It seems that everyone looks forward to celebrating Easter, although perhaps for 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 more 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 read about people being gunned down at a place of worship or outside a clothing store or near a bar as happened a short time ago to a police officer in Chicago? 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 Sunday 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
“The Lord is truly risen, Alleluia,” proclaims today’s Entrance Antiphon. All three readings speak to this foundational confession. In Acts, Peter witnesses to the life, death, and Resurrection of Christ Jesus and draws out its significance for us: “Everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Paul, in his Letter to the Colossians, also expresses the meaning of Christ’s death and Resurrection for us. Since we have been raised with Christ, our focus should not be on things of this world, but we “must seek what is above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”
One figure central to all of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection is Mary Magdalene. The early Christians called her “the apostle to the apostles.” She was the first to break the news to the disciples of the empty tomb and the first to witness the risen Lord.
In today’s reading from John’s Gospel, Mary, on discovering the tomb to be empty, tells the news to “Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved.” The two ran to the tomb. The Beloved Disciple arrives first but, out of deference, allows Peter to enter the tomb before him. Peter sees the burial cloths lying there. When the Beloved Disciple enters, the narrator deliberately comments that “he saw and believed.” Until this time, they had failed to understand Jesus’ teaching that “he had to rise from the dead.” The Beloved Disciple was the first to believe. Only through love does one come to grasp the mystery of Jesus’ Resurrection and God’s love for us.
In the reading from Acts, Peter not only tells of Jesus’ good works, and of his dying and rising, but attests to his being the Messiah the prophets had predicted. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Christ’s Resurrection is the fulfillment of the promises both of the Old Testament and of Jesus himself during his earthly life” (#652).
Each of the readings today points to one event—the Resurrection. Acts records that Peter, a first witness to Christ’s rising from the dead, preached that the person he ate and drank with was the one to whom “the prophets bear witness.” In Colossians, Paul tells his followers how they are to act if they had been “raised with Christ.” The Resurrection is as pivotal to our lives as it was to the Apostles. With the Resurrection, we have been reconciled with God. For this reason, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Easter is not simply one feast among others, but the ‘Feast of feasts,’ the ‘Solemnity of solemnities’” (#1169).
The Catechism teaches that Christ is alive in a new way after the Resurrection. “In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space. At Jesus’ resurrection his body is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: he shares the divine life in his glorious state, so that St. Paul can say that Christ is ‘the man of heaven’” (##645-647). One way Jesus is alive to us is in the Eucharist. Quoting St. Irenaeus, the Catechism states, “Just as bread that comes from the earth, after God’s blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but Eucharist, formed of two things, the one earthly and the other heavenly: so too our bodies which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection” (#1000).
For Your Reflection: How can you keep alive the joy that you feel that Christ has risen? What responsibilities came with your Baptism? Is there someone who might benefit from hearing your story of faith during this Easter season? Or might you benefit from hearing another’s story of faith?
A PRAYER FOR PEACE IN ANXIETY DURING THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC
Loving God, we come to you full of anxiety about what may happen in the coming days and weeks. Shower us with the peace Jesus promised to his disciples and make us into steady pillars for those around us. In this time of uncertainty and epidemic, wake us up to the reminder that we are not alone.
Even as we are asked to keep our distance from others, help us to find ways to reach out to those who need our support. We pray especially for those whose incomes and livelihoods are threatened. For the children who will miss meals due to school closures. For those already isolated, lonely and scared. Loving God, give them your peace, and through our hands ensure they have what they need.
Sustain, strengthen and protect all caregivers. Bless them as they offer compassionate care and show selfless courage in the face of risk.
Remind us each time we wash our hands that in our baptism you call us to let go of our fears and live in joy, peace, and hope. AMEN.
AN EASTER GREETING AND WISH
Dear Faithful Parishioners of St. Peter’s and Visitors:
How I wish I could be writing to you all knowing that I would be greeting you personally before and after each of the Masses we ordinarily would be celebrating at the Easter Vigil and on Easter Morning! However, times are far from normal these days. We can step out our front doors and see almost no one on the sidewalks or in their cars driving on Madison St. The city of Chicago is deserted, a ghost town. Almost no one is working in the high rises that surround us, and of course none of the many restaurants are open. It is as if everyone were at home waiting for things to change back to what we had known just a few short weeks ago.
The quiet and the aura of darkness remind me of Jesus in the tomb, but our faith tells us that on Easter morn he was raised, and brightness has prevailed. What we are going through now will be followed by sunshine and goodness. People will come to know more vividly than years before that we have passed from death to life, from devastation to glory. May the Risen Lord continue to be your hope and your salvation.
Fr. Kurt O.F.M., Pastor