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 The Peace Pulpit:  Homiles by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton

By special arrangement, The National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company is able to make available Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton's weekly Sunday homilies given at Saint Leo Church, Detroit, MI.  Each homily is transcribed from a tape recording of the actual delivery and made available to you as an NCR Web site exclusive.  You may register for a weekly e-mail reminder that will be sent to you when each new homily is posted. From time to time, Bishop Gumbleton is traveling and unable to provide us with the homily for the week. NOTE: The homilies are available here five days after they are given, always on Friday.
  Easter Sunday April 11, 2004

This week's readings **

Acts 10:34a, 37-43
Peter proceeded to speak and said: "You know what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name."

Col 3:1-4
Brothers and sisters: If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.

John 20:1-9
On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, "They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don't know where they put him." So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first; he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there, and the cloth that had covered his head, not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place. Then the other disciple also went in, the one who had arrived at the tomb first, and he saw and believed. For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.

* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
He has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published numerous articles and reports.

* Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.

For your convenience, the Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C., may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCC).

** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.

As many of you know, two weeks ago yesterday, a very, very close friend of mine died suddenly, quite unexpectedly – the Bishop of Saginaw, Bishop Ken Untener.  Many of us are familiar with him because of the little books that he wrote.  I think most of you received the white book today that will be for us to use during the next seven weeks as we celebrate Easter time.

Ken was a very extraordinary writer, as you’ll know if you do use these books.  But he was also a very gifted preacher and taught preaching.  One of things he said that I should remember today, I suppose, is that the Easter homily ought to be brief!  “The biggest reason for brevity, in my opinion, is that when you are dealing with something like the Resurrection, words will never do it.  You just can’t capture what happened on Easter.  No matter how long you talk about it, it probably won’t become much clearer.”  He says:  “It is the hardest thing in the world to believe that there is life after death, but it is also the most wonderful thing to believe.  We are asking people to bet their lives on it.” 

In saying that, of course, Ken points out something that is so true.  When it comes to the Resurrection – to Jesus being raised from the dead – it is not something you prove.  The Gospels don’t prove it.  You can’t prove it.  It is something that requires faith.  You must believe – be open and God becomes present through Jesus in your life in extraordinary ways. 

When you look at the Gospels, you realize that they never intended to prove that Jesus was raised from the dead.  In fact, when you look at the accounts of the Resurrection in the 4 Gospels you find 4 different accounts and they contradict one another.  It’s as if the writers were just confused not knowing how to describe what happened – what to say about it.  And so they never really proved that Jesus rose from the dead.  But at the time these Gospels were written and you may remember that the first Gospel wasn’t written until maybe the year 70 or even 80.  So it was like 40 years after Jesus died and was raised from the dead.  They were written not for people who didn’t know about Jesus, but they were written for people who did believe, people who did know Jesus is risen, people who really accepted Jesus into their lives.  And so what the Gospel writers are doing is not trying to prove anything, they are simply trying to reflect on what all of this means—what it should mean in our life.

In today’s Gospel, for example, what John is doing is something that is very comforting for all of us.  He is reminding us that when we die we still remain friends with those who are still living or those who will join us later in death.  In a very beautiful way he shows, {you know Jesus and Mary Magdalene were very close friends,} Mary was devastated when Jesus died.  But John shows us that there is still that strong connection – the bond of love and friendship and it goes on after death.  It is not something that ends with death. And that is a very beautiful and consoling aspect of the Resurrection – that we continue to know and love those whom we knew and loved in this world. 

In Luke’s Gospel and in the others, too, Mark maybe especially, what they tried to show is how God does so many unexpected things – the unexpectedness of the Resurrection – the disciples come to the tomb and they are expecting the tomb still to be blocked with that huge stone.  It wasn’t!  Unexpectedly the stone is gone.

And then, the disciples begin to experience the presence of Jesus.  He is not dead.  He is alive.  He is with us.  Unexpectedly we come to know the truth about Jesus.  And that continues how God, in Luke’s Gospel especially, but also in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles that we read today, how God works so unexpectedly in the lives of people – changes them. 

Peter would never have expected to go into the house of a pagan, Cornelius.  No, Peter was a very pious practicing Jew and Jews did not go into the houses of Gentiles.  But now suddenly, unexpectedly, God leads him to go into that home and preach the Good News.  Peter before had been so timid and even cowardly.  Remember, he was the one who told Jesus:  “If everyone else abandons you, I will never abandon you.”  But then a couple of hours later he is saying:  “I never knew him.”  He denied Jesus!  But, unexpectedly now, Peter is changed.  He has the courage and the determination to proclaim the Good News wherever he can go to anyone and everyone.  Unexpectedly.  God changed him and the other disciples. 

Maybe that’s the most important thing we should carry home with us today – how God can enter into our lives in a very unexpected way and bring consolation to us, bring joy to us, give us courage, help us to have the determination to live the Good News, to share the Good News, to proclaim the message about Jesus.  Unexpectedly, God will enter into our lives.

That happened to me a week and a half ago on the occasion of Bishop Untener’s funeral.  I was there to celebrate the funeral Mass with several thousands of people, literally, that had come over the two days before the funeral.  Before the Mass, the church was packed.  People from all over that diocese came because they loved him so much.  But there was a heaviness, as you would expect, a terrible sadness. I felt it very deeply myself.  But then, that morning, I read the meditation that Ken had written well over a year ago and it was so unexpected to read what I did.  And I really am confident it was God’s way of helping me and helping all who read this book that day.  On that morning, Ken had taken the Gospel for that day where in John’s Gospel Jesus said:  “Amen.  Amen.  I say to you: whoever keeps my Word will never see death.”  So the Jews said to him:  “Now we are sure that you are possessed.  Abraham died, as did the prophets. Yet you say, “Whoever hears my Word would never see death.  Who do you make yourself out to be?”

Ken then reflects on these words.  “Whoever keeps my Word will never see death.”  Really?  There are some awfully good people who have died.  But what Jesus is telling us is that there is more to death than death.  We die to one form of life and are born into another.  The unborn child has to die to life in the womb in order to be born into a new, wider, fuller life.  That’s what Jesus came to do – to change death into a birth.  Jesus said this more than once.  Two chapters earlier in John’s Gospel he said:  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  Again, Ken’s commentary.

Sometimes we think the teachings of Jesus are always hard and difficult, but that is not true.  Jesus spoke many, many, comforting words and this Gospel passage is a good example.  What Jesus says in the passage above is encouraging and consoling.  And when I read it unexpectedly that morning, it was truly that – encouraging and consoling – as it would be for any of us if we read those words of Jesus and let them sink in. But sometimes, unexpectedly, that message comes to us that Jesus gives us new life.

Ken says:  “Hear Jesus say these words to you.  Keep my Word, eat of this Bread and you never taste death.”

On this Easter, as we reflect on this incident that happened in my life and in the life of everybody who read this booklet this day realizing that Ken had written those words over a year ago never anticipating that he would be dead when they were read, but unexpectedly he is speaking to us through those words as God speaks to us through Jesus.

So, we can continue to look, if we are people of faith, for God in very unexpected ways to enter into our lives now – to show us that Jesus is alive and that God is with us and God will lead us into that fullness of life which Jesus now shares and shares with us through our Baptism.  Be ready for the unexpected from God and you will be consoled and encouraged and filled with Easter joy always.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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