Easter – April 12, 2020

This is the day the Lord has made!   …  Welcome to all of you on this day of Resurrection – this day that defines who we are as Christians.  …  While this moment is unlike any Easter celebration that we have ever experienced, we are still bound together as brothers and sisters through the power of the risen Jesus, aren’t we?  …  So welcome – to all who proclaim Jesus as Lord – to our Jewish friends celebrating Passover – and to those of you with no particular creed but who, like all of us in these difficult days, acknowledge our need for something bigger than ourselves – something that we Christians name as the Risen Jesus.  It is good that we are all united in this time of prayer.

A week ago, I celebrated Palm Sunday Mass, much like I’m celebrating this Mass today – in front of television cameras and an empty cathedral.  Something occurred during that Mass that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind for days – an image that was both surprising and poignant.

As I began the Eucharistic prayer, as if from nowhere, two faithful souls appeared outside of the central doors of the cathedral.  As I prayed the words of consecration and lifted up the host and chalice, they both knelt on the granite deck, where they remained through the praying of the Lord’s Prayer and the Communion Rite.  They blessed themselves at the end of Mass and then seemed to disappear.

Reflecting upon that experience for the past week, it occurred to me that what I was privileged to witness was nothing short of a powerful reminder of this Easter day – a sign of the resurrection of Jesus.

For weeks, so many of you have shared how much you miss the opportunity to worship together and to experience the Lord in the Eucharist and other sacraments; how much you long to be in God’s presence in the churches that have become your spiritual homes.  …  Why do you think that the desire to return to our churches to celebrate the Eucharist is so intense?  I’d like to suggest something.  That desire, that longing that we all have to be back in our churches is not because the Lord has been absent from our lives for weeks.  To the contrary, the very desire that we have to celebrate the Eucharist in our churches is because the risen Jesus is with us – as close to us as our hearts where he has always promised to be – having been planted there at baptism and welcomed throughout our lives of faith.

Surely, our hearts are broken as we’ve had to celebrate these holiest days of the Church year apart from one another and the altars upon which we commemorate the mystery of our faith:  Christ has died – Christ is risen – Christ will come again.  Yet, woven into that mystery is Jesus’ promise to remain with us through the power of his resurrection.  …  Because of that promise, you and I long to gather once again as Church – the People of God.  And for every moment that this longing intensifies in our hearts, give thanks – for it is prompted by nothing less than Easter and the presence of the risen Jesus already within you!

Pope Francis put it best in his reflections upon the resurrection.  To experience the hope of Easter, we have to be “willing to enter into the mystery” of God.  “To enter into the mystery” means that we’re willing to wonder and to contemplate, to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper by which God speaks to us.  …  The mystery demands that we not be afraid of reality:  that we not be locked into ourselves, that we not flee from what we fail to understand, that we not close our eyes to problems or deny them, that we not dismiss our questions.  …  To enter into the mystery of God, we need … the humility not to take ourselves so seriously, recognizing instead who we really are:  creatures with strengths and weaknesses, sinners in need of forgiveness.”

This crisis, more than anything else in our history, has continually reminded us that we’re all powerless to navigate this world on our own.  Yet, when we’re humble enough to admit our weakness, God is given room to dwell within us.  Recall the words of Saint Paul in his second letter to the Church at Corinth, “I boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.”  …  Brothers and sisters, the risen Jesus isn’t waiting alone in our churches for us to return.  In the fear, the grief, the pain and confusion of these past weeks, the risen Jesus has already come to you and to me – where we are – to help us carry on each day, to enable to care for one another, and to give us hope.

We’re no different than the first followers of Jesus – confused, heartbroken and powerless to sort out all that had happened to their teacher and friend – Jesus – and to themselves.   Yet, the power of God enabled them to find hope in the midst of pain from the enduring message of each of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection.  Saint Matthew’s gospel, proclaimed last night during the Easter Vigil, captures the moment best as an angel speaks to the women who came to Jesus’ tomb and tried to make sense of what had happened.  “Do not be afraid!  …  He has been raised just as he said.  …  Do not be afraid!”

The gift of Easter faith is not nurtured by an empty tomb.  Easter faith is nurtured by the countless numbers of encounters with the risen Jesus that we have all experienced and that particularly abound in the longing of our hearts for hope, for strength, for healing and for God during these difficult days.   I was blessed to experience the power of the risen Jesus in two faithful souls who knelt outside of our cathedral on Palm Sunday.  And each of you have been blessed to experience his life and love if you look carefully enough and listen with your hearts.

Brothers and sisters, this is indeed the day the Lord has made!  Jesus is risen and lives among us.  And because of Jesus, we too shall rise.  We shall rise out of the tombs that our homes have become in these difficult days.  And we shall rise from the darkness of sin and death to life and hope and peace.

May these Easter words of Saint John Paul II rest in your hearts and console you on this great day of resurrection:  “There is no evil to be faced that Christ does not face with us.  There is no enemy that Christ has not already conquered.  There is no cross to bear that Christ has not already borne for us and does not now bear with us.  And on the far side of every cross, we find the newness of life in the Holy Spirit, that new life which will reach its fulfillment in the resurrection.  This is our faith.  This is our witness before the world.”