We are all of us looking for life. And love.
There are some times in life when the word, “surprise,” is not strong enough. You need to find stronger words than the word, surprised. You need words like astounded, astonished, amazed and awestruck, dazzled and dumbfounded. There are many times in life when the word, surprise, is not strong enough. You need a much stronger constellation of words.
During the war a shell came in and blew apart Bobby’s body. The only thing left were his dog tags. The army sent those nametags back home to his mom and dad, and they celebrated a Mass to grieve for their son. Their only child had been killed. They had such trouble coming to terms with the devastating loss, especially since there was no body. Not long after, the war ended, and soldiers started to come home. One day, the telephone rang and, and the Bobby’s mother answered. A voice said: “Mom, it’s me.” Her heart stopped. She was breathless. She was astonished and amazed, “Is this some kind of cruel joke?” she asked? “Is this some kind of a hoax?” “No, Mom. It’s really me. I’ve been a prisoner of war, and I’ve just been released. I am calling to tell you that I am alive.”
There are certain times in life when the word, surprised, is not enough. You need bigger words. You need words like astonished, astounded, amazed, awestruck . You need words like dazzled and dumbfounded.
A family I know in Staten Island was devastated about their little girl. The doctor performed preliminary surgery and discovered a type of malignancy that no human being had ever survived. There would be future paralysis and then inevitable death. The family went down. Down, down, down, down, down. Her pop pop prayed that the family would have good doctors. Her father prayed that the will of God would be done. Her mother prayed that somehow her precious child would be able to somehow survive. The little girl was anointed before the surgery, the priest praying for a healing, a miracle. The surgeon went into her brain and drew out some fluid and…there was nothing. Nothing. There were no lesions, no cancer, no tumor. The doctor was …baffled. He was…bewildered. And her mother? She was astonished and astounded. Amazed and awestruck. Dazzled and dumbfounded. And overwhelmed.
There are times in life when the word, surprise, is not strong enough. We need bigger words, stronger words such as astounded, words like amazed and awestruck, like dazzled and dumbfounded.
The other evening, on the Friday we call “good”, after an emotional service here at 3 o’clock, I got on my bike and rode for 3 hours following the shoreline of this island, beside the choppy waters of the East River and the mighty Hudson. I stopped and dismounted at the Battery, and looked over the harbor as the sun began its descent below the horizon. Ferries, small boats, and ocean-ready ships were coming and going past the lady with the torch, jets were circling for landing at LaGuardia and JFK, and I could see traffic moving slowly like lighted ribbons on highways in Brooklyn. It looked like the whole city was in movement on its way to Passover and Easter. Another year come round, another Holy Week. I thought of all the Easters I had lived through with my family and my friends who have passed on. My mother’s elaborate Easter baskets, my grandmother’s indescribably delicious chicken stuffing on Easter Sunday, my uncle’s coat and yellow tie at Easter Mass.
And I remembered that on my phone I still had some messages from my good friend Sandy, and as I listened to her voice, the tears started to well up in my eyes. She was one of the most talented musicians I have ever known, and suddenly I was remembering all the joyful music she brought to my Easter celebrations for over 30 years.
What if, I wondered, what if my mama, my grandmother, my uncle, my wonderful friend Sandy and all the rest of the people I have loved were to suddenly appear before me right there on the Battery, beside the restless waters and the day’s setting sun? How would I react? How would I feel?
How would you feel if the people you loved and lost were suddenly alive once again in your life? Astonished and astounded? Amazed and awestruck? Dazzled and dumbfounded? Certainly overwhelmed.
Mary—the one from Magdala, the one who was with Jesus for so long: she showed up early that morning and didn’t know exactly what to think or believe anymore, but she showed up because she didn’t know where else to go. To be near what was left of him, that’s all: the lifeless body, smothered in spices and oils to cover up the smell of death. And it was Mary who was blessed to be the first to see and recognize the risen Christ, when he softly called out her name: “Mary”.
Imagine your name called out by the risen Jesus!
We’re all gonna die, you know. That’s the truth. You know that, right? The old ones, the young ones, everyone: some time, some day, one way or another. Some of us here won’t be here next year. And for us who survive another day or another year, we will feel the loss. We will be sad, have a hole in our days and in our heart. We will miss someone we love very dearly, someone we need in our life very clearly. And we won’t be able to do anything about it. It will be over for us or for them.
That’s why I am here. And that’s why you are here, whether you know it or not. That’s why you come on Easter, or every week.
Because in this empty tomb, like the one that Mary stepped into 2000 years ago, we are all of us looking for life, and the meaning behind everything we know. What’s the point of fuming at delays on the number 6 train, our agita growing with every passing minute? What’s the point of walking out of the Hudson Yards mall with bags of stuff we really don’t need and which won’t make us finally happy? What’s the point of having the most impressive job if we have lost touch with our children and our spouse? What’s the point of living the American dream if we know that the rest of the world has no chance of dreaming anything wonderful at all?
We are all of us looking for life. And love.
Look around at the people to your side, or in front or behind you. We are all the same. No matter the color of our skin, the shape of our bodies, the brilliance of our brain: we are all the same. We want to live and we want to be loved. That’s all that matters to any of us. Life and love. We are all sitting in this room right now because we want to know that we matter, that all of this matters. Why are you here? What are you looking for? I think I know: you want to be astonished and astounded, amazed and awestruck, dazzled and dumbfounded. And yes, overwhelmed.
Well, look around you. He lives! He lives in the people with whom you are sitting in the tomb. His love is alive in them, and in you. You are alive in Him and in them. He lives and loves in everyone in this room. And if you have eyes and a heart to see it, you will be astonished and astounded, amazed and awestruck, dazzled and dumbfounded.
You gave your names to one another at the beginning of this Mass. Remember the names of the people around you? Turn to them, and say their names back to them. Go ahead.
Easter tells us that the risen Jesus will speak our own names as he did to Magdalene. You just heard your name spoken back to you by the Christ sitting near you. Listen to me: hearing our own names spoken by the risen Christ is hearing God say to us—in person—you are mine. I will carry you beyond loss and death to the fullness of the life that you most deeply seek.
That is what we are looking for. To be astonished and astounded, amazed and awestruck, dazzled and dumbfounded. That is what the risen Jesus brings us. And to that, we can shout out from the darkness of the tomb, only one thing: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!