It seems that everyone looks forward to celebrating Easter, although perhaps from varying reasons. For some, Easter really signals the beginning of spring. No matter what specific date Easter falls on in a particular year, we somewhat think of it as a true transition from the doldrums of winter to the new life of spring. For others, Easter signals the time to think of flowers, gardening, getting the lawn ready for summer, beginning to think of a possible vacation place and time, etc. This group thinks tulips, daffodils, lilies, begonias, hyacinths, daisies, azaleas, etc. Many people see Easter as a time to look for and to purchase a new outfit for the day and for the season; new clothes usually bring a new spirit and a sense of renewal. Still others look to Easter as a time to do spring cleaning and fixing up the house to brighten one’s spirits. All of these are most worthwhile, and they bring great joy and excitement.
But for a disciple of Jesus, Easter is about resurrection and victory, conquering sin and opening heaven for eternal life. It is about unselfish love and magnificent wonder, about how far God will go and has gone for us, his children, even after we have disobeyed and chosen paths that seemingly would lead to goodness but actually have led to destruction. Easter is about crosses vanquished, empty tombs brilliant, and messages of great joy summed up in those three great words, HE IS RISEN! It’s about life conquering death, sun piercing the darkness, good over evil, hope rather than despair.
Too often we feel overwhelmed by what we see happening in the world. We wonder whether there will ever be a time of great peace when it seems that warfare is everywhere. We shudder about the lack of respect of one human being for another, when someone can just shoot a person in a parked car or on a front porch. How many more times do we have to hear about and actually see on television individuals being decapitated by ISIS militants or witness the atrocity of 16 people being murdered in Yemen as happened last year, four of whom were Missionaries of Charity, whose “sentence” was operating a home for the elderly for the poor? We question whether poverty can ever be addressed so that no one lacks food, water, basic housing and clothing. We sometimes feel abandoned by friends or even by God, and we lose our focus.
It seems like Good Friday will never come to an end, but Easter smashes that train of thought and reminds us that all is not lost, that God is alive and that we have every reason to live, having been washed clean by the waters of Baptism and given the very life of the Risen Lord—not just at one time but continuously throughout our lives here on this earth. Yes, Easter is real, and we rejoice. Here’s the way Saint John Chrysostom put it many years ago:
“Let all pious men and all lovers of God rejoice in the splendor of this feast. Let the wise servants blissfully enter into the joy of their Lord. Let those who have borne the burden of Lent now receive their pay, and those who have toiled since the first hour, let them now receive their due reward. Let any who came after the third hour be grateful to join in the feast, and those who may have come after the sixth, let them not be afraid of being too late, for the Lord is gracious and He receives the last even as the first. He gives rest to him who comes on the eleventh hour as well as to him who has toiled since the first: yes, He has pity on the last, and He serves the first. He rewards the one and praises the effort.
“Come, you all: enter into the joy of your Lord. You, the first, and you, the last: receive alike your reward. You rich and you poor, dance together. You sober and you weaklings, celebrate the day. You who have kept the fast and you who have not, rejoice today. The table is richly loaded; enjoy its royal banquet. The calf is a fatted one; let no one go away hungry. All of you enjoy the banquet of faith. All of you receive the riches of his goodness. Let no one grieve over his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep over his sins, for pardon has shown from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the death of Our Savior has set us free: He has destroyed it by enduring it, He has despoiled Hades by going down into its kingdom, He has angered it by allowing it to taste of his flesh….
“O death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and you are abolished. Christ is risen and the demons are cast down. Christ is risen and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen and life is freed. Christ is risen and the tomb is emptied of the dead. Christ, being risen from the dead, has become the Leader and Reviver of those who had fallen asleep. To Him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen!”
A joyous Easter to one and all from the friars and staff at St. Peter’s!
THE EASTER VIGIL
The Easter Vigil is the culmination of the Triduum. In the church’s earliest centuries, the Vigil lasted through the night, but over the centuries it was shortened. By the 16th century it had disappeared, being replaced by Easter Sunday Masses. With the church’s reform of the liturgies of Holy Week in the 1950s, the Vigil returned. For many involved in ministry, it is the highlight of the church year. Done well, it can be a graced moment for those who participate in it.
The readings offered for tonight’s service span the story of salvation history from creation to resurrection. In Genesis, we hear that God created humanity “in our image, after our likeness.” After creating the humans and giving them dominion over the other creatures, “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.”
Though not narrated in tonight’s readings, we know that sin entered the world as a result of human choice. But God continues to reach out to people over the course of salvation history. In the Abraham story, we hear of election and a covenant of promise and blessing. In Exodus the people are rescued from slavery in Egypt and from death by the power of the sea. Through Isaiah God proclaims, “With great tenderness I will take you back,” and then, “Listen, that you may have life.” In Baruch we are called to “hear the commandments of life.” And from the prophet Ezekiel we hear, “I will give you a new heart and a new spirit.” Sin and death will not be victorious. God seeks to restore a fallen humanity.
Luke’s narrative tonight tells us that the women who go to the tomb are greeted with unexpected news: “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised.” As Joan Chittister says in The Liturgical Year, “We are also the followers of the Light that shines beyond the grave.” After celebrating tonight’s Vigil, may we strive to always walk by that light and share it with the world.
For Reflection: Which of tonight’s readings has a special meaning for you? How can I more fully walk by Christ’s light?
We hope many people will choose to join us for the Easter Vigil at 7:00 P.M. Not only is this liturgy the highlight of the liturgical year, but it is celebrated in such a way that we meditate on how God has revealed himself through the ages, then how Jesus has given his life and death for our salvation, how the early Church came to realize that Jesus indeed was raised from the dead along with all the implications of that reality, and how all of this has been passed down to us through the power of the waters of Baptism right down to this very night. Even though we do not have anyone being baptized or making their profession of faith tonight at St. Peter’s, we will all renew our baptismal promises and then be sprinkled with the newly blessed Easter water.
We invite everyone who participates in the Easter Vigil to join us down in the St. Clare auditorium after the ceremony for a reception. We can then share the joy of what we have just celebrated with one another.
THE SOLEMNITY OF EASTER
Peter’s words to the pilgrims in Jerusalem on Pentecost summarize the core message of the gospel: “God shows no partiality.” Jesus was anointed “with the Holy Spirit and power” and “God was with him.” For the early church, Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise spoken by “all the prophets.” As a disciple, Peter is aware of his own responsibility “to preach to the people and testify.” As spiritual descendants of the apostles, we share in that responsibility to bring the gospel to the world.
In Colossians we are reminded that we “were raised with Christ.” Because we are united with Christ in his resurrection, we should “think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” In light of our heavenly citizenship, Paul encourages us to “put to death” those things “that are earthly.”
Today’s Gospel (John 20:1-9) is part of a longer post-resurrection narrative, which ends with Mary Magdalene being commissioned to preach to Jesus’ disciples saying, “I have seen the Lord!” As the scene opens, we learn that Mary Magdalene came to the garden tomb before dawn. In the first century Greco-Roman world, a night venture would have been considered strange and dangerous for anyone, especially for a woman, but it makes her the first witness of the empty tomb. When Peter and the Beloved Disciple respond to her summons, both witness the signs of Jesus’ death—the burial wrappings—but at this moment only one “saw and believed.”
Every Sunday the resurrection is recalled. The Church considers each Sunday to be a mini-Easter. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy states, “By a tradition handed down from the apostles and having its origin from the very day of Christ’s Resurrection, the Church celebrates the paschal mystery every eighth day, for on this day Christ’s faithful must gather together so that, by hearing the word of God and taking part in the Eucharist, they may call to mind the passion, the Resurrection, and the glorification of the Lord Jesus and may thank God, who ‘has begotten them again unto a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ (1 Peter 1:3)” (#106).
For Reflection: How can I more fully embrace the risen Christ in my life? How does my experience of the death of loved ones contribute to my understanding of, and hope in, the resurrection? Is the celebration of the Easter event so essential in my life that it colors all I say and do?
On Easter Sunday we will have the usual schedule of Masses: 9:00, 11:00, 12:30 and 6:00 P.M. We hope to see you at one of them so that we can celebrate together the great event of Christ’s Resurrection and its implication for each of us.
AN EASTER GREETING FROM CARDINAL CUPICH
Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Risen Lord Jesus,
The news today seems to be dominated by death-dealing forces and foreclosed possibilities. This past year has brought us a plague of gun violence, streams of helpless refugees in different parts of the world, struggles in our own nation around questions of immigration and racism, countless victims of natural disasters, and large numbers of people who are—in the words of Pope Francis—“discarded.” There seems to be scant room for hope and optimism.
Yet, we know by our own experience as believers and our common bonds of faith that this is not the full story of reality. There, indeed, is other news, the good news of our Easter faith. Christ has conquered all death and evil. Christ is risen!
When we profess our faith in the risen Lord, we do not deny the pain and suffering at work in our world. The risen Christ himself bears the wounds of his suffering, but he is risen. He has conquered sin and death, and our victory is certain. We hold a great hope in him who leads forward. But, it does not end there, for as St. Paul tells us, all that we celebrate in these days has taken place so that we “might live no longer for ourselves but for him who died for our sakes and was raised.”
In the Archdiocese of Chicago, our commitment to Renew My Church means that we take Easter faith seriously to the point that it becomes the source of new energy for communities and individuals who share our faith with the world and bring it hope the world cannot take away.
May our faith in the Risen Lord be alive in our hearts, and may we share that gift widely and generously with others.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Cardinal Blasé J. Cupich
Archbishop of Chicago
A CHUCKLE FOR EASTER
One Easter a priest and a taxi driver both died and went to heaven. St. Peter was at the Pearly Gates waiting for them.
“Come with me,” said St. Peter to the taxi driver. The taxi driver did as he was told and followed St. Peter to a mansion. It had everything you could imagine from a bowling alley to an Olympic size swimming pool.
“Oh my word, thank you,” said the taxi driver.
“Wait a minute, I think you are a little mixed up,” said the priest. “Shouldn’t I be the one who gets the mansion? After all, I was a priest, went to church every day, and preached God’s word.”
“Yes, that’s true,” St. Peter rejoined, “but during your Easter sermons people slept. When the taxi driver drove, everyone prayed!”