Every Easter the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of NY and I exchange our Easter greetings. Always welcome are his beautiful reflections but this year he was exceptionally joyful as he announced to me that he would be accompanying the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew to Jerusalem to greet Pope Francis next month. The occasion: the 50th anniversary of the historic meeting of Patriarch Athenagoras and Pope Paul in Jerusalem. I was in St Peter’s Square when an exuberant Pope Paul returned from that meeting and from his window called out to all of us; I embraced him! After 900 years I embraced the Ecumenical Patriarch!
Pope Paul and Patriarch Athenagoras were true brothers in Christ, in a shared faith and Christian love. Theirs was an Easter faith confident that the Jesus who conquered sin and death is truly risen and would lead us to overcome our divisions. They proclaimed that we, as an Easter people, have a life that unites us to one another more deeply than any merely human bond. We share that faith today, this Easter of 2014. It is the same faith Peter proclaimed that first Easter in the Temple in Jerusalem. It is the faith every Pope since him has proclaimed from Rome and every bishop in the world has faithfully echoed: Christ is Risen! Christ is truly risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!
That sense of joyful excitement should be ours today! Extraordinary as was the meeting of Pope and Patriarch for our two churches fifty years ago, great as is the expectation of my friend Archbishop Demetrios, can there be anything greater in all of humanity than the great truth we profess today: Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, died for us and rose from the dead so that we could be free, free from sin, free from everlasting death, free to share in God’s own life as his adopted sons and daughters!
From that moment when Peter went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there and finally realized what God had done through His Son, he never stopped talking about it. He, all the apostles, the women at the tomb, and all of us since, have had fear turned to awe and despair to joy because they – and we – knew that everything Jesus promised now is true; true not in the abstract sense but true for them. True for me, true for us all: If Christ is raised from the dead then his death was not in vain. And we too will rise with Him on the last day!
This is what we celebrate today: Life and life to the full. And we, just as Peter, just as Mary Magdalene, are equally called to show the world that we have been redeemed, show the world that he lives forever and lives in each and every one of us. No sadness today! No sadness that can defeat Christ’s victory. For his victory is ours. His triumph is for us all!
Because of this Paul gives us an urgent reminder today. A little yeast leavens all the dough! Clear out the old yeast so that you may become a fresh batch of dough! Let us celebrate with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
That is ours because of him. But we also have to realize that we to whom this has been given must be the yeast for the world in sincerity and truth. And how much the world needs our witness, our concern for others, our love for all. So many people in the world need our prayers, our love, our witness, our help. I am thinking of the threats to religious freedom not just in our own country but in so many nations where religious persecution causes death to Christians and other believers. I am thinking of the horrid trafficking of women and children that is a world-wide epidemic that here on Long Island Catholic Charities has worked so hard to address and which all must be as one in efforts to bring this to a halt. I am thinking of single pregnant young women who need our care and the elderly who so often are forgotten or neglected. Around the world, wars and conflicts visit violence on the poor and the defenseless. Here at home, parents face hard choices finding schools where their children will not be faced with a drug culture that is epidemic in so many our own villages and towns. Our society so often seems to have lost its compass and all sense of moral values and commitment to living in truth and honesty and mutual support. We need to pray. We need to witness. We need to act!
With confidence in the Lord who is raised from the dead and gives us life, I can say that He is the answer to all the fears and troubles of the world. He is the one who changes hearts and renews lives. He is our strength, our support, our life. Trust in Him and let him guide you in freedom and mutual love. Turn to Him and let his words shape our actions and his Spirit dwell in our hearts.
Seventeen centuries ago the Archbishop of Constantinople, St John Chrysostom, told us, Do you see the grandeur of the gift? But now, my dear friend, preserve the grandeur of the gift! You cannot live in indifference. Live the difference Jesus makes!
As Pope and Patriarch embrace, As Bishops of East and West support one another, as we live in the light of the Risen Christ, may our every word and our every action show his life to the world as, with one heart and one voice we proclaim the ancient greeting:
JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN. ALLELUIA!
HE IS TRULY RISEN ALLELUIA ALLELUIA!