This Sunday celebrates the most amazing and hopeful moment in human history. For Christians around the world, this is the time of year when we are reminded of the deep mystery of God’s love for each and every one of us.
From Holy Thursday’s remembrance of the Lord’s Supper, to Good Friday’s Passion of Jesus Christ, to Easter Sunday’s glorious celebration of the Resurrection, we are invited anew to consider the meaning for our own lives of God sending his one and only son into the world to suffer, die and be raised from the dead.
This is not merely a vague observance. This is not simply a remembrance of a historic act two millennia ago. This is a day that is about hope and salvation for each of us.
The events of Holy Week probe the deepest nature of God’s wondrous love for humanity – even if we cannot fully understand or explain it.
Three events, in particular, are powerful signs that God’s love stands in stark contrast to the normal ways of the world.
During the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34).
Because Jesus had just washed the feet of the disciples, it was clear that the love he was describing was one that joyfully served the needs of others with humility.
On Good Friday, as Roman soldiers nailed him to the cross, Jesus said: ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’” (Luke 23:34). Each of us can appeal to God for forgiveness. We all stand in the shadow of the cross.
That God’s only son willingly accepted death on the cross so that we may have eternal life with him in heaven is an astounding act of self-sacrificing love that confounds all understanding.
Yet, it is this same extraordinary love that Christ called his disciples to have for one another. And because Christ was truly human as well as truly God, his sacrifice on the cross shows what great love men and women are capable of giving.
Finally, Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday reveals that God’s self-sacrificing love conquers even death itself.
The reaction of his followers as they discovered the empty tomb – and then as he appeared to the disciples – led to such an explosion of dedicated eyewitnesses and missionaries that Christianity spread with extraordinary speed across the Mediterranean and all the way to India.
The next time you see a picture of Saint Peter’s Basilica remember that it is built on the grave of Saint Peter, the spot of his own crucifixion. In the years following Christ’s resurrection, he and Saint Paul traveled and spoke throughout the Roman world.
In a short amount of time, Christianity had reached the heart of the greatest empire the West has known. In fact, Christianity had spread so fast that the empire felt threatened by it and tried to kill its leaders. As you watch Pope Francis at Easter Mass in front of thousands, it will be clear that the Roman Empire lost the competition for loyalty.
Today Christianity is practiced in many rites – Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. But among Christians of every denomination, Easter plays a major role.
It is no wonder that after the resurrected Jesus called on his followers to make disciples of all nations by baptizing them and teaching them to obey all that Jesus had commanded, the world was gradually and radically transformed (see Matthew 28:19-20).
Over time, men and women would no longer be prey to the strong, but they would be children of a God who loved them. They would be recognized as deserving of God-given rights that no person or government has the authority to take away, such as rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Eventually, our own country was founded on a basis that explicitly understood the role of government to protect these creator-endowed rights and to elevate the human condition. In time, Judeo-Christian morality extended these protections to all of our people.
At this time of year, we give thanks for the transforming power of God’s love. We honor all those men and women who preach the good news of God’s love in the United States. And we pray that the U.S. always remains a place that welcomes and honors God’s love.
I wish everyone a blessed Easter.