Bishop of Lake Charles
Easter Message 2011
“Speak, Mary, declaring/ What you saw, wayfaring./ ‘The tomb of Christ, who is living,/ The glory of Jesus’ resurrection.” From the Sequence Hymn for Easter
Over the last few weeks, we have seen unfolding before us the tragedy in Japan. Scores of thousands of people were killed in an earthquake and the subsequent flooding caused by a tsunami. Then, we see the workers braving the growing threat of radioactivity, trying to stop its spread and remedy a catastrophic situation, seemingly without consideration for their own health and well-being.
All of this is reminiscent of the natural disasters that we in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast have faced in recent years. The consequences of the flooding of New Orleans, the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts, a result of Hurricane Katrina, and in our own area, the destruction of our homes, churches and communities by Hurricanes Rita and Ike particularly, have left us with persistent memories and rebuilding in the future.
Our prayers and our thoughts are with the people of Japan on this Easter Sunday, as we celebrate the continuing joy that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ brings to us. The Archbishop of Osaka, Japan, Archbishop Leo Jun Ikenaga, made this observation in the statement he issued: “We watch with unbearable sorrow the many people who continue to live as helpless refugees, often mourning the loss of family members or fearing for their safety…. From the midst of these scenes of devastation, we have already seen the first movements toward rebirth and revival.”
As I read those words, I thought of the first Easter. We read in the Gospel of St. John, “Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning” (John 20:1). What did Mary expect to see? All of the disciples knew that their Master had been crucified, suffering an ignoble and tortuous death on the cross of Calvary. He had been buried hurriedly in a borrowed tomb so that the Sabbath would not be defiled (John 19:31). The Roman officials had authorized a guard at the tomb, so that the body could not be stolen and false claims be made of a resurrection (Matthew 27:64). The words of the Archbishop of Osaka apply: “We watch with unbearable sorrow.”
“Unbearable sorrow” must have filled the hearts and minds of the companions of Jesus. They watched their Lord go to be crucified, suffering unspeakable torment, and they could do nothing. In the case of Peter, some would disclaim Him. With others, they would return to their house and lock the door (John 20:19). In the words of the hymn we sing at the Way of the Cross, they had seen the soldiers “pierce the hands of the one who blessed and cured us” (Stabat Mater). It must have seemed a moment of irretrievable defeat and utter terror. There was little thought, if any at all, given to Jesus’ own prophecies of His Resurrection. He was dead, and He lay in a tomb. There was nothing left to do but mourn and survive as best as one could.
Then, just as surely as the sun begins to rise with a gentle glow on the horizon, the victory manifested itself gradually to the apostles and disciples. Just as morning light is first soft before the sun appears to dispel all darkness, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb” (Matthew 28:1). And the sun revealed its first morning brightness. A great earthquake and an angel descending from heaven (Matthew 28:2) were like rays that cut through the frost and dry up the dew. And the marvel of this Easter rising of the Son of God was like the inevitable answer to the hope that Christ gave in a prophecy that was both shocking and too good to believe—“The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Luke 9:22).
The Archbishop of Osaka added, “From the midst of these scenes of devastation, we have already seen the first movements toward rebirth and revival.” And so did the apostles and disciples on that first Easter day. What they saw, however, on that first Easter was something truly remarkable and extraordinary. It was without parallel in human experience. As a matter of fact, it was God’s work, His victory over death. Jesus appears to them in His glorified body. His body was so glorious that some did not recognize Him at first (Luke 24:16). They came slowly to understand the “rebirth and revival” that was completely new and victorious through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
We can come to know it too. As the ancient hymn sung on Easter Sunday before the Gospel says, “We know Christ indeed from death is risen” (Sequence “Victimae paschal laudes”). Do we see the “rebirth and revival”? Does it make any difference to us?
As I mentioned in one of my Lenten homilies, the story is told of the great English author Graham Greene who once attended a Mass offered by Padre Pio. He was deeply moved, but when asked if he wished to meet Padre Pio after the Mass, declined the invitation. He explained, “I don’t want to change my life by meeting a saint.” C. S. Lewis once commented: “I am not sure, after all, whether one of the causes of our weak faith is not a secret wish that our faith should not be very strong. Is there some reservation in our mind? Some fear of what it might be like if our religion became quite real?”
To this, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:5). Do not be afraid of Jesus, the reality of His Resurrection, the hope it gives. Do not be afraid to believe and to accept what faith expects of us. Christ is risen, truly risen.