Easter – March 30-31, 2013 – Now What Do We Do?
Was it worth it? Was the crucifixion of Jesus worth it? The Testament of Mary, written by Colm Toibin, is now in previews on Broadway. I saw it last Wednesday. The play depicts the life and death of Jesus through the weeping eyes and tormented mind of his aging mother Mary, played by Fiona Shaw. Throughout his adult life his mother warned Jesus about the danger he was in. Mary even questioned and challenged the intentions of some of the disciples. She saw them as cowardly misfits concerned about their own affairs and how they might market the message of salvation. “He died so everyone could be saved?” she asked. Really? All people? Mary herself could not bear to watch the tortuous crucifixion of her son. In the end the mother of Jesus declared: “It was not worth it.”
This morning’s gospel tells us about three very surprised women who ran to tell the other disciples about the empty tomb. But the men did not trust the testimony of these women. In their minds it was unreliable. But, Joseph Ratzinger tells us, in spite of cultural factors, in this gospel the women do take precedence over the men.  Perhaps there are good reasons for paying more attention to what women in our church are saying.
I have often wondered what Eve said to Adam said after they ate the apple. Now what do we do? What did Miriam say to Moses after escaping Egyptian enemies as they came to the edge of the raging Red Sea. OK, brother. Now what do we do? What went through the minds of the women at the foot of cross and the threshold of the empty tomb. Now what do we do? Lent is over. Easter is here. Now what do we do? The new members of our church – Camille, Ron, Star and Wendy – who were initiated last night, might now be saying. Now what do we do? And how about those who say my church no longer speaks to me or for me. Now what do we do?
How often do we find ourselves going along in life, busy about whatever it is we do, only to encounter an interruption — the destruction of a home, the loss of a job, the discovery of cancer in our bodies, getting the flu. Life is a series of passages. We may never get to where we want to go or do all we want to do. We are caught in what seems to be a never ending and routine cycle of ups and downs, good days and bad, joyful events and sad announcements. The stories we hear in the bible are ancient ones. Yet, they speak to us as if they were written today about our eager aspirations and our devastated dreams.
All of the symbols and songs, the prayers and processions of Lent, Holy Week and Easter are secondary to what they symbolize.They help us touch what is beyond our understanding, beyond our grasp, something that is so sacred and mysterious it is often hard to take in all at once. That which is holy comes in bits and pieces in life — in a birth, a favor, a smile, a hug, a cure, a raise in salary, an empty tomb.
So, now what do we do? The Old Testament prophets had a tradition of saying that “sacrifice without moral reform is an empty gesture.”  Let us not be too eager, then, to celebrate Easter or any other Christian feast for that matter if you and I are not ready to take on and try to overcome the evils in the world, the problems in our communities. The front pages of today’s papers may feature Easter egg hunts, parades and Easter finery but inside the tabloids we find articles about warfare and welfare, socio-cultural debates over gun control, reproductive rights and the definition of marriage. So, now what do we do?
The new members of our church — Camille, Ron, Star and Wendy — are fresh models for us. They show us enthusiasm for the word of God, a hunger for the eucharist and other sacraments, a desire to help others find the peace and companionship they have discovered in this church. Perhaps, they can re-energize those who are just hanging on, and, hopefully, somehow they can inspire those who have left the church.
Was it worth it asked the mother of Jesus? Was the death of Jesus worth it? Did it save us? From what? Consider how Pope Francis answered the questions. On Holy Thursday he countered long standing authoritative traditions and church rubrics by washing the feet of young men and women. The Pope himself may have remembered the admonition of the Old Testament prophets — ceremonies are empty without moral reform. As he left the detention center he turned to the prisoners and said, “Don’t let yourselves be robbed of hope. Always go forward” he said.
So, now what do we do on this Easter Sunday? Go forward. We go forward with hope!
1 Ratzinger, Joseph. Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (San Francisco: Ignatius Press) 2011, 263
2 See Wills, Garry. Why Priests? A Failed Tradition. (NY: Viking) 2013, 74