This Sunday we celebrate the high point of the Christian year: Jesus’ Resurrection! Happy Easter to you! I think that for Easter we can compare joy and pleasure. Both are good but one is more valuable than the other. Easter shows us the value of joy by showing us the ultimate and true joy.
This Homily for Easter Sunday where we read of Mary Magdalene at the tomb (readings) is part of my April series for Homiletic & Pastoral Review.
[Pleasure vs. Joy]
Imagine sun-tanning on a beach, then, in the afternoon, someone comes by and offers you your favorite flavor of ice cream. Afterwards, you have a wonderful shrimp dinner. You would feel pleasure.
Imagine, now, your daughter’s wedding to a man you highly respect. She walks down the aisle, then promises her life to this man, then you toast her at the reception with silly stories of her childhood. You would feel joy. Even if an uncomfortable tux made you not feel too much pleasure, you would feel joy.
Likewise, going back to the sunny beach, you would likely fulfill those desires for pleasure even if this was two weeks after grandma died and you lacked joy.
In our society, we often confuse pleasure and joy. Joy is something deeper and more profound, something more worth striving for. But how often do we settle for pleasure?
It is right to have these things together. Usually we feel joy sharing pleasure with friends and family: we go chat over a delicious coffee or we go to the beach as a family. And we often add pleasure to a moment of joy: just remember the banquet after the last wedding: it probably tasted far better than your average food.
However, we always put pleasure at the service of joy. We can all understand a person who sacrifices for their family, but would wonder about someone who gave up on their family to have a pleasurable vacation.
[Joy Is More Valuable than Pleasure]
In the Resurrection and the apostles’ mission right after, we see this lesson of prioritizing joy and we also see an even-deeper joy.
In today’s Gospel, Mary Magdalene is seeking Jesus at the tomb. Then he appears. She is overwhelmed with joy. Her joy at the Resurrection not only satisfies her, it goes beyond. It drives her outward to run back on uneven roads to tell the others.
The Resurrection brings a deeper joy than we can experience in our day-to-day life.
Her joy is such that it motivates Peter and John to run back. John realizes Jesus has risen and is filled with joy as well.
It will take Peter a little longer, but he too is filled with joy. In fact, his joy is so overwhelming that, despite being a kind of shy, salty fisherman, he forgets his displeasure of public speaking and has to share this joy. The first reading was simply him getting up before the crowd and telling them how much joy Jesus gave him. Later in that same passage, we will see 5,000 added to the numbers of the disciples. That is a joy that transforms not only him, but the crowd.
Such joy is so far beyond pleasure that pleasure or displeasure becomes an afterthought. I think all of us want such a deep joy.
[The Deeper Joy of Our Faith]
But you know what? Such a joy at the risen Lord is an essential part of Christianity. Our relationship with Jesus should bring us that joy.
Any kind of joy often takes a few difficult steps first. To have the joy of a university graduation, you need to pass Calculus II; to get the joy of a new child, you have to go through the pregnancy and birth. Likewise, it isn’t just automatic that because we are baptized Christians we experience such joy. We need to respond to God’s grace. That joy usually starts in those who take their faith a little more seriously. Maybe the next step is making it every Sunday to Mass or maybe its twenty minutes of prayer each day. It probably varies between those here. However, one thing I can promise is that moving towards Jesus brings us joy.
In our lives, we have pleasure and we have joy. We might initially confuse them. However, when we reflect, we realize joy — not pleasure — is what matters. As we get close to the risen Lord, we experience more of the deepest joy.
Read the homily with the rest of the month’s homilies if you want. (This homily on the Resurrection was intended to be helpful for people who aren’t regular Mass attendees, along with the regulars.)
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