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Easter Sunday (B)

Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9

April 8, 2012

Leading with the Ear: Listening for Easter

It may seem a little odd, these readings I mean. I know my task is to offer a reflection on the scriptural texts appointed for Easter Sunday, but part of my honest reflection is an annual surprise that the lead gospel for this glorious feast is a couple of footraces and plenty of misunderstanding. Mary of Magdala does the running first, racing to Simon Peter and the "beloved" disciple to announce the theft of the body. Then the fisherman and his younger companion sprint to the tomb, empty of the body as reported, but filled with questions and confusion. And the scriptures announce that "they did not yet understand."

Now the Peter of the first reading clearly understands, and bears mighty witness to the Resurrection of Jesus. And on Tuesday of Easter week the unfolding of John's gospel will narrate Mary of Magdala's eyes being opened, as she becomes the first in that gospel to have an encounter with the Risen Lord. Her eyes are opened, however, only because her ears are open, and she hears Jesus call her name. Peter himself had to go through some serious verbal interrogation by Jesus (John 21:15-17) before he came to such an unshakeable faith in the Risen One.

While we are a society that often holds to the maxim that "seeing is believing," the scriptures in general tilt toward the trustworthiness of sound and audibility. The God of the Hebrew Scriptures is seldom seen, but often heard. Creation itself was a speech-act: God SAID, and creation came to be. The great creed of Judaism, the Shema, begins "Hear, O Israel" (Deut. 6:4). God even announces to Moses that "you cannot see my face; for no one may see me and live" (Exodus 33.20).

While the New Testament seems to be filled with more visual revelations, quite often the "seen" is preparatory for the essential revelation that is "heard." Mary sees the angel, but it is the word that announces the promise of incarnation, and in response her spoken fiat sets that mystery in motion (Luke 1:30ff). At Jesus' baptism there was an opening of the heavens and the descending of a dove (Mark 1.10), but it is the voice that reveals Jesus as the beloved of God. Maybe most pointed is Jesus' admonition to the finger-poking Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed" (John 20.29).

The Church's celebration of Easter is not an annual anniversary of the Resurrection. Actually no one was present for the Resurrection, despite all of the evidence of Renaissance paintings to the contrary. The Resurrection was a once-and-for-all, trans-temporal event, without human witness. Jesus' Resurrection, like his crucifixion, is unrepeatable. Easter, on the other hand, is repeatable for it is about encountering the Risen Lord, about recognizing God's undying love in the Christ, even though his presence is often veiled as to the Magdalene or those disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24).  

If Easter is to be more than an ecclesial sigh of relief announcing that all the fasting and drudgery of Lent has finally come to an end and we can once more say Alleluia, then it must be an impetus for mission. It certainly was for Peter, whom the 10th chapter of Acts reports was on fire witnessing to the true nature of Jesus and the call to reconciliation. While that mission can be envisioned in many ways, Paul's baking metaphor in the second reading invites us to employ our influence - to insert our little yeast - on the side of sincerity and truth rather than malice and wickedness.

Many of us are racing around like earnest disciples, doing what we can to be helpful with our yeast, intent on sincerity rather than malice, truth rather than wickedness. Yet sometimes in our haste, however, we only glance at surfaces rather than listen to hearts; we invest in seeing and not in hearing and, like disciples of old, often misconstrue and misunderstand.

There has been much in the media these past weeks about the tragic death of a 17 year old African American wearing a hoodie. While the many facts and multiple truths of that tragedy are yet to be untangled, the specter of misapprehension - be that because of Trayvon Martin's race or gender or age or clothes - has captured the imagination and the conscience of a nation. We are a society in which racism runs deep; we are a society that values the good looking, the well proportioned, the slick and stylish; we are a society inundated with images from our flat screens and smart phones that announce what forms, looks and even people are acceptable and respectable. And in that tilt toward the eye, we may unintentionally forsake the ear, block out the narrative, and miss the voice of God's beloved.  

Encountering the Risen one is still possible; Easter is yet in our future. Christ waits to be recognized in the Word and in the breaking of the bread and in the sharing of a cup. More dangerously, Christ also waits for us in the face of every stranger. He even wears a hoodie from time to time. Thus, with our little yeast, we tread softly, look gently, listen intently, caress often, and carry no weapons. In so doing, Easter is yet possible.

By Edward Foley, Capuchin, the Duns Scotus Professor of Spirituality and Professor of Liturgy and Music

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