EASTER SUNDAY AND THE EASTER OCTAVE
"THIS IS THE DAY THE LORD HAS MADE, LET US REJOICE AND BE GLAD IN IT! ALLELUIA, ALLELUIA!"
Homily of His Holiness, Pope Francis
Easter Vigil, St. Peter's Basilica, March 30, 2013
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. In the Gospel of this radiant night of the Easter Vigil, we first meet the women who go the tomb of Jesus with spices to anoint his body (cf. Lk 24:1-3). They go to perform an act of compassion, a traditional act of affection and love for a dear departed person, just as we would. They had followed Jesus, they had listened to his words, they had felt understood by him in their dignity and they had accompanied him to the very end, to Calvary and to the moment when he was taken down from the cross. We can imagine their feelings as they make their way to the tomb: a certain sadness, sorrow that Jesus had left them, he had died, his life had come to an end. Life would now go on as before. Yet the women continued to feel love, the love for Jesus which now led them to his tomb. But at this point, something completely new and unexpected happens, something which upsets their hearts and their plans, something which will upset their whole life: they see the stone removed from before the tomb, they draw near and they do not find the Lord’s body. It is an event which leaves them perplexed, hesitant, full of questions: "What happened?", "What is the meaning of all this?" (cf. Lk 24:4). Doesn’t the same thing also happen to us when something completely new occurs in our everyday life? We stop short, we don’t understand, we don’t know what to do. Newness often makes us fearful, including the newness which God brings us, the newness which God asks of us. We are like the Apostles in the Gospel: often we would prefer to hold on to our own security, to stand in front of a tomb, to think about someone who has died, someone who ultimately lives on only as a memory, like the great historical figures from the past. We are afraid of God’s surprises. Dear brothers and sisters, we are afraid of God’s surprises! He always surprises us! The Lord is like that.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us not be closed to the newness that God wants to bring into our lives! Are we often weary, disheartened and sad? Do we feel weighed down by our sins? Do we think that we won’t be able to cope? Let us not close our hearts, let us not lose confidence, let us never give up: there are no situations which God cannot change, there is no sin which he cannot forgive if only we open ourselves to him.
2. But let us return to the Gospel, to the women, and take one step further. They find the tomb empty, the body of Jesus is not there, something new has happened, but all this still doesn’t tell them anything certain: it raises questions; it leaves them confused, without offering an answer. And suddenly there are two men in dazzling clothes who say: "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; but has risen" (Lk 24:5-6). What was a simple act, done surely out of love – going to the tomb – has now turned into an event, a truly life-changing event. Nothing remains as it was before, not only in the lives of those women, but also in our own lives and in the history of mankind. Jesus is not dead, he has risen, he is alive! He does not simply return to life; rather, he is life itself, because he is the Son of God, the living God (cf. Num 14:21-28; Deut 5:26; Josh 3:10). Jesus no longer belongs to the past, but lives in the present and is projected towards the future; Jesus is the everlasting "today" of God. This is how the newness of God appears to the women, the disciples and all of us: as victory over sin, evil and death, over everything that crushes life and makes it seem less human. And this is a message meant for me and for you dear sister, for you dear brother. How often does Love have to tell us: Why do you look for the living among the dead? Our daily problems and worries can wrap us up in ourselves, in sadness and bitterness... and that is where death is. That is not the place to look for the One who is alive!
Let the risen Jesus enter your life, welcome him as a friend, with trust: he is life! If up till now you have kept him at a distance, step forward. He will receive you with open arms. If you have been indifferent, take a risk: you won’t be disappointed. If following him seems difficult, don’t be afraid, trust him, be confident that he is close to you, he is with you and he will give you the peace you are looking for and the strength to live as he would have you do.
3. There is one last little element that I would like to emphasize in the Gospel for this Easter Vigil. The women encounter the newness of God. Jesus has risen, he is alive! But faced with empty tomb and the two men in brilliant clothes, their first reaction is one of fear: "they were terrified and bowed their faced to the ground", Saint Luke tells us – they didn’t even have courage to look. But when they hear the message of the Resurrection, they accept it in faith. And the two men in dazzling clothes tell them something of crucial importance: remember. "Remember what he told you when he was still in Galilee… And they remembered his words" (Lk 24:6,8). This is the invitation to remember their encounter with Jesus, to remember his words, his actions, his life; and it is precisely this loving remembrance of their experience with the Master that enables the women to master their fear and to bring the message of the Resurrection to the Apostles and all the others (cf. Lk 24:9). To remember what God has done and continues to do for me, for us, to remember the road we have travelled; this is what opens our hearts to hope for the future. May we learn to remember everything that God has done in our lives.
On this radiant night, let us invoke the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who treasured all these events in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51) and ask the Lord to give us a share in his Resurrection. May he open us to the newness that transforms, to the beautiful surprises of God. May he make us men and women capable of remembering all that he has done in our own lives and in the history of our world. May he help us to feel his presence as the one who is alive and at work in our midst. And may he teach us each day, dear brothers and sisters, not to look among the dead for the Living One. Amen.
The Encounter of Easter
An Article by His Excellency Archbishop Jose Gomez, THE TIDINGS, March 29, 2013
Our Filipino brothers and sisters have a beautiful Easter devotion they call Salubong (“The Encounter”).
Gathering before dawn, they relive the meeting of the risen Jesus with his Blessed Mother on the first Easter morning. The women come from one direction carrying a statue of Mary who is covered in a black veil. From the opposite direction, men come carrying a statue of a risen Jesus. Their two processions meet in front of the church. There, a child who is dressed like an angel removes Mary’s veil of mourning and the people enter the church with joy to celebrate Easter Mass.
In the Gospels, there is no mention of this meeting between Jesus and Mary after his Resurrection. But popular faith sometimes starts where the Scriptures leave off. And many saints and mystics have reflected on this encounter down through the centuries.
The Franciscans who brought Christianity to the Philippines taught that Jesus appeared to Mary before anyone else. John of Caulibus, in his Meditations on the Life of Christ in the 14th century, imagined Jesus and his mother falling to their knees when they met:
“Then they arose with tears of joy, she embraced him, pressed her face to his, and held on tightly, falling into his arms as he eagerly supported her. Later, when they were sitting down together, lovingly and carefully she looked him all over: at his face, and at the wounds in his hands, and throughout his entire body.… His mother rejoiced, ‘Blessed be your Father, who returned you to me!’ … So they conversed at some length, rejoicing and observing the Paschal Feast in a delightful and loving way.”
It is beautiful for us to reflect on the joy that Mary must have felt to have her Son back!
I also wonder what Jesus felt at that moment.
As he embraced his Blessed Mother, did he remember the widow he had once met in the town of Nain (Luke 7:11-17)? Did he think that Mary’s situation was a lot like hers — that Mary too was a widow grieving the death of her only son?
At Nain, Jesus touched the dead boy’s casket and he sat up and began to talk. The Gospel account concludes: “And he gave him back to his mother.”
On that first Easter morning, Jesus was giving himself back to his mother.
This is the joy of Easter! It is the joy of knowing that Jesus will “give back” to us all that we might suffer and lose in this life. Christ is risen and we will rise with him!
Easter joy is knowing that God’s love is stronger than death. It is the joy of knowing that Jesus is on our side!! That he will lead us through all the dark valleys to the light of his love and peace.
And Easter reminds us that Christian salvation is both universal and personal.
Jesus came to save the whole world. But notice how he did it. He came into this world at night and unnoticed, as a little baby. In the same way, his Resurrection happened in the middle of night — and again, nobody was there to see it.
The Gospels don’t describe salvation in earth-shaking events or overwhelming shows of power. God’s power is the power of humility.
Jesus came to save the world one person at a time.
When we reflect on his ministry, we recall so many personal and family dramas — the widow of Nain; fathers and mothers whose little children are sick and dying; men and women suffering from poverty and diseases of body and mind; Mary and Martha, two sisters whose brother Lazarus has died.
Our lives are no different. Jesus also comes to bring us salvation in the reality of our daily lives — in our worries and sufferings; in our struggles and setbacks; in the trials we face in our lives.
The promise of Easter is that if we believe in him, if we trust in his Word and stay close to him, Jesus will wipe away every tear. In his compassion, he will heal our sadness and fear and take away our uncertainty about the future. So let’s have confidence in him. In his rising, all our lives are raised.
So let us rejoice this Easter with our families and our friends. Let us pray for one another and let us share with one another the joy of the Resurrection.
I ask a special blessing for all of you families, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary our Mother. May Mary help all of us to live with the joy she felt when she looked upon her Son and our Savior, risen to die no more.
HAPPY EASTER TO ALL OF YOU!