Where is God?
In his homily for The Resurrection of the Lord, at the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter, Year B, Father Hanly opens our eyes so that we will never again need to ask ourselves, “Where is God?”
Readings for the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter, Year B
- First Reading: Genesis 1:1–2:2 or 1:1, 26-31
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 104:1-2, 5-6, 10, 12, 13-14, 24, 35, or Psalms 33:4-5, 6-7, 12-13, 20-22
- Second Reading: Genesis 22:1-18 or 22:1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 16:5, 8, 9-10, 11
- Third Reading: Exodus 14:15–15:1
- Responsorial Psalm: Exodus 15:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 17-18
- Fourth Reading: Isaiah 54:5-14
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13
- Fifth Reading: Isaiah 55:1-11
- Responsorial Psalm: Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6
- Sixth Reading: Baruch 3:9-15, 32–4:4
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 19:8, 9, 10, 11
- Seventh Reading: Ezekiel 36:16-28
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 42:3, 5; 43:3, 4, or Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6, or Psalms 51:12-13, 14-15, 18-19
- Epistle: Romans 6:3-11
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 118:1-2, 16, 17, 22-23
- Gospel: Mark 16:1-8:
Easter Day is a day of great joy and we begin that joy this evening.
But, so far, in all the readings and in all the lovely, lovely poetry that has come our way, so far, it’s a mixed blessing.
It begins with sorrow. It begins, as we know after we had heard the readings from yesterday (and the day before), Good Friday.
It begins with a terrible, terrible thing, which is that Jesus, the one we all hoped for, the Messiah, is unbelievably treated with terrible cruelty, with pain and anguish and loss that no other human being from the beginning of time and up to now has ever really felt.
And yet we still say, “Oh happy thought!” that we’d merit such a wonderful healing Saviour.
It begins with sorrow and it ends with great triumph. But we must remember a resurrection is a resurrection. And we hear of it.
You notice in the reading today, everybody’s running around, the people who loved him. The women run to the tomb and they find the man sitting there telling them he’s not here and he has gone someplace else and maybe he will go to Galilee.
And much of the rest of the Gospel, until almost the very end, we do hear of “Where is he?” “He is here. I saw him.” “What did he say, what did he look like?” And it goes on and on.
And there’s a great anguish and a great pain.
And yet when he sits down with the people who love him, not just his disciples but the people who love him, it’s very clear to them that they’re in the presence of the Risen Lord.
My favourite chapter from the Old Testament was read today. It was the final reading.
It was the story of how the Israelites, after four hundred years of terrible slavery under the Pharaoh and under the people of Egypt, finally thought that they would be liberated, and they were.
And they got to the River Jordan, as the story goes, and God said, “Put out your arm. Put out your staff.” And Moses put out his staff and the sea parted. And you’re all aware of how they ran through the waters on dry land and they reached the other side.
But down came the Egyptians. And they were after them and they were going to drag them back into slavery once again, those that they didn’t kill, and so they began to enter with their chariots and horses through the opening that the Israelites had found.
And then suddenly God said to Moses, “Lift up your arm.” And he lifted up and pointed his staff at the terrible army that was about to descend upon them, and the waters came back.
And the writer of the incident says, “And all the Egyptians and all the chariots and all their horses and all their men were drowned in the sea.”
And then, which was not read, then the Israelites were so happy they began to jump up and down with joy. They had been saved, they had been saved. And Moses’ sister began to dance with tambourines and people were dancing all around.
And it was so contagious. And the angels were looking down, they were looking down from heaven and watching it all, and they began to cheer and dance.
And God turned to them and He looked at them lividly and He said, “How can you sing and dance when My own children are drowning in the sea?”*
All of a sudden, you begin to realise that it isn’t winners and losers, it’s human beings.
And much of the life of human beings is full of terrible pain and sorrow, difficulties.
And there’s no such thing as a good, good, good man, except when God says, “All men and women are good, because God does not create garbage, He only creates what’s good and beautiful.”
And we know that’s true.
And yet, if we look at our sorry little world, one thing that strikes us is we still tend to believe that it’s divided up into good guys and bad guys, cowboys and Indians, just like little children trying to gain points on somebody else’s pain.
Now I’ll tell you a couple of stories and see if I can change your mind.
Bernie the bum was really a bum. He was in the Bowery outside the house where I used to live and also it was the parish of Transfiguration in Chinatown.
And Bernie used to wander in and he’d sit down. And my office was right off the road. And he’d sit down and he’d start chatting and he’d tell me all kinds of wonderful stories. I must say, I really enjoyed his stories.
Because he was really a Bowery bum. He lived on the street. He was filthy. He scared people. And he told me this is the way you get money from people: “You’ve got to get their sympathy, you know. You’ve got to get their sympathy. I’ve got to make a living. So I go into the park and I’m all messed up and they give me a dollar here and a dollar there. Then I go out and get something to drink.”
Anyhow, this is the relationship between me and Bernie. And he taught me how, if I ever landed on the Bowery, how to hide my shoes from people who would tear them, because they were sleeping in the alleys.
Anyhow, what happened to Bernie was that he came to me one day and I was out patience. And I saw him coming in the door and I was going up to eat my lunch. And I really wanted to get out of there. And I tried to get out of there, but Bernie stopped me and he said, “Father, Father, I’d like to see you now. I’d like to see you.”
And I said, “I don’t have time. I can’t see you now, Bernie. I don’t have time. I’m going up to eat.”
And he looks at me and he says, “Father, you’re a priest. You have to have time.” (Congregation laughs.)
I said, “Okay, you win. But first we’ll both go up and we’ll both eat my lunch, you and me together, and then we’ll have a talk.”
Was Bernie a bad guy?
I think he died, froze to death in the winter like many of those men do. He had two lovely sisters who used to search around in a car to try to pick him up off the street and bring him home. And they’d keep him there for a week and then he’d wander back to the Bowery, because he felt that the Bowery was the only place he wanted to be.
That was Bernie. That is everybody.
When God looks down at Bernie, He looks down with the deepest of love. He loves him. He cares for him. He worries about him. He tries to do His best for him. And people like Bernie need more help from God than the rest of us.
And I think it was that God saw him freezing to death and made it easy for him and lifted him out of that terrible place, the Bowery, and brought him home and cleaned him up and gave him eternal life.
This is what Jesus is trying to tell us. This is the story of what we’re talking about.
It’s not a game of good guys and bad guys, better people and worse people.
It’s a realisation of the great sorrow as well as the great goodness that every human being carries with them. It is knowing that we are all one, because God will have it no other way. There are not better, good, better, best. It’s not a game that we play of King of the Hill, who wins the wars, and on and on.
And where is God?
That’s why we need the cross.
If he didn’t come? He had no right not to come.
He came to show that he couldn’t change it. He couldn’t take away the evil that was in man, because out of that evil comes also the freedom to choose what is good. And freedom is the gift that he promised us and freedom is the gift that he gives us.
But what he wants us to understand is we are free and the great gift of freedom means we are capable of love. Without freedom there is no love. Without love there is no such thing as freedom.
And so it is that the lovely Jesus goes up onto the cross and we say he’s our Messiah, our Saviour.
And why do we say that? Because he got us to go into heaven?
No. Heaven is a secondary thing for God when he sees people like Bernie running around who need help desperately. It is not that reason.
It is because God knows us and God loves us and he reaches down to all of us and he chooses to be with us.
And he wants us to know that even though we hung him on a cross and we destroyed him, we know deep down in our hearts that his final words, knowing all of this would take place, his final words on the cross were, “Father, forgive them, they just don’t know what they’re doing.”
Now that would be enough to put all the beauty of this Mass and all the Masses that precede it, they seem to be full of sorrow, they seem to be full of anguish, they seem to be full of pain. But then you’re missing the one thing they are more full of — and the one thing that we must be full of as we limp our way through life — and that is it’s all about love, and it’s only love.
But it’s not lovey-lovey love, it’s self-sacrificing love.
And now I’m going to tell you my final story.
If Bernie is the sign that there is hope for all peoples and love for all peoples coming down from heaven, my mother and father are a sign of couples and how the greatness of marriage and the greatness of couples are often given very, very little publicity but they are the (inaudible) of what life is all about.
And I’ll give you a story of a night in Brooklyn, not in Brooklyn but in Hicksville which is thirty miles away from Brooklyn and we were living there at that time. And I was only five or six years old, but I remember.
I remember my mother being worried because a blizzard was blowing and it was getting worse and worse. And my father was coming home on the railroad. And he had to come home. It was the last train out of New York and into Hicksville and he knew my mother would be worried and so he got on the train and he came out.
And my mother, he was late, she looked at the clock. It was seven o’clock. He was never this late. And she knew what happened and so she put her little coat on. And us little children, sitting in the hall, turned out all the lights because we were afraid of electricity. And then she went out and she walked a mile all the way to the railroad station.
And, of course, when she got there, she saw this little lump in the snow and it was my father. And she ran over to him and shook him. And he was sleeping and it was quite nice and he kind of was enjoying it. And he just said, “No, I feel quite good here now. That’s alright. Don’t you worry about me, Sarah, don’t worry.”
And Sarah was kicking him and punching him and driving at him. And, finally, she got him to at least stand up, and then she half carried and half dragged him through the snow and they came home.
And, of course, they both came home. And we were there, frightened out of our wits. And then my mother said, “God is good. Remember this, children, God is good.”
Think of these people. They’re all around you.
You’ve just heard two from very ordinary folks. And the Bernies of life are all around. But do you stop and do you think of them, or do you worry about how you’re going to get home and what are you going to do and how are you going to be successful and what have you got on your mind?
The great lesson that Jesus teaches us: like Bernie and me, you’ve got to listen. You’ve got to listen. If you’re a human being, you’ve got to listen. And listen and listen to them and what they’re saying and what they’re doing.
And then you’ve got to love them. You’ve got to love them enough to risk even going all by yourself into a hurricane or into a terrible storm of snow.
And the message is all Jesus. He has to go up on the cross: “Forgive them, Father, they don’t know what they’re doing.” It’s an act of love, even this terrible…
And so, at this time, at this moment, in this church, among ordinary people, there’s a great battle taking place. And the battle is between all of us, because it’s in each of our hearts.
Are we going to live and love as Jesus teaches?
Because what Jesus says to us tonight, “Come with me and walk with me. You don’t have to talk. You don’t have to pray.
“Come with me and walk with me, and I will show you a world that you have been blind to since you were young, young, young people. And I will show you where real love is and what it means and what it feels like.”
And you will never, never again ever say to God, “Where is God? Has he abandoned me?” because God has put himself into our lives, into our hearts, into our loves, into our failures, into our stupidities, into everything that we are even ashamed of.
And he says God only makes lovely little things, and I have come to heal you and save you, and, through you, to know the one truth of life: you are loved.
Notes on this homily
*Explanation for those who are curious to know more:
Father Hanly usually explained that this ending to the Red Sea story was from an ancient Jewish midrash that he thought we needed to hear. He doesn’t explain that in this homily, but he does mention the source in the homily the next day, Easter Sunday, Year B, We Are All Heirs Of Heaven.