Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Empty Tomb - Call and Response

Homily from Easter Sunday: The Resurrection of the Lord - Year A

If you were a movie director, and had to set the scene we just read in the Gospel to music, you’d probably select something very magnificent and triumphant.  In fact, I’d bet that if we took a poll of our congregation here as to what piece of music we’d choose, the overwhelming winner would be the classic Alleluiah chorus from Handel’s Messiah.  You hear that chorus and you automatically think: “The tomb is empty, Jesus is risen.”

However, I’d like to suggest that perhaps there’s another genre of music that would be equally fitting to serve as the soundtrack to today’s Gospel.  A music genre that captures the joy, the excitement, the elation of the Resurrection of the Risen Savior, Jesus the Christ.  The music I’m thinking of… is jazz.
I know, it sounds crazy.  But jazz kind of works for today’s gospel for a couple of reasons.

You see, there are two key elements that make jazz, jazz.  First, jazz has distinctive voices.  You’ve got all sorts of different instruments playing in very different ways.  Miles Davis’ trumpet sings with a soft, muted whisper.  Benny Goodman’s clarinet swings with joyful glee.  And Dave Brubeck’s piano flies at a frenetic pace up and down the scale.  A bunch of different instruments, different voices, speaking in varied ways.

And the second element that makes jazz what it is, is that jazz is improvised music.  There really isn’t any sheet music.  The various musicians jump in and play their notes by a method called “call and response.”  One musician will begin playing a melody that will call out to another bandmember, and that bandmember will pick up the melody, adding his own voice and variation on the theme keeping the same melody, but adding nuance and style that brings out a fuller expression of the song.

A really good jazz band can continue improvising seemingly forever, literally creating music on the spot.  For you younger music fans out there who may not be familiar with jazz, a great example of a current band who does this in concert would be the Dave Matthews Band who will improvise one of their songs for 15, 20 or 30 minutes or more.

Today, we hear of three very different people coming to the empty tomb on Easter morning.  Like jazz musicians, they all have very different voices and very different life experiences.

Mary Magdalene is the first called to the empty tomb.  Scripture tells us that she had many demons in her past.  But she was profoundly changed by her encounter with Jesus who drove those demons from her.  She was the first called to the tomb to see the stone rolled away  And she responded by running to tell Peter and John.

John, was the beloved disciple; the one who was always by the Lord’s side.  As he and Jesus reclined at the table of the Last Supper, he leaned against Jesus’ chest to ask him secretly who the Lord’s betrayer would be.  It was John who stood by Jesus at the Cross on Calvary.  And it was John who took Mary into his home after the death of Jesus.  John responded to the call of the empty tomb by running there as fast as he could but paused for a moment to let Peter enter first.

Then there’s Peter.  The chief of the Apostles  The first one to confess Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God.  The Rock upon which Christ builds His Church.  The one to whom Jesus gave the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.  It was also Peter, of course, who denied even knowing Jesus when the Lord was in his most desperate hour.  Yet, he was called to the empty tomb as well.  And this time, he responds without fear.

All of us at one time or another in our lives can identify with one of these three from the Gospel.  Perhaps we’re like Mary Magdalene, and we’ve had to overcome demons from our past or perhaps we continue to wrestle with demons today.  Like Mary, we are called to the empty tomb of Jesus regardless of our past.  And today, it’s our time to respond by encountering the risen Lord and receive new life from Him.

Perhaps we’re like John, and we’ve more or less been more or less quite faithful to the Lord all our lives.  We’ve stayed by the side of the Lord, never drifting too far.  Like John, we are called to the empty tomb.  And today it’s our time to respond as he does.  Perhaps we have to pause for a moment, to let a friend enter the tomb ahead of us.  This weekend we're actually minus one Mass since we won't have the LifeTeen Mass this evening.  So, we're packed in here this morning a little tighter than usual.  Perhaps, we weren't able to sit in our usual seat today, but like John, we gladly defer to others to go ahead of us.
Perhaps we’re like Peter, and maybe for a time, we’ve denied Christ and set ourselves apart from Him.  But like Peter, Jesus calls us to the empty tomb as well.  And today it’s our time to respond by entering the tomb without hesitation or fear.

To walk into the place of new life in Christ.  This Church, the place of new beginnings.  To see here with our very own eyes as Peter did, the evidence of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead.  To look upon Him in His glory in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, in the Eucharist about to made present on this very altar.

And to recognize and accept and embrace the fact, that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, our Brother and Best Friend rose from the dead precisely for you, precisely for me, precisely for all of us.  And now it’s our time to respond just like Peter, who returned to the temple again and again to celebrate the resurrection of Christ as we heard in our first reading.

Like Mary Magdalene, John and Peter (and like jazz musicians) we all have different experiences, different lives, different voices. 

But we all receive the same call - the one call from none other than Jesus Himself to the empty tomb and to new life and new beginnings in His Church.

And we all must give the same response.  We must run to the empty tomb, the sign of new life.  And to this Church the dwelling place of new life.  Today, and every day of his Resurrection, every Sunday.

Because this house is our truest home on earth.  And Jesus wants all of us to keep responding to His call; and to keep playing this song for as long as we live.

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