They sat frozen in fear, wondering if they were next. They looked at each other and saw the tears and felt the abandonment and wondered what it all had meant. There were no profiles in courage among the occupants of that upper room. They had run and hid while their friend and teacher had been taken away and executed. What was it He said? What do they do now? No one wanted to venture outside. All expected to be arrested. Worst of all, all of them were haunted by doubts about Him and His message and what would happen to their lives.
Sometime after that "good" Friday, these same friends, once scared of the sound of their own voices, went out to the people in Jerusalem and proclaimed they had some Good News. Their friend wasn't dead. He wasn't gone. He is alive and death has been conquered. They began repeating His message. They were full of such joy. The fear, which had paralyzed them, was gone. He had promised He wouldn't leave them. He guaranteed if they followed His lead, they too wouldn't have to fear dying and would have abundant lives. You couldn't shut them up. They spread out all over the region and beyond. They continuously proclaimed the life, death and resurrection of their friend Jesus and they said His message, His closeness to God, His love and forgiveness were available to anyone...to us today.
The apostles and disciples weren't just convinced Jesus' memory and message would go on. They were transformed; they were transfigured, by the experience of the risen Jesus. He was dead, but now He is alive. He wasn't a ghost either. They tell stories about him eating and drinking. This wasn't an apparition. It was Jesus. The experience of encountering Jesus caused them to tell anyone they met what had happened. Can you imagine?
There are not a lot of post-resurrection stories in scripture. What there are have one thing in common. Those who encounter the risen Jesus don’t recognize Him. Whatever resurrection is, it is not cosmic mouth to mouth returning you just as you were before. Whatever "it" is, we are different. The essence of who we are, our soul some would say, goes on. Eventually, the apostles in the upper room, the women at the tomb and the disciples on the road to Emmaus recognize Jesus and their joy is impossible to conceal. They weren't guessing. They weren't repeating hearsay. They weren't claiming to have been visited by a spirit. The experience and contact with the risen Jesus ended their fear, tears, anxiety and doubts. The question on this Easter is whether we will open ourselves to the same contact with the same result?
One of the best homilies I have heard on Easter was based on one sentence. "He is risen." "He"...is Jesus of Nazareth. Born to Joseph and Mary. A carpenter's son. He had traveled though Judea proclaiming the message of God and living such a radically loving and caring life, He became as close to God as a son to His Mother. This human opened up a new relationship with God. The distance between God and us had been eliminated. "He" was human, and now all of us could get as close to God as He was. We could lead an abundant life. "He is"...Those scared and cowering friends living in the upper room changed when they re-connected to Jesus. Their message is He is risen. It isn't an event in the past. It isn't something to wait for in the future. This Jesus is with us now and 2000 years later he still is. On Easter, we don't celebrate an event, which happened 2000 years ago. Jesus is as present and relevant and available now as he was on Easter morning. Those of us, who claim to be Christian, aren't reminiscing about some event in the past like the 4th of July or the birth of a friend or loved one. The same Jesus, who so energized and transfigured this ragtag group, is as real today, alive today, available today, and inspirational today, as He was in the upper room. "He is risen"...they were convinced He was alive. The same Jesus who they saw laid in the tomb, behind the stone, is the same Jesus who they encountered and reveled in His presence. He definitely was dead. They were devastated. He isn't dead anymore. This wasn't speculation. He had promised and He kept His word.
We are Easter people. Without Easter there is no Christianity. Christmas is the birth of another Jewish boy without Easter. Without Easter, there is no Good News...no gospel. Death no longer defines human existence. How many of you, like me, think about death and can't get beyond its finality? How many of us have lost someone we love and miss so much there is a hole in our hearts? How many of us, aware of our own mortality, struggle to put off the inevitable any way we can? The message of Easter is one of great joy. Death is not the final answer. We go "on...." We can touch the same grace which energized Jesus. We can be as close to God as Mother to son or daughter. We can have an abundance in life, which does not end. That is the good news...that is why we celebrate...that is the message of Easter...we can all participate. In the end, it doesn't matter what you call yourself...Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist or atheist...what matters is how you live your life. If you can love your enemies, turn the other cheek, forgive an infinite number of times, treat the least of your brothers and sisters with love and dignity, the grace and promise of Easter is yours.
HAPPY EASTER. HE IS RISEN. ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA!!!