“It is always possible to begin anew.”
“He is alive here and now.”
“Jesus, the risen Lord, loves us without limits.”
If you caught Pope Francis’ Easter Vigil homily a year ago, you will recognize these as his “three messages of Easter” — messages that are relevant, really, at every moment in our lives.
These were certainly the messages conveyed to Jesus’ disciples on the first Easter morning, as described in this year’s Gospel readings from the Easter Vigil (Lk 24:1-12) and Easter Sunday (Jn 20:1-9).
Both relate how Mary Magdalene and other women discovered the empty tomb, how they hurried to tell the apostles, how Peter and John hurried to see for themselves what was (or wasn’t) in the tomb, and how all were not only “amazed” by what had happened, but challenged to make sense of it all.
Eventually, “what had happened” became more clear, though no less amazing, to Jesus’ disciples, then and today: Jesus has risen from the dead, and invites us to follow him.
And that starts, as Pope Francis said a year ago, with “beginning anew.” How?
In last year’s Easter Vigil, the Gospel reading (Mk 16:1-7) told essentially the same story of the empty tomb’s discovery as Luke’s and John’s, with one additional detail: a young man at the tomb, dressed in white, tells Mary and the other women to tell his disciples, “He is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you” (Mk 16:7).
To “go to Galilee,” Pope Francis said, is to begin anew, to return to the place in our hearts where Jesus first called us to follow him. “In this Galilee,” the pope said, “we learn to be amazed by the Lord’s infinite love, which opens new trails along the path of our defeats.”
In times and places of challenge and struggle, it is comforting to know there is a loving and compassionate God whose own son rose to new life — the ultimate example, one might say, of “starting over.”
“It is always possible to begin anew,” Pope Francis assures us, “because there is always a new life that God can awaken in us in spite of all our failures. From the rubble of our hearts — and each one of us knows the rubble of our hearts — God can create a work of art; from the ruined remnants of our humanity, God can prepare a new history.”
To “begin anew,” Francis continued, also means walking away from the tomb, to take new paths, and not hang onto “a faith of memories” or habits, a faith that no longer moves or challenges us.
“Going to Galilee,” he said, “means realizing that faith, if it is to be alive, must get back on the road. It must daily renew the first steps of the journey, the amazement of the first encounter.”
As we “begin anew,” we can draw strength from knowing that Jesus “is alive here and now,” the second of Pope Francis’ Easter messages.
“He walks beside you each day, in every situation you are experiencing, in every trial you have to endure, in your deepest hopes and dreams,” said the pope. “He opens new doors when you least expect it; he urges you not to indulge in nostalgia for the past or cynicism about the present. Even if you feel that all is lost, please, let yourself be open to amazement at the newness Jesus brings: He will surely surprise you.”
Amazement and surprise are certainly what the disciples experienced at the empty tomb, and who wouldn’t? It took them time (some more than others) to recall and accept Jesus’ promise that he would rise from the dead.
Likewise, it takes many of us who have regularly heard these Gospels at Easter — who acknowledge in our creed every Sunday that Jesus “rose again on the third day … ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father” — an inordinate amount of convincing that Jesus is not only alive but present and available.
The Lord “makes himself present in the lives of those around us, those who share in our day, our home, our work, our difficulties and hopes,” says Pope Francis. Indeed, “we will be amazed how the greatness of God is revealed in littleness, how his beauty shines forth in the poor and simple.”
Which leads to Pope Francis’ third message: Jesus loves us “without limits.”
“Having made himself present in the heart of our world,” said the pope, “he invites us to overcome barriers, banish prejudices and draw near to those around us every day in order to rediscover the grace of everyday life.”
As we renew our baptismal promises at the Easter liturgies, let us open our hearts, embrace life anew, and receive and share the love given, completely and eternally, by our Lord Jesus — alive, here and now.
“With him, life will change,” said Pope Francis. “For beyond all defeats, evil and violence, beyond all suffering and death, the Risen One lives and guides history.”
(Catholic journalist Mike Nelson writes from Oxnard, California.)