Praised be Jesus Christ. He is risen, he is risen indeed. Happy Easter to you all. This is a day of celebration of Christ’s victory over death and evil, of hope for the future, of recognition of the depth of God’s love from which flows forgiveness and new life.
As we celebrate new life in Christ, we especially rejoice with those who are being received into the Church by way of baptism, profession of faith, confirmation and first Holy Communion this Easter. We welcome you as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Some years ago before I became a priest, a friend and I went to an Easter service while on vacation. It was an unfamiliar church and we stood out. There was the joyful music, flowers that teased the imagination and families dressed up in colorful Easter clothes. It was easy to get caught up in that moment alone. A lady next to us in the pew welcomed us. And as the hymns were sung and the readings proclaimed, every time a significant point was made she would elbow my friend in his side. Fortunately I was on the other side of him. As we left church my friend complained that he thought he had bruised ribs. As we talked about it though we better remembered those instances when that exclamation point was physically punctuated. The meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ needs to be raised up in our lives every day.
What exclamation points do we need to remind us of what today is all about? During the Korean War Father Emil Kaupun was imprisoned in a communist camp in North Korea. He lived his vocation as an instrument of God’s love and mercy to all fellow prisoners, Catholic and not, in a down to earth, practical ways when despair and hopelessness was the main menu. Authorities sought to restrict him in physical and psychological ways; yet he persevered, knowing that worldly power cowers when confronted with heavenly power as the guards at the tomb showed.
On a cold Easter morning, Father Emil courageously organized a sunrise service in front of a bombed out church in the area. Catholics, Protestants, Jews and non-believers were there, despite the dangers. He did not have the hosts and wine to celebrate Mass but he remembered some of the Mass prayers, he led the Stations of the Cross and prayed the rosary. He quoted Sacred Scripture especially the glory of the resurrection. While food was scarce in that camp, tears of consolation were plentiful that Easter morn. From this humble but faith-filled time together worshipping the one who died and rose for them, hope was resurrected. Hope that they would be delivered from the cruel cross of the camp, hope that there was more to life than man’s inhumanity to one another. We need such hope in our day of such great disrespect for life, violence and incivility, the heavy burdens of our human frailty and the ache and anxiety of sickness and loss.
Such reassurance is hard to maintain because the challenges of life can entomb us. Monday we will face work, war, worry and wonder. The image of the stone having been rolled away can inspire us to cope with the realities of our times with hope. Christ is risen, as he said he would be.
In 1875 the German ship the Deutschland sank off the coast of England. 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. 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.
Each Easter 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 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.