Easter Hope: Rise with Christ Above Pandemic Fear

Written by on April 12, 2020

“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

He is risen, Alleluia!
Truly He is risen, Alleluia!

With the sun shining on this bright and beautiful Easter Sunday, despite the odd circumstances, the oppressive mood of the unique and eerie Lent of 2020 suddenly seems less heavy.

All the recent anxiety about a pandemic, and the concerns over how some in society might be taking advantage of the situation to promote agendas that have more to do with social engineering than with public health—these concerns that may loom large in our minds are diminished to a more realistic dimension in the bright sunshine of a beautiful Spring day.

If the natural sun is able to have such an effect, how much more the Risen Jesus, for whom and through whom not only the natural sun, but all of nature was created (cf Hb 2:10)! The author of Life is alive—He is not dead: laying down His life for a moment, He was crucified—and thus, having completed the Sacrifice of Our Redemption, freeing those imprisoned in Sheol, in the regions of the netherworld—he took up His life again. He is Risen, alleluia!

What we’re all now passing through, in the world, in the society of man without God, with the pandemic of the COVID-19 coronavirus—is the dying pangs of a civilization that has lost the sense of life. Because it has sought salvation in itself, rather than in God who has revealed Himself to us, this society of proud self-sufficiency that has rejected Christ as their King has unwittingly chosen the culture of death over the Gospel of life. And so, the hope that we as Christians know in Christ Jesus, is for them of no avail.
The companions of Jesus—many if not the vast majority of his followers and admirers—were devastated by the shocking turn of events on Good Friday—it seemed their hopes were dashed in an instant, leaving them with nothing but disappointment, with nothing to hold onto.

Even Mary Magdalene was weeping for her loss, still so attached to her Lord that she wished to keep vigil at his tomb. She did not hope, much less expect, to see him alive again, but then, transcending all natural understanding, He appears to her! In an instant, the oppression of the last two days’ crushing defeat and devastation lifted, as though it were all a bad dream: He is risen! Alleluia, truly He is risen! The tomb is empty, Our Lord has conquered death forever.

As we do every year, this strange year of the lock-down and suppression of public Masses, we still celebrate our joy, because we have the hope of Resurrection to hold on to. It is true that Christ’s victory over death does not exempt us from the consequences of sin, which is the passing away of this world, but it gives us the knowledge, in faith, that the death of the body is not the end. It is really the beginning of Life Without End, for those who are members of Christ.

Yet the death of the body is still a cause of grief, naturally, for those who must continue in this world without the company of a loved one. So, we unite in compassion with those who have lost loved ones to this pandemic. Some of my extended family members have suffered and I know of one death. We mourn on the human level for our loss.

However, as I said, we Christians know, in faith, that the death of the body is not the end. As St. Paul tells us: “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (Rom 6:8).

We have “died with Christ”—symbolically—in Baptism, dying to death and to the dominion of Satan, as we descend into the water, symbolizing our entombment to the life of this world. Emerging from the water, we emerge as though “born again”—born into the life of Grace, participating in the divine life, incorporated in Christ.

The fact that so many baptisms that would have normally occur on this day—or more accurately, last night at the Vigil—the fact that they were suppressed is perhaps the greatest tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic. Let us remember the catechumens who have been denied—for a time—the opportunity to receive this Sacrament. (Of course, they are not to be denied baptism in danger of death, under any circumstances.) But for now, these yearning souls await the opportunity to die with Christ and rise again with him, to be “born again” in Him.

We, the baptized, know the joy of hearing our Lord’s words, and knowing that they apply to us:

“This is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what He gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day” (John 6:39-40),

and:

“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:25-26).

Brothers and sisters, in the days that lie ahead, let us hold firmly to the hope that is ours in Christ, Who is truly risen from the tomb, never to die again, who awaits us, to be united with Him forever in the next life. But that we might be united with Him even in the present, He has given us the Bread of Life, by which we are united with Him sacramentally in Holy Communion. He has given us all the Sacraments to generate and sustain us in the life of grace.

Putting aside for now the debatable wisdom (and more importantly, legality) of the present ban on public services and prohibition of the sacraments that have been decreed by a number of the Church’s leaders, we may be sustained in grace and faith also through our assiduous pursuit of God through prayer and continuing formation. Let us pray that all our clergy be strengthened to lead God’s people courageously in this time, that they may not be deceived by those who seek to limit and ban religious faith under the guise of safeguarding public health! Until full liberty of worship is restored, let us take consolation in the knowing that Christ has the words of everlasting life that we can ponder even when we cannot physically receive the Sacraments.

Finally, let us not forget His Mother, the first one to whom He revealed Himself after Rising from the Dead, according to ancient tradition. He has given her to us as our Mother, and she accompanies us now, even when darkness surrounds us, to be our “sure refuge and the way to God,” as she said to Lucia at Fatima (June 13, 1917).

Despite the restrictions of the moment, let us those take joy in this Easter Day and hold fast to the hope of the Resurrection which is promised to those who follow Christ faithfully.

Adapted from the homily I gave on Easter Sunday, April 12, 2020, at Our Lady’s Chapel in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

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