Easter Sunday – The Homily
First lets look at the rising up of Lazarus in John 11:44:
And the dead man came out, his hands and feet bound in grave clothes, with his face wrapped in a head cloth. Jesus told them, “Unwrap him and let him go free!”
The revived Lazarus needed aid in removing his grave clothes. In the Resurrection of Christ, it’s a different story. The wraps that were found by St. Peter and allegedly St. John, were perfectly wound, folded and integrated within each other, as if the body has just dematerialized. And the napkin that had covered his face had been miraculously removed without disturbing or undoing any of the wrappings, and conspicuously placed elsewhere.
Whether it was folded or rolled up really isn’t important. The point is that no robbers had stolen the body, as they would have given little care for the neatness of the grave clothes.
But let’s look at the significance of the folded napkin according to some insights provided by Baptist Minister, Jerry Shirley. . To understand this, you need to know a little bit about Hebrew traditions of that day. The folded napkin had to do with the Master and Servant, and every Jewish boy knew this tradition.
When the servant set the dinner table for the master, he made sure that it was exactly the way the master wanted it. The table was furnished perfectly, and then the servant would wait, just out of sight, until the master had finished eating, and the servant would not dare touch that table, until the master was finished. Now if the master was done eating, he would rise from the table, wipe his fingers, his mouth, and clean his beard, and would wad up that napkin and toss it onto the table. The servant would then know to clear the table. For in those days, the wadded napkin meant, ‘I’m done’. But if the master got up from the table, and folded his napkin, and laid it beside his plate, the servant would not dare touch the table, because……….
The folded napkin meant, “I’m not finished yet. I’m coming back!” (See, “Why Did Jesus Fold The Napkin?”)
Why is this important? Because Jesus is a real person. He gives attention to the details. He knows where things go. He places people. Jesus holds the whole universe, but he also pays attention to simple things. He sees it all. He cares, even about the small things.
Jesus also shows us what God is like. In Jesus, we see that God understands humanity. God is very in touch with what we go through. We know that God must know, because he is God and he created us, but in Jesus, we see the reality of God who cares, knows, and understands. (See “The Folded Facecloth of Jesus” written by Steve Sevy)
In the Gospel, we read about the women who go the tomb of Jesus with spices to anoint his body (See Luke 24:1-3). We can imagine their feelings as they make their way to the tomb: a certain sadness, sorrow that Jesus had left them, he had died, his life had come to an end. Life would now go on as before.
But at this point, something completely new and unexpected happens, something which upsets their hearts and their plans, something which will upset their whole life: they see the stone removed from before the tomb, they draw near and they do not find the Lord’s body. It is an event which leaves them perplexed, hesitant, full of questions: “What happened?”, “What is the meaning of all this?” (Confer Luke 24:4).
Doesn’t the same thing also happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life? We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do.
In his Easter homily last year, Pope Francis said that newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us. God always surprises us but we are afraid of God’s surprises.
The women were surprised. They encounter the newness of God. Jesus has risen, he is alive! But faced with an empty tomb and the two men in brilliant clothes, their first reaction is one of fear. “They were terrified and bowed their faced to the ground”, Saint Luke tells us – they didn’t even have courage to look.
This is how the newness of God appeared to the women and the disciples and how the newness of God can initially appear to all of us: as victory over sin, evil and death, over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human. And this is a message meant for me and for you.
Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness, bitterness and fear … and that is where death is.
That is not the place to look for one who is alive!
And suddenly there are two men in dazzling clothes who say: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; but has risen” (See Luke 24:5-6).
And the two men in dazzling clothes tell them something else of crucial importance: “Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee…” And they recalled his words” (Luke 24:6 & 8). To remember what God has done and continues to do for me, for us, to remember the road we have traveled; this is what opens our hearts to hope for the future.
So this is the challenge of Easter, not to close our hearts, not to lose confidence, not to give up. There are no situations, which God cannot change. There is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.
Pope Francis says, “Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust.
- If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you.
- If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed.
- If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.”
Audio version of the homily is here: