(Editor's note: The Easter Mass with Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger to be televised Easter morning, April 20, on stations across the Albany Diocese was taped earlier this month; see airtimes on page 3. Here are excerpts from the Bishop's homily, referring to John 20:1-9.)

Our God is amazing - always full of surprises. I used to like to read the end of a book [first], but this was one [surprise] worth waiting for until the end - or what they thought was the end.

Let's ask ourselves what was going on in the minds of Jesus' disciples. Mary was the first one [to arrive at Jesus' tomb]. St. John tells us it was before dawn. Anybody ever go into a graveyard at 4:00 in the morning? You have to give this woman credit! She must have had a lot of courage.

Mary realizes something's wrong. There's no Roman guard. Even the Romans had heard this talk about, "In three days, something's going to happen," and they wanted to make sure that nobody did anything that would have fulfilled this without God. The soldiers are gone; the stone is rolled away. She was going to be able to continue the anointing of the body. But she got scared and ran to Peter and John.

They race to the tomb. John's a 15-year-old, probably; maybe Peter's in his late 20s. Naturally, John beats him to the tomb - but in deference to Peter (the head of the Apostles), Peter goes in first. Peter's reaction is very different: [The Gospel] says he bent down. That's a detail that wouldn't be there unless you were dealing with an eyewitness. Because the tomb is very low, he bent down. Early in the morning, in the dark, an empty tomb: takes a lot of chutzpah!

He doesn't panic. He's probably as anxious as everybody else to see what's really going on here. He sees the burial garments; they're all neat. This doesn't make sense. Mary's reaction is that it must have been grave robbers. But why would they take the body? And if somebody wanted to desecrate it, why fold everything up? If it was somebody that meant to protect Jesus, why would they take a naked body out of the tomb? That would have been a desecration in itself.

John goes in - and immediately, he believes! Maybe he had time to think about it - or maybe that's just the way John's heart was moved, that he realized this was what Jesus had said. Jesus had been saying again and again, "I'm going to die and, in three days, I'm going to rise again."

Why didn't Mary, when she came to the tomb, at least say, "Hmm. Could it be?" And why does Peter have to go home and figure it out? Eventually, he comes around; Jesus appears to him. Mary gets it together, too, because no sooner do Peter and John go than Jesus appears to her. She doesn't recognize Him, but He calls her by her name and she realizes it's Jesus.

She had good reason to want to see Him. She and the other Apostles had been so close to Jesus - but no one closer than her, perhaps, because she had most been touched. Remember, Mary had been possessed of seven demons. She probably went around the streets and yelled out names and walked around half-undressed, and probably the children made fun of her...and Jesus healed her and drove out those demons, whatever they [might] be.

She was whole again, and she had a purpose in life. No wonder she followed Him, because she knew how low she had sunk, how needy she was of God's grace - and she had experienced it. She was most disposed [to believe] - and yet, even Mary had a tough time figuring out what happened here.

What does this tell us for ourselves? Faith is impossible. We've heard that faith is a gift and wondered, "When am I going to get the faith I'm looking for?" There's nothing wrong with saying, "Lord, I believe - but help my unbelief." There's no reason for any of us to feel that God does not want us to experience His love, His mercy, His grace and the faith that we yearn for.

Look at Peter. Look at John. Look at Mary Magdalene. They had seen Jesus perform miracles. They had seen Him heal people. They had seen Him forgive sinners. And now, they're just not ready for this. The greatest and biggest surprise that ever happened to the human race; can you really blame them? But why weren't they ready? Why might you and I not be ready?

John says in verse 9, "As yet, they did not understand that Jesus had to rise from the dead." They did not understand, really, that Jesus had to die and had to rise.

When Jesus was saying this again and again, what was the first thing Peter tried to say? "Oh, Lord, not you; you don't have to die." Nobody expected even the death to happen. He didn't deserve it. He did all these good things.

What prevents us from realizing why Jesus had to die for you and for me? Is it because I think, "If I'm just good, I listen to Jesus' teachings and try to be a good person, that'll be fine?" It won't. There come times in all of our lives when all of the good things we did, all of the trials and errors we went through, all of the teachings we learned and, yes, maybe even all of the miracles that we have experienced are going to fail us.

A lot of people expected Jesus to be just that: a good teacher who would help them live a good, moral life. If that's all I'm concerned about, it can make me very judgmental about all of those people out there who aren't measuring up to all of the teachings of the Gospel, of the Church.

There's another type of arrogance: that I really don't need Jesus to die for me; what I need Him to do is get to work and liberate the world - the "social action Jesus" who should fix all of the injustice that's out there. [The two approaches] share one thing in common: "I don't have to change; they do."

What has to change [is] inside my heart: my need to recognize my complicity in what is wrong with the world and to recognize that I am a sinner. I was so impressed when somebody asked the Holy Father, Pope Francis, "How would you describe yourself?" He said, "I am a sinner." Maybe that is the obstacle we all have to realizing how graced we all are to have a God that came to die for us - and that He had to die for us, because my sins, my distance from God, my pride, my judgment of others and [of] people like Mary Magdalene - maybe that's where I most need to change and recognize the beauty of what God has done for us by dying and rising.

One year, when I was in the seminary, I thought I was going to make the best Lent ever. I decided the best way to do that was to make myself as miserable as possible. [I slept on a board and gave up meat, candy] and wine; I was studying in Rome and they drank wine at meals. I felt so holy; I felt I was getting so good and so pure; and I was suffering so much.

You know how I felt on Easter Sunday? Blah. Dead. Empty. "God, after all I did for you, aren't you going to give me the joy of Easter?" It took a long time before I came to my senses and began to realize why I wasn't ready for the joy of Easter: because it was all about me, all about what I was doing for God. I was missing the whole point of Christ's life, death and resurrection; the whole point of Easter - that it's God's gift to me and to you personally, each and every one of us in our own way, in our own journey of faith.

Wherever you are, wherever you may be, do not lose hope that Jesus Christ came for you.