During my four years at Borgia High School, I taught several different classes, including, for 2 years, a class in world religions to seniors. When we got to the unit on Catholicism, I thought we were on more familiar ground, so I could perhaps deepen the level of the conversations and the test questions. So one of my questions on the chapter test was something to this effect: “Explain what the resurrection is and its significance for the life of the early church.” One answer still stays with me, all these years later. “The Resurrection was when Jesus, who had been dead and buried, rose from the dead and appeared to his disciples. (Good so far. And he continued in what might be the most understated line in all my years of teaching.) This surprised a lot of people and they repented”
This surprised a lot of people. Boy, did he get that point right. 2000 years later, doesn’t the resurrection still surprise us?
• The discovery of life where we thought all was death?
• The uncovering of a strength within us to be radically involved in all the Ferguson’s of our world, when our initial response would be to simply cower in fear? And though we have seen more than our share of the sorrow and suffering of Good Friday in that community, this Tuesday finds 8 candidates running for positions on the city council.
• Yesterday morning I was wonderfully surprised when a penitent returned to the confession after 45 years of being away. What a gift it was to celebrate what has been an emerging of new life within this person.
This surprised a lot of people. The women on their way to the tomb were contemplating a very real problem – who is going to roll away the stone? Those stones would have been 1 ½ to 2 tons – a formidable obstacle to anyone. But not for the risen one! And sometimes, what seems so huge for us, what seems unable to be overcome – an addiction to smoking, to adult sites on the internet, to power wielded over people – when we invite the Lord of life to be a part of our healing, then, like the women, we can be surprised by the fact the stone had been rolled away…
This surprised a lot of people and they repented, my high school student wrote. And though most of us think of repenting as a kind of moral response, the danger there is reducing the resurrection to a kind of morality play. The truth is much bigger. James Martin, SJ – in his book “Jesus” says this about the meaning of the resurrection. “When Jesus speaks about ‘those who lose their life, he is not talking only about physical death. There are other deaths that come before that final one. We are called to let some parts of our lives die, so that other parts may live. Is a desire for money preventing you from being more compassionate on the job? Perhaps your need for wealth needs to die. Are you so yoked to your own comfort that you don’t allow other people’s needs to impinge on yours? Maybe your selfishness needs to die. so that you can experience a rebirth of generosity. Is pride keeping you from listening to other people’s constructive criticism and therefore stunting your spiritual growth? Maybe all these things need to die too.” Tonight/today, we are invited to let the power that rolled away the stone remove from us all that is NOT life, all that is not the fullness of what God has in store for us in Jesus.
Finally, there is one more surprise in the message of the two men in the tomb in Mark’s account. They are told to “Go to GALILEE. Not to stay in Jerusalem, but to there to Galilee – which is the equivalent of saying: Go back HOME. That is where you primarily live this out. “Tell the disciples that is where I will meet them. Back home. Back in their ordinary jobs of fishing and their ordinary lives with spouses, and nagging kids and crazy relatives. There, in your “Galilees”, there in our Bel Nor’s and Northwoods, and Greendales and Pasadina Parks; there in our Newman Centers and UMSL Campuses – there you are to make the resurrection real. And though we sometimes want the resurrection to be a Cecil B. DeMille moment – this huge, heroic undertaking – most of the time the work of the resurrection is no farther away from us than our kitchen table.
My high school student had it right, though perhaps not for the reasons he thought when he answered my test question. The resurrection should surprise us all, and call all of us to repent of anything less than the fullness of LIFE God has in store for us, not just at the end of our days – but this day. This wondrous, glorious, impossible resurrection day!