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Easter Message 2010 from Bishop Patrick Ellison of The Catholic Mission

Apr 7, 2010, 4:25 PM

1. Dear Brothers and Sister in Christ, Brothers and Sisters of the Muslim community in The Gambia and all men and women of goodwill. Peace be with you.

The story of the Passion and Death of Jesus ends with the account of his burial. Luke tells us that the women who had come with him from Galilee were there and that they took note of the location of the tomb and of the position of the body. Then they returned to Jerusalem that evening to prepare spices and ointments.  And on the Sabbath day they rested as the Law required.

Then follows the story of the resurrection of Jesus in the last chapter of Luke's Gospel. On the first day of the week, at the first sign of dawn, the women went to the tomb with the spices they had prepared.

It is clear that these women went to the tomb that morning for one purpose only - to anoint the dead body of Jesus. This was in keeping with local tradition. But even more so it was a final gesture of respect, devotion and loyalty to the Master. Luke names them as Mary of Magdala, Joanna and Mary the mother of James. These are also mentioned earlier on in Luke's Gospel as the first women disciples and that they provided for him out of their own means.

On arrival at the tomb, they discovered that the stone had been rolled away and that there was no body to anoint. Then two men appeared in dazzling garments (exactly as happened at the Transfiguration on Mount Thabor) and said to them: 'Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here.' These messengers of God merely confirmed what the women had already observed. But they also added some extra information: 'He has risen. Remember that he told you how the Son of Man must suffer and die and on the third day rise from the dead.'

Hence, there is no point in staring into an empty tomb.

2. As soon as they began to weigh up all the evidence, they left the empty tomb behind them and ran to tell the apostles what had taken place. But this story of theirs seemed pure nonsense! Hardly surprising?

- In the society at that time, women were mere property, first of their fathers and then of their husbands. They had no right to testify and they could not study the Torah.

- Secondly, the apostles were grieving over the loss and tragedy of Jesus' death.  And to add to that, most of them had run away when he was arrested; Peter was still hurting bitterly with the guilt of denying his Master.

- Thirdly, the apostles were the chosen and closest followers of Jesus. As such, they were afraid of being next on the list for arrest by the Sanhedrin or the Roman authorities. And so, in such circumstances, their minds and their hearts were simply not able to focus on, much less believe in, what the women reported. Grief, guilt and fear prevented them from seeing with the eyes of the heart

However, Peter decided to go and check out the situation for himself. He may have had a flashback to that day at Caesarea Philippi when he told Jesus quite openly: 'Lord, this must never happen to you.' He was rebuking Jesus for speaking about the suffering and death that the Messiah would have to endure. But it seems that he didn?t hear the last part: that he would also rise again form the dead. And Jesus turned to Peter and said: 'get behind me Satan!'.

And in the light of this incident, he now began to wonder?a first step to belief.

3. No matter how we look at the Gospel stories of the resurrection, they present us with a very fragile beginning for a religion that has lasted almost 2000 years.

On that first Easter morning, no one saw what happened or did not happen. What happened in the tomb was known only to Jesus and God the Father. And yet that is where many of us today still try to focus our thoughts - on the empty tomb and how we might explain it to those who do not believe - when even we ourselves cannot come to terms with it. 'Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?'

The Gospel stories of Easter record the many appearances of Jesus to his disciples over a period of some 40 days before He ascended into Heaven. And these encounters are filled with powerful experiences of hope and new life. The message of Easter began to burst forth the moment the 'gardener' said 'Mary' and she knew who he was. It is the beloved disciple John who narrates that early morning scene of sadness as Mary Magdalene weeps all alone at the empty tomb of Jesus. While the other two women went back to tell the apostles what they had seen and heard (according to Luke), it would seem that she stayed behind at the tomb to mourn her loss. Love is stronger than death. The conversation between them opens with the question: 'Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?' And she replied: 'Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where?and I will come and  take him '. Then Jesus said to her: 'Mary'. She turned and said to him 'Rabboni, Teacher'. Jesus replied: 'do not cling to me for I have not yet ascended to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God. But go and tell the brothers...'

In this account from John's Gospel, it seems that Mary Magdalene had the privilege to be the first witness to the Risen Lord - the one to whom Jesus had said in the house of Simon the Pharisee: 'I tell you her sins, her many sins are forgiven because she has loved so much'. This was good news not just for Mary - but also for all of us. A woman, a woman labeled as a serious sinner, was now chosen to be the first witness and messenger of the resurrection of Jesus form the dead.

4. The Risen Lord now entrusted his own mission into the hands of weak, broken and sinful people like Mary Magdalene and the apostles. Today, he continues to do the same to us. 'Go out into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to all nations'. He is not afraid to accept the shadowy and dark areas of our human condition. He knows our capacity for deceit, for betrayal, for greed for lust and for power. He saw all of these sins in his own disciples who were the first witnesses of his resurrection from the dead. And if he could accept them, he also calls us to be his messengers to serve him to the best of our ability in spite of who we are. If I can only accept his compassion, his pardon and his understanding of my human weakness, then I can begin to forgive and accept myself as I am. And if I can do that, then I can also begin to show the same patience, compassion, understanding and gentleness to my brothers and sisters whom I have offended - whoever they are and wherever they come from.

This is good news for all of us. This is the beginning of heaven on earth - where together we recreate a world where the need to accuse or blame or condemn each other gives way to harmony, peace and goodwill. 

May Christ that morning star who came back from the dead, shed his peaceful light on all of us today and forever. Amen.