Sunday, April 1, 2018

Where Are You Going?

   Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord   

Last Sunday—Palm Sunday—I was expecting my parents to drive over from Plattsburgh and join us for the 9:30am Mass.  It’s become a little tradition for them to come to Malone for Mass on Palm Sunday, and then we head up for the Sugar on Snow Brunch in Chasm Falls. 

So, I was a little surprised when I didn’t spot them as Mass began.  In fact, we had blessed the palms, had our procession, sung songs and said prayers—and still, no mom and dad.  Now, you have to understand, it would be no surprise at all if they’d arrived late.  I grew up thinking that my family had a special place in the Entrance Procession on Sundays—and not because we kids were all altar servers.  But this was late, even for them.  I just figured that something had come up and plans had changed.

But then, half to three-quarters of the way through the first reading, there they come through the side door: mom, dad, and my 8-year-old niece.  Immediately I thought, “There will be story…”

So after Mass, after greeting so many of you, I got to greet my family.  Which is when 8-year-old Abigail filled me in on the story: “Papa got a ticket!”

It seems that my father was driving at interstate speeds on the Brainardsville Road when he came upon a State Trooper who quickly pulled him over.  The Trooper came to the window and asked, “Where are you going in such a hurry?”  “To church,” answered my dad.  Now, I had learned as a child that there’s no speed limit when you’re on the way to Mass…but the Trooper was obviously raised differently than I, and so Papa got a ticket.

“Where are you going in such a hurry?”  Where are you going?

Have you ever heard of a “bucket list”?  Many folks have them.  It’s a list of things you hope to do before you “kick the bucket”—tasks you hope to accomplish, places you want to see, experiences you want to have.  And just where does such a list presume that you’re going?  Well, to death, of course.  A cheery thought, no?  But that’s how it works.

This perspective colors everything, if you think about it.  We get good grades, so we can get into college, so we can get a good job, so we can make enough money, so can retire at an age when we can enjoy it, so we can travel and buy that place in Florida for our golden years….before we die.  We hurry along the roads of life as if it’s all going to come to a complete stop—as if the grave is our final destination.

Easter tells us to turn the car right around.  Death is not the end!

We Americans have a particular tendency to be heading the wrong direction—riding off into the sunset.  “Go west, young man!”  But we weren’t made to rush headlong into the lengthening shadows.  Our Easter faith instead looks to the east, to the dawn, to a new start.

As we recounted at the great Easter Vigil, God has been leading us in this direction all along—from the very beginning: from darkness to light; from barrenness to fruitfulness; from the slavery of sin to the freedom of the Promised Land; from the infidelity of exile to redemption and a clean heart.  We’ve certainly seen this movement over these last three holy days as we’ve walked with Jesus from the upper room to the garden to the cross into the tomb…and now back out of it again.

Consider the Easter gospel we’ve just heard.  It’s important to note the time when Mary Magdalene goes to Jesus’ tomb: at the very break of day.  And what does she go there expecting to find?  Why, his dead body, of course.  Which is why the empty tomb is so perplexing to her—and later to Peter and the beloved disciple, too.  Our working presumption has always been that death is the end toward which we are heading.  But the Resurrection of Jesus has changed that—and that changes absolutely everything!

Among the things it changes is how we Christians think of cemeteries.  Visit an old cemetery, and notice that—more often than not—the headstones are facing toward the east.  That’s so that, when the great day of our resurrection dawns, all we’ll have to do is sit up and our faces will be turned toward the rising sun.  The grave is not your final resting place; it’s just where you wait for what comes next.

We Christians can approach the whole of life from this perspective because—as St. Paul reminds us—we have already died.  In the waters of Baptism, our old, sinful self was drowned and we were buried with Jesus so that we might then rise with him.   We are not headed for death; we are headed for heaven! 

And heading in that direction needs to guide every single thing we think, do, and say.  Because we have been raised with Christ, we need to constantly seek after the things that are above—not the things of earth.  Through Baptism, we have been reborn to a new life, hidden with Christ in God.

Lots of people have made a big deal that, this year, Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine’s Day and now Easter Sunday coincides with April Fools Day.  (This hasn’t happened since 1956, and won’t happen again until 2029—just long enough for us all to forget that we’ve ever seen this before.)  But this fun little fluke of the calendar also holds some deep meaning for us. 

Are you willing to look foolish and head in the opposite direction from most of the rest of the world?  Are you willing to live in such a way that other people stop you on the side of the road of life and ask, “Where are you going?”  That’s what Easter demands.

And such a dramatic and complete turnaround can only be a matter of the heart.  We’re compelled first by the incredible love we see flowing from the very heart of God: the love with which the Son of God became man, accepted death, and rose again on the third day.  And we’re moved by the desire found deep within our own hearts: the longing for true communion with the Lord, the very thing for which we were created—an intimate relationship that starts now, and is meant to last forever.

So…where are you going?

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