The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at the Easter Vigil Mass on April 15 at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington.
There is a striking similarity between the disciples of Jesus on that first Easter and the disciples of Jesus on this Easter. Each of these groups faced this question: "Does Jesus Christ risen from the dead make all the difference in my life?" By reflecting further on the similarity found in each group, we can more easily affirm: "The Risen Lord Jesus does make all the difference!"
Those first disciples — people like Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome, all named in today's Gospel account — were discouraged and saddened. After all, the One Whom they followed had been crucified! The One Whom they loved was dead! Yes, He had told them much earlier that He would have to suffer and die and then be raised up on the third day. However, "very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week," they were not remembering His prediction. They were trapped in their grief; their sense of sorrow and pain was overwhelming and all-enveloping. The mood of those first disciples on that first Easter reflected how discouraged and saddened they were — how hopeless!
But when they arrived at the tomb, they were greeted with encouraging and hope-filled words. "Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.'" From that moment on, the Risen Jesus did make all the difference in their lives, giving them hope and inner peace and life!
Well, it is Easter 2006! We modern-day disciples of Jesus may indeed find ourselves discouraged and saddened as well. What do we hear in our discouragement? Whom do we meet in our sadness?
We hear encouraging and hope-filled words: "Do not be amazed. He has been raised." We meet the same Jesus, risen from the dead, Who keeps saying to us, "Do not be afraid, I am here with you!"
Notice that Jesus says, "Do not be afraid," not "All will be easy and without difficulty." The Risen Jesus is telling us, "I have overcome all those things which can permanently destroy you. Like Me, though, before coming to glory, you must pass through suffering and human death. But, you do not do that alone. I go before you and with you every step of the way."
The Risen Lord Jesus is making this promise to each one of us and in a very special way tonight, to our catechumens and candidates who are being received into the full communion of the Catholic Church, as well as those already baptized Catholics who, along with our catechumen and candidates, will receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.
Dear Catechumen and Candidates, please know that we have supported you this Lent by our prayers and care. We joyfully welcome you this night into your new family, God's Family, the Church, made tangibly present by our diocesan church of Arlington.
Sisters and Brothers all, we can forget, as did the first disciples, that from Baptism on, Jesus lives in us. Every time we use holy water, we are reminded that we are a new people, gifted with God's own life within us. We can forget, as did the first disciples, that Jesus goes before us, a Light piercing the darkness. Every time we see the Paschal Candle, which is blessed and lit for the first time at the Easter Vigil each year, we are reminded that Jesus goes with us in our daily journey. He is our Companion and Friend, even if no one else is. We can forget, as did the first disciples, that we are uniquely embraced by Jesus in the sacraments. Every time we celebrate them, especially Penance and the Holy Eucharist, we are strengthened and nourished.
On that first Easter, those first disciples became changed persons. Their discouragement was replaced by hope. Their weaknesses, fear and sadness were replaced by strength, inner peace and joy. Jesus risen from the dead had made all the difference in their lives!
On this Easter, we too can be changed, so that we become witnesses to one another and to the world of the new hope and the new life which the Risen Jesus brings.
Yes, there is a striking resemblance between the first disciples of Jesus on that first Easter and the disciples of Jesus on this Easter. The Risen Lord Jesus had made all the difference in their lives then. This same Risen Lord Jesus makes all the difference in our lives if only we let ourselves be touched by His Risen Presence in this liturgy and cling to His promise every day: "Do not be afraid! I remain with you always!"