by Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv
Bishop-President, Pax Christi USA
In the midst of the smells and bells of our Easter liturgies, with Alleluias on our tongues and the feel of the baptismal water sprinkled upon us as we renew our faith in the triune God, we cannot help but feel the weight of the death and destruction we witness from afar in Ukraine — and in Yemen, Darfur, Myanmar and so many other places in our wounded world. It is all the more important that we proclaim the triumph of the victim Messiah, buried hastily on Friday but emerging alive from the tomb on Sunday. Orthodox, Catholic and other Christians in Ukraine are clinging more than ever to the promise of resurrection at this time when senseless killing and indiscriminate bombing seem to have the upper hand. As we gather in remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus, we must be in solidarity with Ukrainians who are worshipping in the midst of bombs: the Catholics sharing our Easter feast and the Orthodox just beginning their Holy Week.
When we entered Holy Week this year, we heard Luke’s version of the Passion proclaimed in liturgy. The compassionate and merciful Jesus portrayed by Luke offers Peter a glance of understanding when the rooster crows, he forgives those who are nailing him to the wood of the cross, and he comforts the women and children who mourn for him on the Via Dolorosa. Surely he also had in mind the women and children seeking exile from war throughout Europe and beyond. He counseled the women to weep not for him but for themselves and their children; the cause for weeping continues to the present moment. Women and children are especially affected, but there is a reason to weep for the men required to stay and defend their homeland as well.
In our part of the world, where we would like to think that the cruel whims of a dictator could not harm us, we also see plenty that calls for lament. The systematic exclusion of people from full participation in society because of their race, language, economic status, sexual orientation, immigration papers, past crimes or many other factors remind us that Jesus’ resurrection inaugurates the Reign of God, but we are called to take part in building it.
Easter is a time for rejoicing whether the loudest sounds around us are the joyful peals of church bells or the death-dealing sounds of machine gunfire. We rejoice that the Risen Savior brings about the triumph of love and mercy. Very few understood how God would bring good from the tragedy they witnessed on Good Friday. It can be difficult today to believe that God’s love is the force that conquers all that would destroy—but it is the essence of our faith.
May we again look to Jesus, the wounded Savior, whose presence in the midst of the suffering and oppressed is just as real today as when he was surrounded by thieves and insurrectionists sentenced to death on the cross. May we be willing to follow the example of a Simon of Cyrene who could not have known the universal significance of his help when he was pressed into service, or the example of the brave Veronica who demonstrates charity and decency with the simple gesture of wiping Jesus’ face. May we never tire of disciplining our own tendency to violence or willingness to choose the path of least resistance, like Pilate.
May the exuberance of our Easter feast inspire us to be messengers of the resurrection and bearers of hope even where war is still trying to destroy and kill that which is destined for immortality.
May we extend the greeting of the Risen Christ, “Peace be with you”, and commit ourselves to building that peace with justice that is the foundation of God’s reign. Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!