At the Starting Line

Homily for Easter 2022, Year C.

When I was in college, the first day of class was always “syllabus day.” The professor would outline what we’d be learning that semester, and then go over the various expectations and requirements for the class: the number of tests and assignments, when each of them was due, and how much each of them was worth in terms of the final grade. Some people skipped this first day; you could, after all, just download the syllabus from the class website and save yourself some time. But for me, this day was extremely important. It was the day I’d be deciding where to sit for the rest of the semester. Once I chose a seat, even if it was in a five-hundred-person lecture hall, even if it wasn’t the best seat, I’d commit to it for the rest of the semester. 

We all have our routines, even if some of us are more flexible or “go-with-the-flow” than others. We have the normal time we get up everyday, the typical route we take to school or work, the usual pew we sit in when we come to church. It takes a lot for us to change our routine, even about simple and inconsequential things. It took a global pandemic for some of you to change the pew you normally sit in. And for some of you, now that it’s basically over, you’re back to where you were sitting before. Sometimes even a global pandemic is not a big enough thing to change our routine. 

With that in mind, consider this: For millennia, for thousands of years, the Jewish people kept a very careful routine when it came to worshiping God. Saturday was the day for public worship, because that is the day on which God rested after creating the heavens and the earth. It would have been inconceivable for faithful Jews at the time of Jesus to even consider a different day for public worship. But for the first followers of Christ, who were themselves faithful Jews, all of that changed after Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus rose on a Sunday, the first day of the week. And in doing so, He revealed to us more than just a promise of earthly rest, but of eternal rest in heaven. Sunday, then, became the day to celebrate the Eucharist for the early Church, as we hear in the Acts of the Apostles. Only such a history-altering, reality-transforming, event like Jesus’ resurrection could have caused a change—and an incredibly quick change—to such a sacred and ancient routine. In fact, the speed and thoroughness of this change is one of the most compelling arguments for the historical fact of the resurrection. 

Lent, in many ways, is about changing our routines: overcoming old, bad routines and developing new, good routines. And arriving at Easter can feel in many ways like arriving at a finish line. We’ve completed the marathon that is Lent; the race is over, and Easter is finally here. If you’re feeling that way today, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I do have to burst your bubble a bit: Easter is actually the starting line, not the finish line. Lent has been about getting to the starting line that is Easter. Lent has been about training for the actual race that begins today. 

The temptation during Easter is to go back to our former routines. If we gave up something good for Lent, one of the reasons we may have given up that thing is because we realized we had an unhealthy attachment to it. And although we may now permit ourselves to have that good thing once more, it would not be in the spirit of Easter to return to our former unhealthy attachment. Or, as has become popular in recent years, if we’ve given up something bad or sinful for Lent, it would definitely not be in the spirit of Easter to return to this bad or sinful thing. So, if you gave up swearing for Lent, don’t go back to doing it now that it’s Easter. Or if you gave up gossiping, don’t go back to doing that either. Easter is not an opportunity to go back to our unhealthy attachments or our habits of sin. Easter is about Jesus conquering all that is bad and sinful in us; it’s about making a definitive break with those things. 

In just a moment, we will have the opportunity to renew our baptismal promises. All of Lent has been leading up to, and preparing us, for this moment. Having engaged in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we are now ready to firmly renounce Satan, all his works, and all his empty show. In some places in the early Church, those being baptized would first face west, the direction of darkness and the setting sun, and make these three renunciations. They would then turn to the east, the direction of light and the rising sun, and make their three-fold profession of faith. And, in some places, they would actually spit before turning and professing their faith: a profound symbol of their total renunciation of Satan (spitting, as it were, in his face) and their definitive break with the life of sin. 

Just as it was for the early Christians, our encounter with the risen Christ this Easter is meant to change our lives for good. It is meant to help us make a definitive break with our old, sinful routines, and set out in a new and decisive direction. This is not the time to return to our former way of life. We are not at the finish, but the starting line. May the Easter Alleluia be like the shot of the starting gun, and the joy of the resurrection like the surge of adrenaline which propels us forward. May we run this race well, not just in the fifty days ahead, but the rest of our lives. If we do so, we will arrive at the true finish line, the life of heaven, and on the last day we will rise again with Christ. Amen.