Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Representing Maryknoll Fathers & Brothers, Maryknoll Sisters, and Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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Easter Sunday, Feast of the Resurrection

Apr 16, 2017
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23; Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; John 20:1-9
Prepared by:
Gerry Lee, returned Maryknoll Lay Missioner and Director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Heartbroken, we are running, we are confused, yet we are witnesses…and we start anew.

A vivid memory from my family’s first weeks as Maryknoll Lay Missioners in a slum of Caracas, Venezuela is the image of my young daughters, Amanda and Abby, singing and walking in procession with other children of our barrio behind a casket carrying a small child. 

Singing a traditional Christmas carol to the baby Jesus, “Beautiful Child”, the joy and the beauty of their song, lifted by dozens of children’s voices high above the tin shacks and open sewers of the barrio, seemed out of place in a funeral procession that marked the loss of yet another innocent life to the poverty and violence of life on the margins of society.

It was as if, in in spite of our grief, we were to sing from Psalm 118 in today’s readings for Easter:

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”

Easter is like that – not just the simple joys of Easter egg hunts and a new set of Sunday-best clothes, but the determined faith – and if we dare call it, joy – of the followers of Jesus. 

In spite of the cruel injustices of this world…

In spite of the violence of the Cross…

In spite of the fearful emptiness that we find in the tomb…

We are witnesses to a new hope.

In the reading from John’s Gospel we hear of the grief-stricken disciples running to the tomb where the tortured body of Jesus was laid. They are afraid to look in. When they do, we hear their dismay and confusion because Jesus is nowhere to be found. 

Easter begins with heartbreak and loss – the empty tomb – and the fear and confusion that follow. 

It is significant that the first disciple to discover the empty tomb is a woman. Mary Magdalene, who runs to tell Peter and the beloved disciple John, who being younger, runs ahead of Peter, but then, on reaching the tomb, is afraid to go in until Peter arrives. 

They are all running, afraid and confused; yet they are witnesses to the Easter event even before they understand what is happening. As the Gospel tells us: 

“For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”

Heartbroken, we are running, we are confused, yet we are witnesses…and we start anew.

In today’s reading from Acts, Peter speaks to us, Jesus’ followers, who now know what Mary Magdalene, Peter and John at first couldn’t understand, what the empty tomb meant: “You know what has happened…we are witnesses of all that he did.” Indeed Peter says all the prophets as well are witnesses along with us, the followers of Jesus….

In his wonderful reflection, Evangelii Gaudium,“The Joy of the Gospel”, Pope Francis speaks of what it means to be witnesses to the Resurrection today. He calls on all Christians to witness to the “good news” of Jesus, and as followers of Christ, to be ambassadors of joy. 

For Francis, however, the joy of the Gospel isn’t blind optimism or a Pollyannaish view of life that ignores suffering and death. On the contrary, it faces violence and injustice head on, finding joy in the mystery of God’s presence among the community of believers and especially in solidarity with the poor and the marginalized who suffer most in today’s world, just as they did in the time of Peter and Mary Magdalene.

Just as the children of our Caracas barrio could sing a joyful song together in a kind of defiance of the evil and injustice that allowed yet another innocent child to die of poverty, the faith of the disciples, Pope Francis insists, is always marked by joy. He recalls that the Gospel always invites us to rejoice, paradoxically, in the face of the Cross, in the midst of suffering. Following Jesus, Francis tells us -- in his typically colorful phrasing: “Our Christian joy drinks of the wellspring of his brimming heart… “Wherever the disciples went there was great joy….Why should we not also enter into this great stream of joy?” (5)

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.”

This joy, however, grounded in the solidarity of Christian community, doesn’t deny the powerful forces of evil that we face in today’s world. Pope Francis denounces the “new idolatry of money” and “an economy of exclusion and inequality.” “Such an economy kills,” he writes. “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?” (53) 

He sees the reality of climate change and the destruction of mother Earth as part-and-parcel with the exclusion of the poor and marginalized from the common good: 

“The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a defied market, which become the only rule.” (56)

“We have to state, with¬out mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor. May we never abandon them….I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rath¬er than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.” (49)

This is the Church that welcomed my family, in joy and sorrow, when my daughters joined that hillside funeral procession so many years ago. This is the Church that Maryknoll missioners are accompanying today in many neglected corners of the world. This is the Church that Pope Francis calls us all to be, as people of the Promise, missioners to the ignored, excluded and marginalized…witnesses to our Easter faith in the face of war, cruelty and despair:

“With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, he makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and to start anew. Let us not flee from the resurrection of Jesus, let us never give up, come what will. May nothing inspire more than his life, which impels us onwards!” (3)

Heartbroken, we are running, we are confused, yet we are witnesses…and we start anew.

Photo: The family  in this photo is homeless in the city of Maracaibo, Venezuela. The parents of these children and all the people in this picture have agreed to publish this  photo in the public domain. It is made available via wikimedia commons.