ABBOT ELIAS DIETZ, O.C.S.O
Homily – Easter Sunday – April 21, 2019
Doorways Into Hope
I have always loved the moment in this gospel when “the other disciple”—presumably John—sees the way the cloths are laid out in the tomb and believes. Something about what he saw spoke to him of Jesus’ living presence and deliberate action. A small roll of cloth allowed him to make a big leap of faith.
We might learn a lesson here from John. There is no doubt that this great saint, evangelist, and author of the Book of Revelation sought “the things that are above,” to use Saint Paul’s phrase. But he was at the same time attentive to the smallest of things that are here below.
Looking back over the last several days, it is worth noticing how many little items it takes to celebrate Holy Week and the Triduum. We need palms for Passion Sunday; oils for the chrism Mass; pitchers, basins, towels, and aprons for the Holy Thursday washing of the feet; a special cross, all sorts of candles, and extra vessels for Good Friday; as for the Easter Vigil, we need all the paraphernalia involved in lighting a fire; then there is the Easter candle, the dozens of little candles for everyone, the holy water; and the list could go on—not to mention all the detailed preparation needed for the music, the readings, and the ritual.
More important still are the many little things noted in the scriptures we hear during Holy Week. There are the vessels and dishes at the Last Supper; the sword in garden; the scourge, the thorns; the cross, the nails, the soldiers’ dice, the sponge, the spear; the burial spices and cloths; the tomb and its stone.
The deepest truths of the faith are only conveyed to us through things we can see, hear, touch, smell, and taste. No wonder the practice of honoring relics developed over time: a deep instinct in us wants to see and touch objects and even bodies from our Christian past.
It is thanks to the Incarnation that basic matter and primitive human experiences can convey to us the sacred. The Word became flesh, and it is through the flesh that we perceive the Word. The Exsultet expresses it well: “O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human.”
It interesting to recall in this connection Saint Benedict’s admonition to monks that they “regard all utensils and goods of the monastery as sacred vessels of the altar, aware that nothing is to be neglected” (RB 31.10–11). If we open our hearts and minds and become attentive like John in today’s gospel, the smallest details of domestic life, work, and our natural surroundings can all become little doorways into the sacred.
Just as Holy Week is full of small things that convey big meanings, so too Easter offers us many reminders. Besides the Candle—the work of bees, as the Exsultet recalls—and the Candle’s light and the water of the baptismal font, the gospel accounts of the Resurrection contain an abundance of details: the pre-dawn and early morning light, the garden, the stone set aside, the empty space of the tomb, and the cloths; not to mention the closed doors, the fish, Jesus’ wounds, and his breathing the Holy Spirit on the disciples.
Attentive observation seems to come naturally in Holy Week, as some hymns testify: “Were you there, when they crucified my Lord…?” or “Come and see where Jesus lay.” But Easter should find our senses just as keen to notice whatever small signs the Lord might use to spark our faith. With John we can sense Jesus alive in the very emptiness of a room or in the fold of a cloth. With Mary we can return again and again to the garden. Because of the Resurrection, even emptiness and grief can become doorways into hope. The quality of light, the abundance of spring, the sound of running water can all remind us of the Lord’s rising and awaken in us the joy of Easter. Instead of singing “Were you there…”, Easter should have us repeating over and over again “Taste and see how good the Lord is.”