Easter 2020

He is Risen! He is Truly Risen!

{a transcript of Bishop Brennan’s Easter Vigil homily, given at Holy Spirit Church, Fresno.)


I belong to the most marvelous family you can imagine — and before my own family gets excited about that, I’m not talking about my own family, my own blood brothers and sisters, although they are marvelous in their own way, most of the time. But its the family that we belong to, God’s family, and our part of God’s family. We need to get down on our knees thanking God that we belong to this Roman catholic tradition. There are hundreds of millions of Roman Catholics all over God’s world. But it gets better — you see a problem, a little problem. Roman Catholics think they are the only Catholics on the planet, but there are lots of Catholics on the planet that wouldn’t call themselves Roman Catholics. There are other rites and other traditions, too many to be named, but I will name a few. There are Melkite Catholics, Maronite Catholics, Byzantine Catholics, Coptic Catholics, Syro-Malabar Catholics That list really does go on. Beautiful traditions with their own traditional language, their own rites, coming from particular cultures and different parts of the world. The Eastern Rites, churches in the Middle East, other parts of that world. They have liturgies that are phenomenally beautiful and they are very long so we need to be grateful that we are Roman Catholics. Otherwise we might be here tonight for three of four hours, but since we are Roman Catholics we wont be here that long.But it is the same Lord, the same faith, the same baptism, same Eucharist, same Body of Christ.

And I love in the Eastern tradition, many of the Eastern churches, where they have a call and response during the Easter season, especially on Easter Sunday, but throughout the Easter season. It would not be unusual for people who belong to one of the Eastern rites of our Catholic Church to greet someone on the street by saying in a loud voice, “Christ is risen”, and the other person is expected to respond “Christ is truly risen”. So even though we are not Eastern Catholics, we are Roman Catholics, let’s do that, those of us who are here at Holy Spirit Church tonight and those who are at home and listening and praying and singing along with us. Just for a practice, I will say “Christ is Risen”, and you will say “Christ is truly risen”. Here we go, ready? “Christ is risen!” (Those present responded) Christ is truly risen. You guys are good.

Yes, Christ is truly risen. We have sung “alleluia”, and it has been a while. And that is a song of praise, and it is a joyful song of praise. And even in the midst of difficulty and pain there is cause for rejoicing here because Christ truly is risen from the dead.

Yes, Christ is truly risen. We have sung “alleluia”, and it has been a while. And that is a song of praise, and it is a joyful song of praise. And even in the midst of difficulty and pain there is cause for rejoicing here because Christ truly is risen from the dead. He has risen, He is among us, and he is especially with us in some of the most difficult times of our lives. Two thousand years ago, there were people that didn’t quite understand that he had risen from the dead, and there were those who rejected the notion, those who wouldn’t believe those who refused to believe that Christ is truly risen. That’s a problem in our own day and age. There are people who do not believe, who have heard the good news who for some reason were unable to take it in. Maybe even worse, for some reason, they might have even rejected it. We pray for them, we prayed for them on Good Friday, just yesterday. We continue to pray for them.

I have a dear friend, her name is Johanna, who years ago was teaching religious education. And, I forget the actual age of the group she was teaching — they weren’t little but they weren’t quite teenagers, so, maybe junior high. Certainly tweens — in-between a child and a teenager. Easter was approaching, So, she thought she would give them a lesson before they went on vacation on resurrection and on what the true meaning of Easter is. So, she is teaching, she is pouring her heart out as she always does, and it suddenly dawns on one of her students what she is talking about, what she’s really meaning. And he says in a loud voice when he realizes that Johanna was talking about, someone who had been raised from the dead, namely Jesus, Jesus who began to appear to his disciples as the risen Lord. And this young boy yelled out, in front of the whole class. “No way!”. Yes, way, He is truly risen. Now I don’t know exactly why he said “no way”, maybe because it is absolutely marvelous, incredible, wonderful, the best news he’s ever heard. “No way, really that’s wonderful, that’s awesome”. I hope he wasn’t saying “no way” in terms of “I don’t believe this, I don’t buy it, that’s impossible, you cant prove it, it is beyond the natural order of things”. Of course it is.

The first words [the angel] shared, “do not be afraid” — where have we heard that before? Do not be afraid, Mary, the Holy Spirit will overshadow you. Do not be afraid Joseph it is by the Holy Spirit she has conceived. Fear is useless, what is needed is trust.

It is a tenet of our faith, our deep and abiding faith, that has been handed down to us from the apostles to this very day. The first evidence of resurrection is an empty tomb. And faithful women went to that tomb. When they saw that was empty they didn’t know what to make of it. In tonight’s gospel, an angel appears to them dressed in white. I’m no angel but I am dressed in white and would share with you the exact words the angel shared with them. The first words he shared, “do not be afraid” — where have we heard that before? Do not be afraid, Mary, the Holy Spirit will overshadow you. Do not be afraid Joseph it is by the Holy Spirit she has conceived. Fear is useless, what is needed is trust. “Do not be afraid”, the angel tells to the faithful women who just wanted to visit the tomb, just wanted to say a prayer. And the angel continues, “you are looking for Jesus the one who was crucified – he is not here he has been raised up” and that is the good news of Easter.

But the even better news is that He is here and has been raised up. He is here every time we celebrate the Eucharist. He is here in the heart and soul of every person who has ever been baptized He is here in the life and ministry of every person who claims the title of Christian, from their baptism. He is here, and those faithful women became part of the testimony. You see, our faith rests on witnesses, on people who saw things, on people who heard things. They saw the empty tomb, they saw the risen Lord. They heard his preaching and his teaching before his crucifixion, and they were on the wonderful receiving end of his teaching after his resurrection. That is what has been handed down to us, generation after generation. It is the real Easter message: Christ has been raised. It is a fact of our life, it is a reality that we accept and celebrate and receive.

There is always in the depth of our heart a measure of joy that can only come from Jesus himself, that can only come from the assurance that he has been raised from the dead So we carry joy to the office when we can go there, We’ll carry joy back into our churches, when we can gather there. We will carry joy back into our places of work when we go there, if we are not able to go there right now.

A few years ago, on this feast, Pope Benedict shared a beautiful message about the resurrection and new life, I’ll just read a short portion of what he said. “The resurrection then is not a theory but a historical reality revealed by Jesus Christ by means of his passover, his passage, that has opened a new way between heaven and earth.” Pope Francis speaks often about joy, and he has also preached often about resurrection and new life and what that means for us. And he says, “Let the earth rejoice in shining splendor”, let the earth rejoice and let us rejoice in the risen Lord. Let us in our own day and age, in this 21st century become witnesses to the resurrection. There are a million ways to do that, but we essentially do that by bearing in our heart an unquenchable joy. And we carry that, maybe, in the depth of our heart when life gets tough, and it’s been tough, and when life gets overwhelming, and it’s been overwhelming, when we have experienced tragedy, and we have. There is always in the depth of our heart a measure of joy that can only come from Jesus himself, that can only come from the assurance that he has been raised from the dead So we carry joy to the office when we can go there, We’ll carry joy back into our churches, when we can gather there. We will carry joy back into our places of work when we go there, if we are not able to go there right now. We will smile more often than we will frown — a simple way to be a witness to the resurrection. Pope Francis was echoing the Exultset, that beautiful Easter proclamation — Exalt heavenly powers. Exult, rejoice, the Lord is risen. Christ is risen, Christ is truly risen