Easter Homily of Bishop Perry

Bishop Joseph N. PerryDuring this Easter Season, take a moment to read or listen to the poignant sermon given by the Most Rev. Joseph N. Perry on Easter Sunday 2019 at Chicago's St. John Cantius Church.

"The resurrection of Jesus Christ proclaims to us that there is something marvelous on the opposite side of the crucifixions of life. "

Even the most obstinate unbeliever and the toughest critic of Christianity will be compelled to admit that something happened during that Passover weekend two thousand years ago. How else can any objective person account for the transformation that was boldly in evidence in the lives of Jesus’ followers?

After watching their mentor be interrogated, tortured, humiliated, savagely beaten and nailed to a cross, the disciples were disheartened, their hopes were dashed, their plans for the future annihilated. The evening of this day of incredible news, making their way home from Jerusalem, a couple of them commiserated with one another, “We were hoping that He was the One who would free Israel.” Many of them went into hiding fearing they too might be indicted by the religious and civil authorities.

With heavy hearts some may have even regretted that they had invested so much of their time and themselves in the good and gentle healer from Nazareth. Truly, Jesus had been a refreshing experience for them, a person of outstanding integrity, generous love, boundless patience, keen insight and selfless service. But, now He was gone, He was killed on a cross and they were left bewildered. What does it say about human nature that we cannot stand to look in the face of one so good?

Today, some of the women among them report something remarkable has taken place, hard to believe! Jesus, who they knew for certain was dead is now found alive and through Him God has saved the world from its sin.

The disciples had been on an educational process well underway with Jesus. This meant that, as He shared his life with them they were constantly experiencing surprises. Their Master had powers they had not imagined and they were in awe. However, they would never have anticipated his death-sentence by crucifixion nor imagined his eternal realm before and after his earthly life.

Then, suddenly and inexplicably, having seen Him come to them several times, without knocking on the door, those hopeless, hiding, fearful followers emerged ever so slowly into the public, preaching a powerful and compelling message about what they had seen and heard. Without fear of redress from the authorities they were now bold and unflinching in their explanation of all this. Whether their listeners believed their message or not everyone within earshot of these first Christians had to agree that something had to have happened to them to account for the complete change in the behavior of these men and women.

No other way to explain it, the disciples were transformed because they had experienced the risen Jesus, because of their faith in the Christ-event they were thoroughly done over. In the years following their life-changing encounter with Christ those early believers sought to engage others with their confirmed faith. And with the passage of the centuries you can fill in the rest with your story of how this wondrous faith reached you and your families by way of your ancestors and forbearers and your own experience of spiritual growth touched as you are by the power of this sacred narrative.

Each year on this feast of the Resurrection and during the weeks thereafter we are reminded of our faith and experiences that challenge each of us as to whether we are similarly transformed by the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. What difference does it make to our day-to-day lives, we ask? This feast alone has charted the way Christians behave in the world. This feast alone has etched a future for us we never could have imagined ourselves.

For those who suggest that we are disadvantaged by the fact that we are separated from the appearances of the risen Jesus by a couple thousand years and that we are distanced from the empty tomb by thousands of miles, even so we are reminded how insignificant is the journey of the clock in time or the stretch of miles such that contemporary believers too can encounter the Savior when we open our hearts to welcome Him and one another. We contemporary Christians meet the risen Jesus when the story of our salvation is proclaimed from the great Book in our midst here and the bread of his Eucharist is broken and shared here.

We so desire an experience of that transformation undergone by those early women and men who were gifted by that first Easter morning that soothed their pains and resolved their doubts.

I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, Amen!

These are some powerful words we recite each Sunday and some special days in between where we link ourselves with that first Easter and profess what we believe will take place with us the day we close our eyes on this life. Parents and godparents recite these same words of belief upon presenting their children for baptism: I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come! Young people recite these same words upon their approach to their anointing in Confirmation: I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come! The dying speak these same words within the last rites of the Church as they are about to embark to meet the Lord: I believe in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, Amen!

There are no other words that so adequately express what it is we believe about tomorrow. We are meant for life with God. We are wrapped in the legacy of that first resurrection crowning this day of remembrance.

Our belief in the resurrection has everything to do with the next breath we take, guides our sense of wonder about this life in all its beauty, has spelled our understanding of the dignity of human life and fostered our indiscriminate welcome of one another. These same words of belief in the resurrection encourage us to face courageously the ugliness that is found in our world, outright evil in instances, that would attempt to neutralize the goodness found in the world and found in people.

Our belief in the resurrection guides our words, infuses our actions in this time of waiting for the Lord to return for us. It is because of what took place this day we can muster the strength to embrace the journey of life with its trials and joys. Jesus meets up with us to reassure us that He is with us all the while. He is present in the broken bread of compassion we offer each other and kindly gestures we receive from our fellow travelers along life’s way.

For our part we must remain sensitive and attentive to the mystery of Jesus’ dying and rising. If the sacred Word and the worship become too familiar or routine, tepidity may set in. We can’t afford that. Care must be taken, friends, to stoke the fires of faith so that we remain enthused, enlivened and edified by every scriptural and Eucharistic experience of our living Lord.

Theirs must have been a poignant experience because many of them had known Jesus in person and the vivid memory of his horrible death for them bound them close to Him. In the meantime, we believe Jesus, a couple days previous, told us to re-create, remember and to re-apply his sacrifice even to our present existence while waiting for Him to return for us. God wants that single sacrifice of pouring out his blood to be recalled in every age. And we humbly presume to give our small sacrifices and pains some meaning by tagging them onto His.

We reverently watch while God reaches deep into the past and lays the crucified body of his Son on the altar while we repeat His words, “this is my body, this is my blood.” We stare speechless as the risen Lord joins us in prayer to his Father. We are dumbstruck as He puts his own body into our bodies. We definitely have Him in the breaking and sharing of this bread, a forever testimonial to his Passover so that we might be saved.

We are truly none different than those first believers. We are to be strong and respond to God’s gift of salvation by living reverent, faith-driven lives. This same opportunity for transformation is made available to each of us every time we gather in Jesus’ name to be nourished by the bread of the Word and by the bread of the Eucharist. We come as we are, some of us sad, some of us wounded, some of us broken, some of us full of vigor, some of us full of doubts, some with lists of needs, some with empty but open hands. As the Word is proclaimed the Holy Spirit enables us to hear with fresh ears so that we can take away insight and resolve, and once and for all, to be faith-filled.

We are right now dealing face to face with God and therefore, are emotionally charged to singing our alleluias for mere words cannot find the words to express the indescribable joy of the Church this day.

May this Easter celebration open our hearts and spirits to recognize Jesus among us in every moment of our lives, in both the bright promising mornings and the dark terrifying nights. The resurrection of Jesus Christ proclaims to us that there is something marvelous on the opposite side of the crucifixions of life. The Church gives us 50 days now to reflect on the implications of this mystery-fact in hopes that it will overturn our lives too.

May we each be stirred by indescribable joy for our faith in the risen Lord. May each our lives give evidence of this faith in all we say and do!