During the last two weeks of the Lenten season, the time known as Passiontide, I find myself longing. It has been quite a while since there have been flowers on the altar at Church. I am longing for the wonderful aroma and the beautiful effect they have on the atmosphere of the Church. While the Lenten songs are beautiful, I long to hear the joyous hymns that fill our Easter season. Even in those last few days of Holy Week I will miss the sounds of the bells during Church services. All of this causes me to begin thinking about what Easter will be like. The smell of Easter is a cross between the copious amount of incense that is used that day and that of hyacinths. The vision of Easter is one of an empty tomb and also a beautifully decorated altar. The sounds of Easter are the bells which will ring out joyously, the organ playing, and especially that first hymn which will ring out from the empty tomb, “Come Rejoice, Our Lord is Risen.” I remember all of it from years past and I long for it to once again be a part of my life. And I know full well that each of these things is only a reminder of the thing that I am really longing for. I really long to partake of the true glory of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, I long to share the joy of the risen Christ.
As each of us gathers this year at our parish churches, I hope that you have a sense of this joy as well. The joy that Jesus Christ accomplished exactly what He said. In the Gospel of Mark, we read, “Then [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31) Also in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus foretells His death and resurrection three times. “From that time on, Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matthew 16:21) “As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands and they will kill Him, and on the third day He will be raised.’ And they were greatly distressed.” (Matthew 17:22-23) and finally we read, “While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, He took the twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death; then they will hand Him over to the gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified’ and on the third day He will be raised.” (Matthew 20:17-19) And of course we know that these are only the explicit references to His death and resurrection; there are many others within the pages of the Gospels which allude to this reality as well.
Again Jesus accomplished exactly what He said. He was condemned, suffered and died for the forgiveness of the sins of the world and then rose from the dead to restore everlasting life to all who believe in Him. This truly is a moment of great joy and a time for each of us to raise an ‘alleluia’ to God for all that has been accomplished by our Lord, Jesus Christ.
Beginning with the Gospel for the Day of Easter and continuing for the next few weeks, we see how the apostles came to more fully understand what Jesus accomplished; what exactly this event meant in their lives. They went from being a band of fearful and hiding disciples, to a group which sought greater understanding through their encounters with the Risen Christ, to a bold group which went forth to proclaim to all the world that Jesus Christ died and has now been raised.
It is here that the concept of longing that I spoke of once again comes back into play. As the disciples began to encounter the Risen Christ, they longed for more. The best example of this for me has always been the disciples on the road to Emmaus. The disciples were discussing the events of the past few days with the unknown stranger (which was actually Jesus). The Gospel of Luke tells us that He then “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them the things about Himself in all the Scripture.” (Luke 24:27) But the disciples wanted more, “But they urged Him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’” (Luke 24:29) It was here that these disciples encountered our Lord Jesus most strongly in the breaking of bread (the Eucharist). Because of this encounter, they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning with us while He was talking to us on the road, while He was opening the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)
Each of these moments in this episode of Scripture speak of the longing of the disciples to know Jesus in a better and closer way, first through knowledge about Jesus as presented in the Scriptures, but even then it moves beyond knowledge to being so close to Him in the breaking of bread, in the Eucharist, and even finally the acknowledgement that when encountering the presence of Jesus, their hearts were burning within them.
It is of this experience that I speak when I tell of the longing I feel as we approach Easter and throughout the Easter season. Yes, knowledge of Jesus is a part of it, but only a small part. As you might imagine, as Prime Bishop, I read a lot of books with religious themes. I especially enjoy reading as much as I can about Holy Scripture, and I’ve also read quite a number of books on Christology, the study of Jesus. Al- though I’ve read all of these books, I still have a desire, a longing to know more about our Lord; but I also know that the pursuit of knowledge is not all that I long for. I don’t just want to know about Jesus, I also want to know Jesus better; and in order to do that we must do as the disciples did on the road to Emmaus. We must walk along with Him and hear His voice. We must invite Him to stay with us and join Him in the breaking of bread, the Eucharist.
This is accomplished within the liturgy of the Church and especially at the Holy Mass, the breaking of bread. Just as the disciples encountered Him there, we also know that Jesus is present in the Eucharist each and every time we gather for Holy Mass. We also know and experience this in various other liturgies of the Church. On Good Friday, I spend quite a bit of time in prayer before the veiled Blessed Sacrament at the tomb of Jesus following the Pre-sanctified Liturgy. In the presence of Jesus Christ present in the Most Blessed Sacrament throughout this prayer, I always seem to find myself longing for more. It’s a longing that is not fulfilled until Easter Sunday morning, when I first hear those words of the processional hymn, “Come Rejoice, Our Lord Is Risen.” It becomes complete when, together on that Easter morning, we all share in the Holy Eucharist.
This is the fulfillment of my longing on Easter morning and we must also see that it is the fulfilling of the longing of our whole lives. If we truly desire to know Jesus and grow closer and closer to Him each day, then those words of Easter must become a part of our daily life, “Come Rejoice, our Lord is Risen.” It is the answer to all of our longing, all of our prayers and all of the actions done in Jesus’ Name. Why do we turn to Jesus in both times of joy and times of sorrow? Because “Our Lord is Risen.” Why do we share the Good News of salvation with those we meet? Because “Our Lord is Risen.” Why do we have hope of eternal life? Because “Our Lord is Risen.”
So my brothers and sisters, members of our Holy Church, let these words echo far beyond our parish live and go about our daily life. Let them be the answer to all of our longings and all of our prayers. “Come Rejoice, Our Lord is Risen!”
I wish my brother Bishops, the Very Reverend and Reverend Fathers, the Deacons and all the Faithful a truly blessed and joyous Easter, let the words “Christ is Risen, He is Risen, Indeed” not only be with us for a day or a season but let them be the anthem of our life, a life that is renewed, because Jesus lives.