HOMILY for Mon 3 of Easter
Optional memorial of Saint George
– preached at the Convent of the Missionaries of Charity, Edinburgh
Many of the readings of Eastertide have been about witnessing Christ’s resurrection. For example, yesterday’s Gospel ended with these words: “You are witnesses to these things”, and of course the apostles did see Christ die on the cross, and they saw his risen Body, and they experienced the new life of the resurrection through Christ’s mercy, forgiveness, and living presence. Thus, they are “witnesses to these things”. But after Christ’s ascension, there are many others who are called witnesses of the Resurrection, such as St Stephen. Although they had not seen and touched the risen Lord as the apostles had, they too experienced the new life of the resurrection through their faith and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. As St Luke says in today’s First Reading, “Stephen was filled with grace and power”, and “it was the Spirit that prompted what he said”. So, too, with us who are called to be “witnesses to these things” today. Through the same Holy Spirit, we are called today to be disciples of the risen Lord, to experience Christ’s resurrection through knowing his mercy, love, and forgiveness, and so, to live a new life in the Spirit.
And one of the hallmarks of this new life is a new way of seeing the world and relating to it, and its novelty can seem threatening as it turns the logic of our world upside down. So, because of Easter, death is no longer a final nihilistic end but is the gateway to eternal life; suffering is, in some way, redemptive; and our God is found among the poor, the powerless, and the marginalized. Christians who see the world in this new Easter light thus live a life that bears witness to their new life in the Spirit. And sometimes, their faithful witness to this new Easter life may even lead to their death. Hence, those who die for the Faith are called Witnesses, in Greek, martures, martyrs.
St George was one such martyr, who resisted the Roman emperor’s instruction that he venerate a Roman god. His resistance, in effect, witnesses to the Truth of who Christ is, and St George refuses lapse into falsehood, to be defeated by the temptations of this world, or to be cowed by the social, political and military forces of his day. St George’s legendary defeat of a dragon has to be seen in this symbolic way, as indicative of his resistance to falsehood, violence and evil, and the over-powering of his human desires for an easier more comfortable escape. Rather, he remained steadfast because he had Christ’s resurrection firmly in his sights, and thus, he believed in the Truth of Christ’s promise that death isn’t the end, that suffering is redemptive, and that he too, with the risen Lord, would triumph over sin and death, and attain the joy and glory of everlasting life.
Each of us, who believe the Gospel of the resurrection are also called to be witnesses in this way, and we will need the courage and wisdom of the martyrs. For many dragons still lurk in this land and in our hearts, and slaying them means ending those things that lead ultimately to death and ruin, or forsaking temporary pleasures for the sake of eternal life and of those things which make for lasting happiness. Hence the Lord says in today’s Gospel: “Do not work for the food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life”. St George, whose name means ‘worker of the land’ thus worked for true goods that endure, and attained the promised Land of heaven.
As “witnesses of these things”, who in these days of Easter have experienced the mercy, joy, and love of the risen Lord, let us pray that we may also have the faith and courage of St George and all the holy martyrs, so that we too always may work for God, believing firmly in the One whom he has sent, and being open to Spirit who brings to perfection all that Christ’s resurrection promises.