An Easter Homily

Easter Homily on John 20:11-18
April 7, 2015

I was wondering if we could try a little call-and-response for a minute:

Alleluia! The Lord is risen! And you say: The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Alleluia! The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Alleluia! The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

(“We’re not really that kind of a congregation, and that’s okay,” or “I didn’t think we were that kind of a congregation, but maybe we are!”)

I’m not that kind of a preacher, and that’s okay too. But I wanted to try this proclamation today, because I think it’s one of the most joyous things ever said by a human being. And nobody knows what it means. And that’s okay too. In the Roman Catholic Church, the resurrection of Jesus is called one of the glorious mysteries. So maybe it’s okay that we don’t know what it means.

The only thing I can think to say is this:

A wise person once said:

It will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end.
It will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end.

But that’s not enough, is it? Could I leave you with that? What is this story about? I was stumped, but I figured there are really only six questions that can ever be asked or answered: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. If I can just answer those six questions right now, then I will have done a decent job up here today. So here it goes:

First of all, Who? Well, you and me of course. Who else is there?

What? It’s a story about death and resurrection, so I’m guessing this is about living and dying and something else that follows that. (You know, a lot of people who have a problem with religion—their problem stems from stories like this one. “This here is what really gets me,” they say, “it’s all this unbelievable stuff. Jesus, rising from the dead. Adam and Eve, standing in a garden talking to a snake. Water turning into wine.” People think these stories are a problem for us because we live in the scientific age. Well, I’ve got news for you: These stories were a problem for people 2000 years ago, too. Nobody could believe it back then, either. Just read the story! Now, back to our questions.)

Where? Here.

When? Now. NOW!

Why? Because. Just kidding. Love, of course. It’s always love.

How? Now this is where I get stumped again. How? How are you and me supposed to live and die and do that other thing that happens in the story. How? And then I read the story again, and what sticks out to me is this: an empty tomb.

God has come to earth. God has died. God has resurrected. What’s that supposed to be like? There should be fireworks! There should be storms and earthquakes and hail and blazing sun and angels on clouds and heaven on earth. But no. What do we get? An empty tomb.

It will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end.

We’re confronted with an emptiness, but I think that’s a beautiful message. An empty tomb, to me, means pure potential. Freedom. No-thing. Nothing. The potential for anything.

There is another symbol for this potential: An Easter Egg. An egg is a symbol of creation, of birth, of rebirth, renewal.

In the Christian tradition, you often hear a lot of “born-again” language. “Are you born again?” a girl once asked me in college. “Isn’t once enough?” I replied, much to her disdain. Luckily she laughed.
My problem with “born again” language is that most of the people I know who use that language haven’t died enough to be born again. None of us have. Or we have died and been reborn, but we’ve stopped there, as if it’s a one-time thing. We’ve stopped dying and being reborn.

I don’t know about “capital-D Death” of course. But I’m talking about the little deaths we die every day. All the time we are dying, and we are being reborn. The question is, what are we going to be reborn into? Will I die to my fun-loving self and be reborn as a curmudgeonly old man? Or will I die to my curmudgeonly self and be reborn as a fun-loving one? Will I die to my gossipy self, and be reborn into someone with more integrity? Or vice versa? Will I die to my opportunistic self and be reborn as a selfless one?

If you’re like me, and I think you are, once you’ve found your identity, before you know it, you outgrow it. You outgrow it and you let it go and you find a new one. And another one. And another one.
Seniors: You are about to say goodbye to your upper school selves. Upper-Schoolers, you’ve said good bye to your middle school selves. Lower-schoolers: you’ve said goodbye to your young childhood selves. Faculty and Staff, you’ve said good bye to all of these and more: You’ve said good bye to student-selves and father selves and mother selves, grandmother and grandfather selves, mentee selves and mentor-selves, mentally healthy selves, physically healthy selves. Luckily we get to say “hello again” to some of those as well.

Luckily, the thing about dying and being reborn is that your old selves never go away completely. They are always there, it’s just that you don’t identify with them anymore. Your old selves still reside somewhere inside you. Just the other day, my toddler-self came out when I tried to use my keycard to get into the gym for the third day in a row and it didn’t work. I threw a two-year-old tantrum right there in the parking lot. My toddler-self came out, but because I don’t identify with it any more, I could end my tantrum pretty quickly. Luckily, I also got to experience my child-self the other day, when I slid down a bunch of water slides at Great Wolf Lodge. Those old selves are there whenever we want them, (and sometimes when we don’t). But the bottom line is that they are not us. We are MORE than those selves.

Like you, I’ve been a lot of things. As a kid, I was a shy introspective artist, but then I found myself in these art classes with all of these “old” people. I wanted to be with kids my age. So then I tried to be an outgoing jock. That didn’t work for a number of reasons, but one of them was that I got very sick as a teenager. But that’s when I discovered the saxophone. And then I got a collapsed lung. And so you see, one of the scary things about identities is that they can dissolve in a split-second. I can tell you that none of them last. None of them are satisfactory. So while we can and should have identities, we should also remember that we are more than any of those identities.

But it’s even more complicated than that.

Every time I die, I think to myself: If I can only get it right this time. If I can only die and then choose the right new self, then maybe I won’t have to die again.

For example, one of my identities was this junior executive who thought he might like some success in the corporate world. But just as I was about to accept that job, I realized that what I really wanted to do was to be a teacher, the thing I had always dreamed about. And so I didn’t take that job and instead I joined a community of resistance, a group of poor teachers at a Catholic school in Massachusetts.

You might think, as I did, that I got it right that time. I died to success, and I found a new identity as this counter-cultural poor person by choice. Wasn’t that the right choice? Sure, it sounds better than the corporate dude who’s after money and success. And it might be better in a way. But it’s not substantially better. It’s just another identity, another self. And soon you outgrow it. I thought I was doing God’s work in that job, but God made me go a different way. God said to me, “You’ve got to pay your bills, Justin!” And then another set of options presented themselves—another corporate job, and this job at wonderful NCS.

The trouble is that every time I let an old self die, when the smoke—and tears—clear, there is always a new self waiting there! I crack open the egg, I break through the restrictions and then, before I know it, I realize I’ve created a new shell! What is the point of that? Why would I crack open an egg and then surround it with a new shell?

And this brings us back to the empty tomb. The point is not to get it right. It’s not that if we die right and are reborn right that we won’t have to do it all again. The point is to give up all the identifying, to give up all the attachment to identity, to give up all the ego-centeredness. The point is to not let any one identity be you.
At some point you just want to give up your old self and identify with…nothing. Sometimes you want to…

Just be, as you are, right here, right now, in this very moment. Just be.

Boy, girl, man, woman, transgender, homosexual, heterosexual, pansexual, Lower, middle, upper class, black, white, European, North American, South American, Central American, Central Asian, East Asian Pacific Rim, Pacific Islander, Mediterranean, Middle Easterner, North African, West African, Subsaharan African, South African, Latino-Latina-Mestizo-Mestiza, Lakota, Pueblo, Navajo, Cherokee, Jock, Punk, Nerd, Hipster, Emo, Prog, Dandy, Zombie, Vampire, Wizard, Witch, Muggle…

Right now you are, as we all are, having fun and working hard discovering all of these identifiers. But we shouldn’t make them into our WHOLE identity. We shouldn’t have to carry the burden of these identities with us at all times. We forget that, in the end, we are all of these things and we are none of these things. We are more than our identities. You, you are more than any of that. In the end, you are you. Nothing more need be said.

So, Who? You and me.

What? Just be.

Where? Here.

When? NOW!

Why? Because.

And How? Any way you want. It’s an empty tomb. Pure potential. Just be. And remember:

It will be alright in the end, and if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end.

Amen.

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4 Responses to An Easter Homily

  1. Maureen P. Conroy says:

    Justin
    This was inspiring and beautiful! A meditation for everyone. How lucky your students are to be present every day with you. I will save this to read and reread and send to others so that they might be as moved as I am this moment.
    Maureen Conroy

  2. Steve says:

    Divine Providence saw to it that I would receive this message from a desert dancer. A voice crying out in the arena- of everyday life. How did I miss out on this praise of orchestrated chaos until now? I’m very happy to be suddenly aware that I am riding the surf! Thanks for waking me up! Whoa Dude! Here I was, like sitting on the porch nodding off, when I suddenly found myself hangin’ onto my freakin’ board as the maw of this roaring “monstah” wave almost swallowed me! I wasn’t paying attention! Seagulls, cold salty spray and a thousand dancing suns are now shimmering everywhere as I rise up and down! Can you dig it? (Cosmic eggs were laid (made?) to be broken)

  3. Carlton Maaia says:

    You like Jesus Christ, are a true teacher. You teach others to be critical thinkers. You teach others to be compassionate. You teach others that we learn from disappointment and failure not get beaten by it. You teach others the importance of talking to a child, an older person, a homeless person, a successful person, a person of different beliefs, people with different opinions, people who see the world as a glass of water half empty rather than half full. God has graced you with all these wonder traits not in 2015 dollars and cents but in the postion you have to touch the lives of so many. Your speech should be sent across the Internet world wide so all good stop for a moment and reflect. I wish I knew how to to it but I am amazed I can answer you on my I Pad. If it does not go on the Internet. I want you to know if no one else knows I am the proudest father in the world.

  4. Danny says:

    My second time encountering your homily has been even more inspiring than the first. I can do no more than echo the previous comments here and thank you for making that decision to let go of your old self to become a teacher, especially here at NCS. I don’t think you realize what a difference you have made, and will continue make, in the lives of everyone you encounter, and, in turn, that they encounter. I eagerly await your next post.

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