Easter – “Alleluia!”

Homily for Easter 2023.

Because of the way the date for Easter is calculated, it can fall anywhere between March 22 and April 25. In Wisconsin, this means that some Easters feel more like spring and others more like winter. I remember Easters that have been warm and sunny and others which have been cold and snowy. But I also remember that, regardless of the weather, every Easter my mom would plant these fake plastic tulips in our front yard. She would usually stick them in the garden bed by the driveway lamppost or at the base of the mailbox. And despite being fake, they looked remarkably life-like, and could fool most anyone, except when they were peaking their way through a mound of snow.

One Easter my mom decided to play a prank on our next-door neighbors. When they woke up that Easter morning, they were surprised to find that their flowers had blossomed remarkably early that year—almost miraculously early. They were even more surprised to find that they weren’t the same color of flowers they remembered planting. Some were yellow and others were pink. To explain this feat of nature, a local horticulturist was consulted. If I remember correctly, the explanation given involved a conspiracy of squirrels who had stolen the tulip bulbs from another neighbor’s garden and, quite thoughtfully, had replanted them in their garden. Eventually a closer look was taken, and the prank was discovered. But it took a while, and a lot of laughs were had from start to finish.

The historical event of the Resurrection is a little like the sudden and unexpected blossoming of a beautiful flower—not a fake flower, in this case, but a real one. In a world still in the grip of winter, cold and lifeless, a stem of spring suddenly breaks through the icy ground. Soft pinks and sunny yellows unfold, and the bleak and somber scene is woken up with a laugh. Such must have been the joy that first Easter morning when the disciples learned of the empty tomb and the risen Christ.

At first the disciples were afraid, and even doubted. It was all so sudden and unexpected. Although Jesus had raised others from the dead before, Jesus Himself had died, and so all hope seemed to be lost. There was also something radically new about this resurrected Jesus. Unlike Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead, but would eventually die again, this Jesus was no longer under the power of death. The law of death, which the rest of creation was under, no longer applied to Him. It seemed too good to be true. And yet it was true: spring had come from winter, warmth from cold, light from darkness, life from death. Jesus was risen! He was risen indeed! Alleluia!

The joy of the Resurrection is contained in this one word which we have fasted from for forty days: this word, “Alleluia!” It means “Praise the Lord!” And we should praise Him. By dying, Jesus has freed us from slavery to sin and purchased for us the rewards of eternal life. By rising, Jesus has freed us from the fear of death, and from the debilitating belief that death is the worst evil that we can suffer. Alleluia! Praise the Lord! Praise Him for His saving death! Praise Him for His glorious resurrection!

Because of what Jesus has done for us, there is no moment in life in which the Alleluia! shouldn’t be on our lips or at least in our hearts. There is always a reason to praise the Lord, even when faced with the reality of sin and the tragedy of death. The joy of Easter is unassailable because sin and death never have the final word—Jesus does. Jesus is the first and final word of the Father, and that word is Alleluia! If the risen Christ is in our hearts, then there’s no situation in life that we can’t face with Easter joy.

There is a story about Mother Teresa that speaks to this reality of Easter joy. It’s said that Mother used to greet her sisters before sending them out for their daily work. One day, she noticed a sister who had a gloomy look on her face. When it came time to greet her, Mother said to her, “Sister is so sad.” “I’m not sad,” the sister replied. “Sister is so sad,” Mother repeated again. “Really, Mother, I’m not sad,” she insisted. “Sister is so sad,” Mother said for a third time. The sister denied it again, to which Mother Teresa responded, “Then please inform your face.”

Brothers and sisters, there is hardly anything more unconvincing to the world than a gloomy Christian. If we truly believe what we believe, then although we may be sad or disappointed at times, we should still be filled with joy. Easter joy can coexist with a certain amount of sadness because the kind of joy that the resurrection brings is more than a fleeting emotion. This joy is a choice. It comes from choosing to believe in what Jesus has done for us, in choosing to believe that His love can conquer all things, even death itself.

And so, as we begin this season of Easter, this season of fifty days, may the Alleluia! be found not only on our lips but in our hearts. May the Alleluia! shine from our faces. And filled with the joy of the risen Christ, may we bring the good news of the resurrection to all we meet. Jesus is risen! He is risen indeed! Amen! Alleluia!