Why All This Pain?
In this very moving homily for Easter Sunday, Year C, Father Hanly looks at the pain in the world and God’s awe-inspiring response to it.
Readings for Easter Sunday, The Resurrection of the Lord , Year C
- First Reading: Acts 10:34, 37-43
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23
- Second Reading: Colossians 3:1-4, or First Corinthians 5:6-8
- Gospel: John 20:1-9
I suppose all of us tend to think that the greatness of the Resurrection is in Jesus overcoming death.
Yet, at the same time, if that were true, why are we sitting here? Because that would have taken and happened a long, long time ago, almost two thousand years, and it would have been a fact in time.
For that is not why we are here. We are here because Jesus not only overcame death, not only rose from the dead, but is with us.
He has come to stay with us, as he promised. “For a short time you will feel desperate,” he told his disciples. “But I shall come again, and I shall be with you all days, even to the end of the world.”
What keeps the church doors open is not a fact that Jesus rose from the dead and returned to his Father, something like perhaps we feel when we lose someone close to us, someone precious to us, and we mourn their passing, but we pray that they are happy in heaven with God Himself.
It is not that, it is…
We do not speak of Jesus going to heaven. We speak of Jesus here and now, with us.
It is the presence of Jesus, that he is with us, that makes us what we are and fills these lovely scriptures.
It is he with us, to share our lives with us, to be with us every moment of those lives.
To be with us when we are happy and full of peace and contentment.
To be with us in sorrow. To be with us when terrible things happen to us, like wars and rumours of wars, the destruction of peoples and cultures.
And we know that he is even more present to us at those days, at those times, because it is a habit that all of us Christians have.
We become aware of the presence of Jesus, not so much when everything is going well, but when we’re struck by fear, perhaps, or we need something and we need it desperately, and so then we run like children, frightened children, to Jesus who is our consolation.
And this is the way it should be.
Think for a moment, though, how humiliating it is for God to become man. How terrible it is that He would become one of us, with all our limitations and our meanness.
When we speak of God’s love, we speak of God saying: “I love them so much that I will become one with them, totally and completely.”
Not a God up in heaven waiting for us to die and join him there, but to walk with us and be with us as a human being.
It is his humanity that we reach out to.
We hear the words he says, and we know that he comes from God, but the words are human words: “Love one another as I have loved you.” “Do not be afraid.” “I am with you all days, even to the end of time.” “If you will come after me, you must pick up your cross and follow me.”
These are the words that are spoken of wonderful, wonderful things, timeless things. But they are the words of a human being. And it’s the words we treasure because his disciples wrote them down.
So, today, what we’re really celebrating is the joy of not something that happened so long ago, but the great joy of knowing that it happens every morning when we rise and we become aware that we are not alone.
Dom Helder Camara, who was the bishop of Rio de Janeiro many years ago, he gave this very lovely example.
God so loved the world that He came, He came on our terms, He took on the limitations and the weakness of humanity, and He did this as a father would for a son who He loved.
The little boy is very small and he’s walking along the path.
And the father, of course, can outrun him and out walk him. But the father measures his steps. He measures his steps in accord with the little steps that the little boy can manage. And so he walks with his son.
God’s humility is in accepting the love, in love, of the little boy, and pacing Himself according to the pacing that this little boy can only cope with at the time.
Think of that now, that God is with us in this way.
A humble God, otherwise how could He ever become, on the cross, one who dies rejected and alone, if He was not measuring His own commitment to us in the way that we must commit ourselves, for we, too, experience pain and death and fear and all the negative things in life.
And yet He had to do that.
Simone Weil was a mystic. She was a teacher in Paris during the Second World War after the Holocaust. She grew up in the Holocaust. And Simone Weil was Jewish and she was very much concerned about the Holocaust.
At the same time, she found, in the cross of Jesus, an answer, or at least an approach to a solution, when it seemed like God had not only deserted the people, the Jewish people, but the whole world, because there was endless slaughter going on at that time that we can’t even begin to imagine the terror and horror for the whole world inflamed with hatred.
So, one day, they asked her why she did not become a Christian if she loved Jesus so much.
And she said, “Because of my people. They are dying in the camps and they would not understand.”
But then they asked her when she looks into a crucifix what does she see?
And she says these lovely words: “I see the apology of God for all the pain.”
But He had to do this.
He could not, without taking away our freedom, give us that world that we’re always thinking about, a fantasy world of no pain.
Because our free choices have created that pain and, to take it away, our freedom, would make us automatons, we wouldn’t be human beings at all.
So we must suffer the good and the pain together.
And then what could God do?
He couldn’t take it away, so He became one with us.
He loved us so much that He even took on the experience of death, a death so terrible that we could hardly manage to get through Good Friday and to call it good.
So our joy today comes from God’s pain.
The Jews have this wonderful story about pain.
One day, this is many years ago, I was in Jerusalem for a summer and I was in a grocery store. And in the grocery store, like every grocery store, they had a little flyer, and you could see what’s being featured and how much it costs and all of that. And, at the same time, at the back of the flyer, I opened and there was…
It was Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement when the Jews, all together for that one day come together to weep and to be sorry for all the sins and to ask God for His forgiveness.
And on the back of this flyer, the Rabbi was calling his people back and he said these words: “God is crying, God is weeping, but nobody hears and nobody cares, but He is.”
And what he was saying was until you recognise the tears of God you will never recognise how much God loves you and cares for you, and your repentance is a joyful return home into a God who not only loves you but who weeps over you.
Today, on this most important day, we must never, never separate Good Friday from Easter Sunday. But we say Good Friday and happy Easter Sunday because we know that God has overcome the world.
And now, how will He continue to overcome it?
Jesus is with us through our sufferings, our carings.
If people are to know who God is, they will see our tears, our laughter, our ways, our judgments.
The way we are is what bears witness to the Risen Lord.
And this is the way it should be.
On Calvary it was His turn, but God continues to weep.
And when He is with us, He continues to show us that it is through Him alone we can overcome everything and shine forth the truth that all men are created to love and serve God, and to love and serve each other.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.