Fr. Bill Carroll – Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I am here this morning with Good News—the very best news. Because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. And, in him, we have eternal life. It’s the very best news there is.
There are many, many powerful images of resurrection in popular culture. Let me name just a few. From Obi Wan Kenobi to Harry Potter to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, such images abound in novels and in films. We can also find them in popular music, such as David Bowie’s “Lazarus,” recorded right on his deathbed, or the White Stripes’ rendition of “John the Revelator.”
But, in recent years, one of the most powerful images of resurrection comes from Bruce Springsteen. (More on that in a minute.) There has been a growing conversation about religious themes in Springsteen’s music over the years. In the mid-1980’s, he received an admiring letter from Walker Percy, the great Roman Catholic novelist, who discussed their mutual love for Flannery O’Connor. In that letter, Percy tells Springsteen the story about a time when O’Connor was in a seminar with a bunch of ex-Catholics. One of them, “thinking to be generous toward the Church,” said that “some of the Church rituals, like the Eucharist, are good symbols.” O’Connor famously replied: “Well, I say, if it’s only a symbol, then to hell with it.”
That’s a question we might ask about any symbol: Is it only a symbol, or does it instead participate in the larger reality it points to? That’s true for many of the beautiful symbols that surround us today: from the flowering of the cross to the ringing of bells to the baptisms of two wonderful children. Our Easter worship involves symbols—powerful, primal symbols. But do they point us beyond themselves to the larger life of God?
Christians find Jesus everywhere. We see him in the flowers and in our smiling faces today. We see him in candles, large and small, with the fire of the light of Christ on them. We see him in oil smeared on children’s foreheads in the sign of the cross. And in the waters (above all, in in the waters) of rebirth. We taste Jesus in the bread and wine made holy. We hear him in our raucous hymns of joy.
But something is different today. Today is the day of all days. It is the feast of all feasts. Because the life of God has burst forth from the Tomb to change the world. And it’s all because Jesus lives. And so, we can see Jesus working in AA meetings in church basements, where people find recovery and new life. We can see him working in ministries that feed the hungry, house the homeless, or visit those in prison. We can see Jesus, wherever people forgive each other or welcome strangers home. We can find him especially through what Mother Teresa once called the Gospel on five fingers: “You did it unto me.”
But let’s go back to Springsteen for a minute. The song of his that I have in mind is the title track from his 2002 album, “The Rising.” That song is his personal response to the September 11th attacks, which had just recently happened when he wrote it. In the song, he retells the story of 9/11 from the perspective of a working-class, Catholic firefighter. In so doing, he remembers a spirit of self-sacrifice that we more often praise than imitate.
This man leaves wife and children behind, as he climbs into the dark and lethal cloud to save others. We can imagine him climbing the stairs, floor by floor, step by step. He is filled with the fear of death, but also with a holy joy:
On my back (he sings) is a sixty pound stone
On my shoulder a half mile line
It is as if he is carrying the Cross. And this interpretation is confirmed when he says that he is “wearing the cross of my calling.” And so, in the chorus, when Springsteen sings “come on up for the rising,” we suspect that more is at work than climbing up a set of stairs.
Springsteen follows this with powerful images of sacrifice and communion—as bodies are transfigured in the light:
Spirits above and behind me (he sings),
Faces gone, black eyes burning bright
May their precious blood forever bind me,
Lord, as I stand before your fiery light
And then, in the next stanza, he sings about Mary in the Garden. Is she Mary Magdalene? Is she the Blessed Virgin? Maybe it’s a dying image of his wife? Maybe she is all three at once.
The song closes with what could be described as a hymn to the sky awash in darkness and glory, recalling themes long associated with this day, as well as the Second Coming:
Sky of blackness and sorrow (he sings)
Sky of love, sky of tears
Sky of glory and sadness
Sky of mercy, sky of fear
Sky of memory and shadow
Your burning wind fills my arms tonight
Sky of longing and emptiness
Sky of fullness, sky of blessed life
Brothers and sisters, we’d better hope that resurrection is more than just a symbol. Resurrection is the Good News that our world needs today. Our world needs the Good News of Jesus alive. And, according to the Gospel, laying down our lives for other people finds its meaning in communion with the God of life. Today, we proclaim that Jesus lives. In Jesus, we encounter the life of God conquering death.
Mary Magdalene comes to know that firsthand on the very first Easter, when she comes in darkness to the Tomb. The morning doesn’t start off that well for her. She has seen Jesus beaten, mocked, and murdered. She feels the ache of trauma and loss in her bones. The one she loves has been killed before her very eyes. And, when she gets to the Tomb, his body is gone. She thinks it’s been stolen. Even the comfort of caring for him has been taken away from her. No wonder she begins to weep.
And then, when Jesus arrives on the scene, she thinks he is the gardener. “Sir,” she says, weeping, “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” But then Jesus calls her by her name, and she knows it’s him. “Mary,” he says to her, and she turns to him. She turns her body around. She turns her whole life around This is a sign of her conversion. She turns to him, and her heart starts to burn inside her. It starts to pound with joy. And so, she runs off to tell all the others the Good News—that Jesus is alive.
And now she knows it in her bones. She knows it with that knowledge that is borne of love and deep connection. She knows that he is alive. And that nothing—not the soldiers, not the crowds, not the stone. Not the wood, not the nails, not the spear. Not our sin or our selfishness. Not our shame. Not illness. Not violence. Not war. Not Empire. Not even death itself. Nothing can hold Jesus down or keep his body in the Tomb.
That is the Good News of the Gospel—that Jesus is alive, and that, in his Name, we have the forgiveness of sins. We have eternal life.
He is the Lord of Life. He is the Lamb of God. He is the one who comes to us and calls us each by name. And he is risen in power to shatter the gates of hell.
May he set us free. May he bind us together.
May he cause us to rise in him.