Easter Sunday Acts of the Apostles 10:34, 37–43; Colossians 3:1–4; John 20:1–9
Amazing transformation Easter is the good news that Jesus is ready to work miracles in our lives, if we but let him.
Ernest Gordon wrote a book called Through the Valley of the Kwai. It documents the true story of what happened in a Japanese prison camp along the Kwai River during World War II.
Many of us have heard of the camp from the movie Bridge over the River Kwai. There 12,000 prisoners died of disease and brutality while building a railroad.
Men were forced to work in heat that sometimes reached 120 degrees. Bareheaded and barefooted, they built the entire bed for the railroad from dirt and stone, carried in baskets on their backs. Their only clothes were the rags they wore. Their only bed was the bare ground.
But their worst enemy was not the Japanese or their hard life; it was themselves.
Gordon says that fear of the Japanese made the prisoners paranoid. The law of the jungle became their law. They stole from one another. They distrusted one another. They informed on one another.
The guards laughed to see how the once-proud white soldiers were destroying one another.
Then something incredible happened. Two prisoners organized the others into Bible study groups.
Through their study of the Gospel, the prisoners gradually discovered that Jesus was in their midst as a living person.
More than that, they came to discover that Jesus understood their situation. He too had no place to lay his head at night. He too was often hungry. He too was often bone-weary. He too was betrayed. He too felt the sting of a whip across his back.
Everything about Jesus what he was, what he said, what he did began to make sense and come alive.
The prisoners stopped thinking of themselves as victims of some cruel tragedy. They stopped informing on one another. They stopped destroying one another.
Nowhere did their change of heart manifest itself more clearly than in their prayers.
They began to pray not so much for themselves, but for one another. And when they did pray for themselves, it was not to get something. It was to release the new power that they suddenly found within themselves.
Slowly, the camp went through a transformation that amazed not only the Japanese but also the prisoners themselves.
One night Gordon was hobbling back to his shack after a meeting with his study group. As he walked along in the darkness he heard the sound of men singing. Someone was keeping time with a stick on a piece of tin. The sound of the stick hitting the tin, and the sound of the men singing, made the darkness come alive.
The difference between that joyful sound and the deathly silence of past months was the difference between life and death the difference between death and resurrection.
The story of the transformation that took place in that Japanese prison camp is a beautiful illustration of what Easter is all about.
Easter is the miracle that enabled the prisoners to trust one another, after having doubted one another.
Easter is the miracle that enabled the prisoners to share with one another, after having stolen from one another.
Easter is the miracle that enabled the prisoners to help one another, after having informed on one another.
And that brings us to each one of us here in this church this beautiful Easter morning. What is Easter for us?
Easter is realizing that the transformation that took place in the lives of the prisoners can take place in our lives also.
Easter is realizing that the change that took place in that prison camp can take place in our world too.
All we need do is what the prisoners did. All we need do is open our hearts to the grace that Jesus won for us on that first Easter 2,000 years ago.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the good news of Easter is that nothing need defeat us anymore not discouragement, not misfortune, not rejection, not pain, not even death.
The good news of Easter is that we don’t have to wait until we die to share in the power of the resurrection. We can begin to do it right now.
Easter holds out an invitation to each one of us in this church this morning. It invites us to open our hearts to the risen Jesus and to let him do for us what he did for the prisoners in the camp.
It invites us to let Jesus help us trust once again, after we’ve had our trust betrayed.
It invites us to let Jesus help us love once again, after we’ve had our love rejected.
It invites us to let Jesus help us hope once again, after we’ve had our hope dashed to pieces.
It invites us to let Jesus help us pick up the broken pieces and start over again after we were ready to give up.
This is what Easter is all about.
It’s the good news that the risen Jesus is in our midst right now, in this church, on this Easter morning. It’s the good news that Jesus has triumphed over evil and death, and so will we, if we but open our hearts to him.
It’s the good news that Jesus is ready to work miracles for us, if we but let him.
It’s the good news that nothing can destroy us anymore not pain, not sorrow, not rejection, not sin, not even death itself.
This is what Easter is all about.
This is what we celebrate as we now prepare to break bread together on this great birthday of our Christian faith.
Series II Easter Sunday Acts of the Apostles 10:34, 37–43; Colossians 3:1–4; John 20:1–9
From death to life What happened to Jesus on Easter will happen to us after death.We will be totally transformed.
Twelve hours after the Gulf War endedon Thursday, February 27, 1991, a Kansas mother received the news that every mother prays she will never receive.
Two army officers walked into the factory where she worked and told her that her son Clayton had been killed in action. She cried and went home to mourn his loss.
Then, Friday night, while she was in the kitchen, the phone rang.
The voice on the other end said, “Mom, it’s Clayton! I’m alive!’’ He had to repeat those words three times before his mother realized what he was saying.
Clayton went on to say that he was very much alive. His hand and his foot had been wounded by a land mine, but he was now walking around on crutches. Apart from that he was feeling great.
His mother began to cry. Only this time her tears were those of incredible joy. Her son was, indeed, alive.
When a newspaper reporter asked the mother how she would celebrate her son’s return home, she said, “I’ll just hug him to death.’’ That wonderful story bears somewhat of a resemblance to what happened in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. Even some of the details are similar.
Like Jesus, the Kansas mother’s son had met death at the hands of enemies as he performed a service for humankind that he believed in deeply.
As was true in the case of Jesus, Clayton’s death was mourned for nearly two days.
And, as was true in the case of Jesus, news that Clayton was alive and not dead filled his mother and his friends with incredible joy.
Finally, in a touch of poetry, as was true in the case of Jesus, Clayton’s hands and feet bore the wounds of his ordeal.
But the similarity between the two stories stops here.
Clayton was only thought to have been dead. On the other hand, Jesus was truly dead.
Moreover, Clayton’s “new life’’ if we can refer to it as that, was a restoration to his former life. Jesus’ new life, on the other hand, was a leap forward into a higher life a life that no person had ever experienced. Jesus’ new life involved resurrection, not resuscitation. The word resurrection does not mean a restoration to one’s previous life, as happened to Lazarus, the widow of Nain, and Jairus’ daughter. It is not resuscitation. It is something infinitely more.
The word resurrection designates a quantum leap forward into a totally new life.It is something no human being had yet experienced.
In other words, the body of Jesus that rose on Easter Sunday was radically different from the body that was buried on Good Friday. St. Paul compares a body before and after resurrection to a seed and the plant that emerges from it. He says:
“When the body is buried, it is mortal; when raised, it will be immortal. When buried, it is ugly and weak; when raised, it will be beautiful and strong. When buried, it is a physical body;when raised, it will be a spiritual body.’’ 1 Corinthians 15:42–44
And this brings us to the gathering in this church on this day of days.
Easter tells us that the personal transformation of life that took place in Jesus is not something that is reserved for Jesus alone. It is something that will take place in each of us.
We, too, are destined for resurrection. We, too, are destined to share in the incredibly transformed life that Jesus now enjoys in heaven.
More closely at hand, Easter tells us something else.
As we study the Easter accounts in the Bible, we see not only that Jesus was remarkably transformed on Easter, but also that his disciples were transformed. Easter transformed them from a band of despairing people into a brigade of daring missionaries. At the command of Jesus they set out to carry the message of Easter to the four corners of the earth.
And everywhere they preached the good news, the power of Easter began to work in people’s lives, just as it had in their own lives.
Beautiful things began to happen. Despair began to give way to hope; darkness began to give way to light; hatred began to give way to love; sorrow began to give way to joy.
In short, everywhere the disciples preached, the power of Easter began to work miracles in people’s lives. And those miracles haven’t stopped yet. They continue to happen in our time.
This is the good news of Easter.
This is the good news that we have come together to celebrate on this day of days.
It is the good news that we are destined to be transformed someday, just as Jesus was transformed on this day 2,000 years ago. It is the good news that Jesus also wishes to transform our present lives, just as he transformed the lives of his disciples after his resurrection.
It is the good news that Jesus is ready to work miracles of new life in us, if we but open our hearts to his Easter power.
It is the good news that every Good Friday in our lives can be turned into an Easter Sunday, if we but open our hearts to the risen power of the risen Jesus.
It is the good news that we don’t have to wait until we die to share in the risen life of Jesus. We can begin right now, in this Mass, in this Easter celebration.
This is what Easter is all about. It is the good news that the risen Jesus is in our midst right now, in the Church, inviting us to a new life of faith, hope, and love.
Series III Easter Sunday Acts of the Apostles 10:34a, 37–43; Colossians 3:1–4; John 20:1–9
Resurrection Resurrection is not a restoration to our former life, but a quantum leap to a higher life.
Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in; he saw and believed. John 20:8
Early one morning a man was standing in front of a shop in Edinburgh, Scotland. He was looking intently at a large painting in the shop window.
Suddenly a little boy appeared. Thinking that the man might not know what the painting was all about, the boy said:
“That’s Jesus on the cross, sir. They nailed him there. That lady next to the cross is his mother. Her name is Mary. She’s crying because of what they did to her son.
“When Jesus died, sir, they buried him way over there. You can just see the tomb, at the edge of the picture.”
The boy continued, pointing out the soldiers standing under the cross, the crown of thorns on Jesus’ head, and the spear wound in Jesus’ side.
All the while, the man stood listening. When the little boy finished, the man was too choked to speak. He patted the boy on the shoulder and went away with tears in his eyes.
Seconds later, the boy came running up. He pulled on the man’s coat sleeve and said:
“It’s okay, sir. Don’t cry. It’s okay. I forgot the most important part. Jesus rose up on Easter. And he is now stronger and more beautiful than he was before they nailed him to the cross.”
That touching story expresses simply and beautifully why we have all come to this church on this Easter Day.
We’ve come to celebrate an incredible event: the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
By the word resurrection we don’t mean “resuscitation.” That is, we don’t mean the return of Jesus to the very same life he had before he died.
The body of Jesus that was buried on Good Friday afternoon was radically different from the body that was raised on Sunday morning.
By resurrection we mean something infinitely different. It is something no human being had ever experienced before Jesus.
It is a quantum leap to a life we never dreamed possible. The body that was raised was a glorified body.
Saint Paul compares the human body before the Resurrection to a seed. And he compares the glorified Body after the Resurrection to a plant that emerged from that seed. The two are totally different.
Paul puts it this way in the First Letter to the Corinthians. He writes:
[W]hat you plant is a bare seed, perhaps a grain of wheat or some other grain, not the full-bodied plant that will later grow up.
This is how it will be when the dead are raised to life. . . .When buried, it is a physical body; when raised, it will be a spiritual body. 1 Corinthians 15:37, 42, 44
That brings us back to what we have come together to celebrate this Easter morning.
We have come to celebrate not only the incredible transformation of Jesus but also the incredible transformation of his followers after the Resurrection.
For example, Jews believed in only one God. This is why the Jews had only one Temple in all of Israel.
Jews honored Abraham and Moses as messengers from God. But they would have died a terrible death rather than suggest that either of them might be the actual Son of God
Yet just three days later, after watching Jesus die a cruel death, the disciples did just that.
So strong was their faith that Jesus was the actual Son of God that, in the months and years ahead, many of them died on crosses of their own, rather than deny this faith. Robert Cleath says of them:
That brings us to the grace that Jesus wants to give to each of us here.
It is the grace to be transformed as the disciples were transformed. It is the grace to begin living new lives, as the disciples did.
It is the grace to love again after having had our love rejected.
It is the grace to trust again after having had our trust betrayed.
It is the grace to hope again after having our hope dashed to pieces.
It is the power to pick up the pieces again after having become disenchanted with the Church and leaving it behind for months or even years. Easter celebrates the fact that by his resurrection, Jesus has conquered sin and death and made all things new.
It celebrates the fact that he wants to help us conquer sin and make all things new.
Jesus wants us open our hearts to his grace.
He wants us to leave the past behind and accept his mercy and forgiveness.
He wants us to taste again the joy of walking in his presence. If we do open our hearts to his grace, I assure you that we too will experience the same kind of transformation that the disciples did.
Jesus will surprise us with an Easter joy that we never dreamed possible when we walked into this church this morning.
This is what can happen to each of us, if we open our hearts to the Easter grace that Jesus wants to give us on this day that changed the course of human history.