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Starting over for Easter

Thursday, April 11, 2019 - Updated: 2:37 pm

By David Mills

We’re close to the end of Lent, and you may be feeling that you have blown whatever discipline you tried this year. Even just being kinder to people may have proved too hard because some people make being nice to them difficult. They seem to beg for rudeness. We may throw at them the angry words they seem to want. Then we feel bad.

Easter tells us that it’s never too late to try again. In fact, it tells us that it’s never too late to start. When Jesus rises from the grave, he triumphs over death. He puts death down. When he triumphs over death, he triumphs over the form of death we call sin, even the sins we keep committing.

Fourth-century bishop St. John Chrysostom got at this in his famous Easter homily. He was one of the church’s greatest preachers, nicknamed the “golden-mouthed” or, as we would say, “golden-tongued.” He also was one of the church’s early heroes.

He became famous as a preacher and pastor in Antioch. He was happy there. In 398, the emperor dragged him from his home to serve as the patriarch of Constantinople. Suddenly he was a big-city pastor living at the heart of the Roman world’s political power. Politics there was as ugly and corrupt as it is on a TV show like “House of Cards” or “Game of Thrones.”

He really didn’t want to do it. But since he had to do it, he used his position to preach Jesus and to challenge the people’s morals and manners. Which, of course, ticked off many people. The empress Eudoxia hated John’s homilies about Jezebel because she thought he was talking about her. The archbishop of Alexandria felt jealous of his popularity. Together they got John exiled to the desert, where he died four years later, in 407.

Like any great saint or preacher, John spoke so strongly against sin because he wanted people to meet their Lord and know the joy of being good and holy. His Easter homily encourages and comforts today. He compared the Christian life to a long workday. He said that if anyone has worked from the first hour, he will get his reward. The same with the person who starts at the third hour.

Then he said the comforting words for those of us who need to start over or need to start in the first place. To put it simply, he pointed out that Jesus loves you and wants you to come in, to come home, to come to him, even if you show up really late.

“If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings, because he shall not be deprived,” John said. “If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the 11th hour, let him not worry about his tardiness. The Lord will accept the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes at the 11th hour, even as he gave rest to him who has worked from the first hour.”

John continued: “And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first. To the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord. Receive your reward.”

He kept going in the same way. “You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast you all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away. … Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.”

Jesus sets us free to start over, or even just to start. He invites us to join him at the feast, even if we’re among the heedless who tarried until the 11th hour. That could easily be me, or you. Even then, he says to us, “Come on in. Join the feast. I love you.”

 

Mills is working on a book about Catholic dying and death for Sophia Press.


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