Decent to Hell, Duccio di Buoninsegna (c1258-c1318), c1310. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Fr Neil’s homily at Mass on the Fourth Sunday of Easter (25 April)

“There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

Bookstores are filled with self-help manuals these days. It is a new fashion. Guiding lights are popping up all over the internet to offer the key to self improvement, to conquering our fears, realising our potential, finding inner peace and taking control of our lives and opportunities.

One might be rightly cynical about those who seek to make lots of money off the backs of our insecurities and fears with easy remedies and magical cures. The less cynical might see a restlessness within the human heart that for vast majority, without their knowing it, speaks of their longing for God. For many, this longing is focused on these self-improvement programmes as the answer to their troubles.

It is true that there is often a wisdom found in some which can help an individual to identify problems and can provide a guide through our emotional fears to find a better place in life. Our faith indeed provides for us an order and discipline to develop the cardinal virtues of justice, prudence, temperance and fortitude. Critically, however, it does not promise us an easy way to our inner goals and the peace of a trouble-free life. Quite the contrary: Christ has said, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life.” And “he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

How tempting it is to want and offer the Easter joys without the Good Friday sorrows, to want forgiveness for our sins without true repentance and conversion of life.

Nevertheless the offer of cheap grace is no grace at all.

Part of the problem is our inability to perceive and accept the depths to which our inner wounds go. Sorting a few difficulties in our lives cannot heal the deeper wounds caused by the Fall and the original sin we have inherited from Adam.

This deeper truth of humanity’s condition, rejected by so many, and which some in the Church seem reluctant to speak about of late, requires someone and something far more radical than a self-help guru.

Sight for the blind, ears unstopped for the deaf and the leper cleansed are wonderful acts of healing enabling the one healed to have a fuller life in society. However it does not necessarily provide a remedy for the disease of the soul. Ten lepers were healed by Christ but only one came back in praise of God. ‘Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”’

The deeper healing comes through the forgiveness of our sins so that we might, once more, have reconciliation with the Father. This reconciliation moves us from darkness to light and from death to life.

St John speaks of the Father’s love being lavished upon us “that we should be called children of God.” The depth of the merciful heart of the Father is revealed in Christ’s willingness to lay down his life as the Good Shepherd. Out of an act of unparalleled compassion, God is made flesh so that he might embrace the cross and as Lord of life burst open the gates of death.

The resurrection is the guarantee that the spiritual and physical, the infinite and finite, God and humanity are healed and reconciled in Christ. A way back to the Father has been opened for us in a new creation. Christ’s resurrection was no mere resuscitation like that of Lazarus or Jairus’ daughter. Both having returned to life would still eventually know once again ‘from dust you came and to dust you will return.’ Christ’s resurrection was utterly different, and brought about something beyond the normal experience of the natural world. No wonder his disciples struggled to grasp what they were witnessing.

The disciples were familiar with the notions of a new creation but that was fixed at the point when the present created order disappears and new heaven and earth are installed. Christ’s resurrection however, breaks open a new dimension of human existence into a continuing old world. What already exists is not called into question but now there is a further dimension, beyond that which was previously known.

Christ is alive and truly himself as the disciples testify in seeing, speaking and touching him. Yet he is no longer contained by the tangible world but lives anew forever in the power of God and the heavenly realms. The resurrection then cannot be fixed as a isolated event limited to the past; it is a universal event that opens up a new kind of future for all humanity. Jesus can in this new dimension make himself known — body, soul and divinity — in the breaking of bread, in the sacrifice of the mass.

This new reality we access by faith through baptism, dying with him that we might rise with him into this new mode of being, while we yet live in this world. It is the means of our salvation. In him death can no longer hold us. That which is our heart’s desire is opened to us as we take up our cross and follow him. In doing so we fully embrace what it is to be an Easter people living in faith, hope and charity.

The statement ‘There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved’ is therefore not a catch phrase of a ghettoed, exclusive bunch of fundamentalist loons, but a statement of reality. This greater depth of healing and wholeness, that binds the wounds of Adam’s fall, could only be brought about by the God-man Christ. This new dimension of creation, revealed in his resurrection, lends meaning to the so called ‘scandal of particularity’ and Christ’s own words; “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” And it is the basis of our faith, hope and charity.

Without this dimension of the resurrection we might just as well pack up and go home now. For as St Paul says; “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.”

However, Christ has risen and Alleluia is our song!