My Dear Brothers and Sisters:
This past Palm Sunday, after I read the Passion Narrative of St. Matthew’s Gospel, alone in our parish church at the Masses , I could not help but think of how much we have in common with the first disciples of Jesus this Easter. After Jesus was arrested, his disciples locked themselves away in fear in their homes and in rooms by themselves. This Easter, we, and many of our loved ones, are locked up in our homes in fear and uncertainty because of the COVID 19 virus.
For the first disciples, the uncertainty and fear that they faced was due to the result of their concern that the Roman officials might also come and arrest them and punish them for being followers of one who claimed to be the King of the Jews. Jesus was ultimately arrested and put to death because He claimed to be the King of the Jews and this was seen as a political threat to Caesar and the occupying Roman army. The disciples feared that they would also be arrested, suffer and die as Jesus did. They were uncertain and anxious about their future and as a result shut themselves away in their homes and in the upper room to keep themselves safe. Today, as we are confronted by the uncertainty and fear of the COVID 19 virus, we are doing the same thing. What we have in common is uncertainty about the future and fear of suffering and death. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, this is actually the state that humanity finds itself in most of the time.
For this reason, it is so important that we hear in a new way the words that Jesus spoke to his disciples when He appeared to them as they were shut away in fear in their homes and in the upper room. His words are simple and powerful and they changed the lives of these disciples. These same words have the power to strengthen us in this crisis and to change our lives.
When the risen Lord appears to His disciples who are locked away in their homes in fear, His message was simply: “Peace, I am with you. Do not be afraid.” After He speaks these words, He often does something very strange—He asks for something to eat. By asking for food, Jesus proves to them that He has a real body; that He has truly risen and destroyed death. When the disciples understand that Christ has truly risen in a real body, they understand that because of His resurrection, they too will rise and cannot die. The Easter message that Christ proclaimed to His first disciples was that they need not fear anything. That through faith in Jesus, they would also share in His resurrection and enjoy the eternal life that the Father had sent Jesus into the world to give to all humanity. The words which Jesus spoke to His disciples after He rose from the dead, He also speaks to us today. For all of us, Jesus’ message is: “Peace, I am with you. Do not be afraid.”
One of the greatest signs that we have of Christ’s presence with us is in the Eucharist. That is why at every Mass, when Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament on the altar, we have the sign of peace and share His message of peace with one another. At this very painful time, when our churches are closed, so many of us long to participate in the Eucharist and to share in this beautiful Sacrament of His presence. The fact that we are unable to do so is a source of great suffering for many of us. However, it is our attachment to the Eucharist and our longing for it that truly reminds us that Christ is present and has been present to us throughout our lives. Soon and very soon, we shall all know that presence again and our longing for it should remind us that Jesus has risen and is with us today. There are beautiful and powerful stories in the history of the Church of communities that had come to know of the Eucharist from missionaries who had come to visit them and proclaim the Gospels from distant lands. When these missionaries were driven from their land by persecutions, these communities were kept alive by a desire for Christ and the Eucharist. What allowed them to know that those who visited them centuries later were really followers of Christ was that they brought back to them the Eucharist and the Risen Christ whom it made present. It is our experience of Christ in the Eucharist, and our anticipation of celebrating it again, that sustains us in the knowledge that Jesus has truly risen and remains with us in our homes, throughout our present trials and tribulations.
We, like Jesus’ first disciples, are in a time of fear and uncertainty. It is for this reason that it is imperative that we hear His Easter message with fresh ears and an open heart. This message is simple, but life giving. Today, Jesus says to each of us, as He did to His disciples locked in fear and uncertainty in their homes: “Peace, I am with you. Do not be afraid.” That is the Easter message. Jesus is risen! He has truly risen! Death has no power over us. Jesus has overcome the world.
In the quiet and the solitude that you might now have as a result of the extra time you have while alone in your homes, I would encourage you to take out your Bible and read some of the resurrection appearances by Jesus. They can be found near the end of the Gospels. As Jesus speaks to His disciples locked away in their homes in fear and uncertainty, hear Him also speaking to you. Know that He is with you, He loves you very much, and because of His victory, you need not fear anything. Take the time to speak with Jesus, tell Him your fears and concerns, and ask Him to help you to know of His presence to you personally through the power of the Holy Spirit. In our fear and weaknesses, Jesus comes to us in ways that we might not normally perceive. This is a time to really come to know that He is alive and He is with each of us.
On a personal note, I would like you to know, that every morning as I celebrate Mass in our church for the intentions of all the parishioners, you are with me. When I celebrate weekday Mass, I look out to where you normally sit and think of each of you by name. I do this also as I am celebrating our Sunday Masses. I see each of you in your places. You may not be able to come to church this Easter, but you are here with me. I am sure every priest of the Archdiocese would say the same of their parishioners. You are in my prayers. Please keep me in your prayers. If your financial situation allows you to remember the financial needs of your parish community at this time, I would ask you to please do so in any way that you are able.
This Easter is an Easter like no other. The first Easter was an Easter like no other. Every Easter the words of Jesus are the same: “Peace, I am with you. Do not be afraid.”
Every Easter I share with my friends the beautiful greeting: “Christ is Risen!” To which, they respond: “He is truly Risen.” This year, as I think of these words their significance seems more powerful then usual and they remind me that no matter what the future may hold, because of Christ and His resurrection, you and I shall not die, but shall share eternal life with Him. Jesus has destroyed death, we need not fear anything. Because of Christ and His resurrection, we shall live forever.
I pray that you and your families have a blessed Easter and remain safe and healthy.
Fr. Michael McGourty
Pastor—St. Peter’s Parish—Toronto