Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

The Bishop Writes

"Jesus is risen!"

by Bishop William S. Skylstad

(From the March 18, 2010 edition of the Inland Register)

As I write this, the morning’s news sounded pretty grim. Three suicide bombers blew themselves up in Iraq. One, in front of a police station; another in the emergency ward of the hospital as victims of the first bomb were brought in.

We’ve almost become accustomed to such horrific news, but these tragedies involve the lives of real people, victims and perpetrators both. What drives the human heart to such desperation?

In the last few weeks, the world community has been stunned by the tragic earthquakes in Haiti and Chile. The loss of life, the devastation, and the years needed to rebuild leave us almost numb.

I have to wonder what went through the minds of Jesus’ disciples as he approached his own death. They undoubtedly read the signs of escalating hostility. Jesus, whom they had come to know and admire, was clearly facing fierce opposition, including the threat of death. The events unfolded during Holy Week as the joy of triumphal entry into Jerusalem quickly dissipated. The punishment meted out to Jesus was death. The events leading up to that death can only be described as exceedingly harsh. Jesus’ followers must have been terribly despondent. Their hopes and dreams were dashed. Yet, no one could expect what would happen following Jesus’ burial.

On the first Easter morning, the great and powerful news that Jesus had risen from the dead was a bit slow to sink in. The good news was just too incredible, too unexpected. The tragedy and the harshness of the days before were quickly transformed into a new reality: Jesus had risen from the dead! For some, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, or the doubting apostle Thomas, the news was too much to believe. But it is Thomas whom Jesus asks to place fingers into the wounds of crucifixion, the signs of the harsh reality which Jesus had experienced.

For the early Christian community, the Resurrection of Jesus became a powerful inspiration that touched their lives in hope. They faced courageously their own reality. Thrown into an arena to be killed by lions was the sport of the time. Their lives were terribly harsh, cruel, unjust. Yet, the many martyrs approached their death with a sense of dignity, with profound commitment to Jesus and to the community of faith. Even one of the emperors was reported as admiring how the Christians loved one another. That kind of love was great news. Even for the unbeliever, this response was impressive.

We fast-forward to our own day and place ourselves in context of the events of Jesus’ life. Our reality is that the Risen Jesus is with us. As a community of faith, we believe in and celebrate that presence. The presence of the risen Jesus is reinforced every year during Holy Week as we celebrate the Triduum, beginning the evening of Holy Thursday, through Easter Sunday evening. In the liturgy, Sacred Scripture’s rich gift of story enables us to relive the events, reminding us of the presence of our Risen Lord. That presence makes clear Jesus’ profound love for us and for all of humanity. The signs of the Resurrection are very clear. The signs of Jesus’ presence are very clear.

Jesus did not spare himself the tragedy of his own death, a death that signified the salvation of humankind and, ultimately, the victory over death and sin. God’s boundless love for humanity is such a gift! And as wonderful and tremendous as that gift is, we are not exempted from harsh realities of life. We look at the witness of the Apostles and early disciples. Many of them were martyred for the faith. Martyrdom continues today, perhaps even more frequently than in the early Christian era. Violence seems to continue unabated in our world: abortion, gang wars, genocide, ruthless drug cartels. Just as those who have gone before us, we face the harsh realities of life. And like those who have gone before us, we strive to do so with courage and grace.

As we celebrate Easter, we are reminded of the joyful attitude this feast day brings. Even in the harshest of circumstances, we can exhibit and live a firmness of faith, a joyful hope, and an appreciation of the Risen Lord who has gone before us and who remains with us. No tragedy, no calamity, no seemingly hopeless situation can overpower the presence of God in our lives. When our time comes to die, we, too, will undergo the great transformation. With our sure knowledge of that truth, nothing should deter us from a sense of hope and profound gratitude.

We have every reason to be joyful and committed to living our faith. Jesus has arisen! His risen Presence is very much with us!

A blessed and joyful Easter to all!

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