He is risen; he is risen indeed. That is a common Easter greeting and response of believers around the world. It is the essential declaration of our faith. He is risen and the world is changed forever. May we too be changed because we know that He is risen.
A blessed and joyful Easter to each of you and to those you love.
At Easter we celebrate new life in Christ in many ways. One is by welcoming new members into our faith community I had the privilege of doing so last night at the Easter Vigil. Some adults were baptized, some from other Christian traditions profess their faith; and all these along others were confirmed and received Holy Communion. It always brings back memories of when I was so received. In fact I told them that we will now share a common anniversary. It was on March 31 thirty-five years ago that I professed faith in the Church and experienced my first confession, was confirmed and received my first communion. It felt so right then, and still does. We welcome these and many others around the diocese into our faith community, and we promise to walk with them and pray for them as they continue their faith journeys as we all do.
Easter is often about family and friends, some of whom come home and shared a meal that is beyond description in celebration of Christ’s sacrificial love and his victory over death. That is what we do at this Holy Mass, as a family in faith we share the joy of the resurrection through sharing in the Holy Eucharist, a meal and sacrifice beyond description.
On Easter we bring out festive colors in dress, flowers and decorations and uplifting music symbolizing hope. At the also remember those who shared previous Easters with us and are now gone. We take comfort that because Christ has overcome death they remain with us in the communion of saints and we will be with them again if we remain faithful.
Several years ago I recalled those times from my Easter past when as a youth I was disappointed to discover that the chocolate bunnies in my Easter basket were hollow rather than solid and that the chocolate covered eggs were filed with maple rather than whipped cream. Since then people have generously given me many solid chocolate bunnies and cream filled chocolate eggs. Now, more mature or at least older, I recognize that hollow is healthier and maple is a tasty and special flavor. The enjoyable Easter traditions of today and wonderful youthful exuberance from the past lift the spirits but they must not distract us from the power and the potential of Christ’s Resurrection to transform us.
Easter is more than a one day of celebration; it is so much more. This is not a stand-alone holy day, though it is wonderful to celebrate it with family traditions. It is the culmination of God’s merciful plan for our redemption and it does not end tomorrow.
Monday we will face work, war, worry and wonder. Our response to the crosses of our lives can be like those who in the Gospel went to the tomb sadly, expecting to find the worst, to see the dead body of Jesus. Instead they found the tomb rolled away. They were frightened at first, amazed as we might be. But at the prodding of the angels, they lifted their vision to see beyond the moment and realized that the tomb really was empty, that Christ had risen, as he said he would.
On the crown of this beautiful baldachin over the altar of sacrifice on which our Lord will come to us Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in a few minutes are medallions with the crown of thorns and nails, reminders that the joy we celebrate this day came at a price.
Above me on the cathedra, the bishop’s chair, is a sculptural rendering of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper when he implored them and us, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, so you should also do.”
In a few minutes we will renew our baptismal promises when we will pledge once again to serve God faithfully by rejecting evil and living as God’s children by loving God and neighbor, by living what we believe.
In 1875 the German ship the Deutschland sank off the coast of England in the midst of a terrible storm. On it were five Franciscan nuns who were coming to the United States as missionary teachers. They voluntarily sacrificed their lives that others might be rescued. According to reports they remained below deck so that others were sure to be rescued first. As the water rose around them they joined hands and prayed, “O Christ, O Christ, come quickly.” The Jesuit poet Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote a poem about their tragedy and honoring their sacrifice. The closing lines are, “let Him Easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness in us. . .” In other words, let us follow his example; as He has done so we should do.
Many Easters I recall the ancient legend that tells of a monk who was said to have found the crown of thorns that had mockingly been placed on the head of Jesus. “The monk took it to the monastery chapel and placed it on the altar. It was a horrible looking thing, stained with blood. Those who saw it quickly took their eyes away. But it was a graphic symbol of Good Friday and the ugliness of the crucifixion.
“Very early Easter morning the monk hurried to the chapel to remove the symbol of sin and suffering and death, knowing that it would be out of place on resurrection morning. He opened the door and a powerful fragrance engulfed him. He saw that the thorns and barrenness of the twisted twigs had undergone a transformation; the crown of thorns had blossomed into beautiful roses. The symbol of suffering and death had become the symbol of joy and life.” (Samuel Parsons)
That legend catches the essence of Easter – out of enduring love Jesus suffered and died for our redemption, and now he has overcome even death out of love for us. And so we can sing alleluia with joy and experience the new life he offers us. Let us share our joy and our faith by loving him back, by loving others as He has loved us, by “letting him Easter in us.” May every day be an Easter day, for He is risen, he is risen indeed.