Easter Homily 2011; Most Reverend Paul D. Etienne
I’d like to begin my reflections tonight by recalling the opening words as we gathered around the Easter Fire, because they succinctly remind us of the significance of what we celebrate:
If we honor the memory of the Lord’s death and resurrection by hearing his word and celebrating his mysteries, then we may be confident that we shall share his victory over death and live with him forever in God.
In God! This is our Christian life. Think of what we have celebrated in these last days, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday…all culminating in this marvelous Easter Celebration. Tonight, the “source and summit” of all Liturgies speaks to the work of God. This Liturgy and every Eucharist is a means by which we penetrate the mystery of God, and by which the mystery of God penetrates each of our lives.
In these past few days, we have kept the memory of Christ’s death and tonight we celebrate the resurrection. Our Catholic Liturgy is expressly for celebrating these marvelous mysteries of God’s power, mercy, love and life. Mere words always seem to fall short in expressing our joy, but the Exultet of this holy night always comes close:
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Exult, all creation around God’s throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
So what does this mean, to share Christ’s victory over death and to live with him forever in God?
First, it means, that Christ lives to die no more. Christ came into our world not only to reveal the Father, to preach the Good News of the Kingdom, but to actually renew us in the very life of God. Christ has conquered death. As Jesus, as the Son of God, as God, Jesus is Life itself; life in its purest, and eternal form. This is the nature of God…LIFE, without beginning or end, without boundaries of time or space, life in perpetual motion, always generating new life, as it cannot be contained or separated from itself.
This is why Jesus can say in all Truth: I am the Life! (John 11:25) This is why Jesus can say: He comes from the Father to give eternal life to all who are given Him by the Father. (John 17: 2) This is why Jesus can say: This is eternal life, that [we] may know [God], the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [God] has sent. (John 17:3) This is why Jesus Christ can say in all Truth: I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. (John 11:25)
This life of God is what we celebrate tonight in the resurrection of Jesus. This life of God is the precious gift always being offered in the person of Jesus. I would guess that many well intentioned Catholics fall short in fully understanding this reality of eternal life. My guess is that most think that this is something held in store for us to enjoy only after death. Sure, we will experience eternal life in its fullness only after death, but we already taste this precious gift here and now! Eternal does not begin after death… Eternal has no beginning, which means that we are in the midst of the eternity of God here and now! And as God IS LIFE, this means we are in the midst of the eternal life of God, here and now! This is the gift of Jesus.
We must understand this to fully appreciate our LIFE in CHRIST which begins in this worldly life of flesh and blood, joy and sorrow, strain and struggle. This Life of Christ is continually nourished and sustained in us through the Sacraments of the Church. And as precious as this gift of participating in the life of God is, it is not a gift to be selfishly “consumed”. No, just as Jesus was sent by the Father to share this life, so Jesus sends us to share this life with the world. This is the nature of who we are as Church. We do not exist for our own sake. Yes, the Church exists to draw us into and sustain us in the life of God, but the Church exists for mission.
The Church exists for the work of Jesus, the work of God, and that is why we continue to proclaim the Word of God and celebrate the mysteries of God, until every person has heard the Good News. This mission of the church is not just the work of the bishop and the priest or the parish staff. This mission of the Church belongs to all the baptized. We are all sent by Jesus to work in His name.
I have wondered in recent weeks, why we do not desire this Life of Christ as passionately as we desire so many other things? I think the answer lies in the midst of the question. It is because we desire so many other things that we fail to desire what is first and most important. That is why we need the annual retreat of Lent every year, and this great celebration of Easter. We need the transforming power and love of Christ to continually move us to God, to desire only God and God’s life.
My dear people, this is my prayer for each of us: That this Easter may move us to where God is, and to where God needs and desires us to be. My prayer for each of us is that we may make these words of St. Paul our own:
It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Please God, may it be so!0