Bishop Philip writes…
Here is the homily I preached at Mass here at the Cathedral on Easter Sunday.
I’d like, if you can bear with me, to consider a fascinating character who appears briefly in all four Gospels. A wealthy man, possibly an uncle of Jesus, and a disciple, although a secret one, he played a pivotal role in Jesus’s burial. I mean St. Joseph of Arimathea. In Jewish law, bodies had to be buried before sunset, before the first star rose in the sky, so Joseph of Arimathea brought aloes, myrrh and cloths to embalm it; he then laid it lovingly in what was going to be his own tomb and rolled a great stone across the entrance. Mediaeval legends link Joseph of Arimathea to King Arthur and the Holy Grail, as in Jerusalem and William Blake’s poem And did those feet in ancient times? Yet what is for sure is that he was the one who went to Pilate to make the greatest request of all time: he asked for the Church’s greatest treasure, the Body of Jesus. We commemorate him in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Stations of the Cross: you can see his figure in the carvings on our wall. Let’s return to him in a moment.
For in today’s Gospel, we’re told it was very early on the first day of the week and still dark when Mary of Magdala came to the grave. She found the stone rolled away. Going in, the body of Jesus was not there. Then suddenly two men in brilliant clothes appeared, saying: Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? He is not here; he has risen. This was amazing! Something amazing had happened: Jesus had risen. He has risen from the dead, the first Person in human history truly so. The tomb was empty; the cloths and shroud had been cast off. It then sinks in. Jesus has transcended death. He has overcome sin and evil. He has conquered sickness, sadness and suffering. He has opened the gates of Paradise. He is alive. Not only that, He wants to give us His new life and to take us with Him. This is amazing: it changes everything!
Last Easter, here at the Cathedral I did an interview with ITV. After discussing the impact of the pandemic, the interviewer then asked me why Easter was important: what does Easter mean for Catholics? Easter, I said, is central to our Christian faith and to the life of all human beings. –Because it gives us the guarantee, the assurance of everything we hope for: that there is a loving God, that heaven is real, that one day we’ll meet again our departed loved ones, that evil, suffering and illness do not have the last word, that hope is certain, that love is stronger than death. All this becomes possible tonight in Jesus Christ.
In this true story Joseph of Arimathea is key. What he did was profoundly significant: he asked for the Body of Jesus. That should be what we ask for, everyday. The Spirit of the risen Jesus is in every heart that works for truth, goodness and love, in every effort for justice, peace and fraternity, in every advance in science, medicine, business and the arts, in the care of creation, in alleviating poverty, in work for a better world. As the Holy Thursday antiphon says: ubi caritas et amor Deus ibi est: where love and charity is found, there is God. But in asking for the Body of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is asking much more. He is asking for the sacraments, for Flesh and Blood, for the water and oil from Christ’s side. He is asking for help. He’s asking for salvation, energy, God’s mercy and power. That’s surely our prayer today too. In this Mass, let’s pray on behalf of our catechumens and candidates. Let’s pray on behalf of the people of Ukraine and Russia. Let’s pray on behalf of the sick, the dying, refugees, anyone in need. Christ is risen. He is with us. He is on our side. He wants to take us with Him. But let’s ask Him for His Body and Blood, that we can go out and transform the world. I wish you a Happy Easter.