. Paul, who encountered the risen Lord not at Easter, but on the Damascus road, as Paul was on the way to say his own No to Jesus Christ, by hunting down and persecuting Jesus’ followers. “The language in which we address you,” Paul wrote later, “is not an ambiguous blend of Yes and No. The Son of God, Christ Jesus, proclaimed among you by us ... was never a blend of Yes and No. With him it was, and is, Yes. He is the Yes pronounced upon God’s promises, every one of them.” (2 Cor.1, 18ff: New English Bible)

          If God’s triumphant Yes, first uttered on Easter morning, is to be heard in our world, it will be heard only through us. “This man God raised on the third day,” Peter says in our first reading, “and granted that he be made visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

          This Eucharist is the continuation not only of the Last Supper, but of those meals Peter was talking about which Jesus shared with his friends after his resurrection. Here, as we obey Jesus’ command to “do this in my memory”, the risen Lord renews his Yes. And here he commissions us, as he commissioned Peter and his companions, to be witnesses of that joyful and triumphant Yes to a weary and discouraged world. We bear our witness not so much by words — for words are cheap, and people today are inundated by words. Rather we bear our witness to the risen Lord by the inner quality of our lives: by living as people who know that because of Easter this world is not without hope, life does have meaning, death is not the end.

          At this eucharistic meal with our risen Lord he empowers us to live as people who know that this world, with all its horrors and suffering and darkness and evil, is still God’s world. Here the risen Lord renews the commission we received in baptism and confirmation: “To shine like stars in a dark world and to proffer the word of life, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil 2:15f). That is our high calling as God’s daughters and sons, our thrilling destiny as sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ. Can there be a life, and a calling, more glorious than that?

          To the extent that we fulfill this calling we, like Peter, are witnesses to the risen Lord and to his power. We are proclaiming, through lives which speak more eloquently than words, that Jesus Christ, risen triumphant from death today, is truly “the stone which the builders rejected, [who] has now become the cornerstone.” We are proclaiming that Jesus Christ “is not a blend of Yes and No, but that with him it was and is, Yes. He is the Yes pronounced upon God’s promises, every one of them.”