Easter Homily, Frank Brennan SJ
St Thomas the Apostle Parish
Frank Brennan SJ
20 April 2019
A year ago, if you’d said to me Cardinal Pell will be in prison, Notre Dame Cathedral will be in flames, and 50 people will lie dead, soaked in their own blood, having been gunned down while attending Friday prayers at their mosque – gunned down by one of our fellow Australians, I don’t think I would have believed you. I’d be asking for proof. And when these things did come to pass, I, like you, would be wondering what room is left in our world, and even in our Church, for the joy, hope and glory of the Easter message.
Cardinal’s Pell imprisonment is part of a legal process as we seek truth, justice and compassion for all, especially the victims of sexual abuse, during a time of great uncertainty and change. We wait for the law to do its work.
In the streets outside Notre Dame, Parisians gathered and sang Ave Maria in the dark as the flames engulfed their cathedral. I had the good fortune to be there a year ago after conducting the wedding of a nephew in Paris. On one of the majestic pillars beside the sanctuary I read the inscription:
‘I was born Jewish. I received the name of my paternal grandfather, Aron. Becoming a Christian by faith and baptism, I remained Jewish as the apostles were. I have for my patron saints Aron the great priest, St John the Apostle, and Saint Mary Full of Grace. Named the 139th archbishop of Paris by St John Paul II, I was inducted into this cathedral on 27 February 1981 to exercise all my ministry. As you pass by, pray for me Aron Jean Marie Cardinal Lustiger Archbishop of Paris’
On Holy Thursday I received the photos of my nephew’s newborn son and heir.
After the shootings in Christchurch, Jacinda Ardern recalled the story of Hati Mohemmed Daoud Nabi, the 71-year-old man who opened the door at the Al-Noor mosque saying, ‘Hello brother, welcome’. These were the last words he uttered before he breathed his last. Prime Minister Ardern said, ‘Of course he had no idea of the hate that sat behind the door, but his welcome tells us so much — that he was a member of a faith that welcomed all its members, that showed openness, and care. … We open our doors to others and say welcome. And the only thing that must change after the events of Friday, is that this same door must close on all of those who espouse hate and fear.’
In tonight’s gospel, the women stand outside the tomb terrified. The stone has been rolled away. The door between life and death, between heaven and earth, has been opened. The two men in brilliant clothes say to them, ‘Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here; he is risen.’ The women go and tell their story to others including the apostles, ‘but this story of theirs seemed pure nonsense, and they did not believe them’.
To non-believers, our story of ultimate hope, with meaning beyond suffering, and life beyond death seems pure nonsense. We do believe that ultimately there can be truth, justice and compassion for all. We do believe that a cathedral can be the embodiment of faith and culture from century to century, and can be rebuilt to reflect the glory of humanity and the presence of God in our midst. But the cost and energy expended on bricks and mortar need to be matched by our commitment to those who are poor and on the edges, feeling as if they don’t belong inside any grand structures.
We do believe that the tomb can be opened and the door of welcome made inviting for all if we carry with us the belief in the Risen Lord showing openness and care to all and offering forgiveness to those who espouse hate and fear. Paul tells the Romans that Jesus’ life is now with God; ‘and in that way you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus’.
We are people of the resurrection. Our hope is real in the midst of the mess and complexity of our world and of our lives. We are sent forth from the empty tomb remembering what Jesus told his followers in Galilee about being handed over to the power of sinful men, being crucified and rising again on the third day. This is good news not just for us attending Church tonight, but for us always, and for everyone in our world.
We go forth from the darkness bringing the light which we have seen tonight, the light which emboldens us with hope to do as Prime Minister Ardern told her Parliament. I will recall her words but render them without the understandable tinge of New Zealand nationalism:
‘Our challenge now is to make the very best of us, a daily reality. Because we are not immune to the viruses of hate, of fear, of other. We never have been. But we can be the people who discover the cure. And so to each of us as we go from here, we have work to do, but do not leave the job of combatting hate to others. We each hold the power, in our words and in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness.’
Happy Easter, and may Jesus, Lord of the Dawn, find our Flame still burning in the Night.