Columns From Bishop Brennan

Bishop Robert Brennan’s Full Easter Homily

Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Happy Easter! Welcome one and all to the Cathedral Basilica of St. James this glorious Easter Morning! A warm welcome to all who join us via live-stream and NET TV.

“Do you not know that a little yeast leavens all the dough? Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough.” It seems like a strange image that St Paul gives us for Easter Sunday, doesn’t it? Sounds a little bit more like a cooking show than an Easter proclamation. But St. Paul is connecting us this Easter to the Jewish celebration of the Passover. You see, St. Paul would have been VERY familiar with the Passover customs of the day, which included clearing out all the old bread, all the old yeast in the household so as to be able to make the unleavened bread that recalled the hurried escape of the Jewish people as God rescued them from slavery in Egypt centuries before. The Passover tradition allows God’s people to relive their liberation from slavery and the beginning of a new life,  of new freedom, a new identity as people consecrated to the Lord. (Cf Montgomery, Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture.) Leaving out even a little yeast around the house, it will get into, corrupt, infect the new batch, and will spread so that you no longer have the unleavened bread necessary for the Passover feast.

St. Paul goes on, “For our Christ, our Paschal lamb, Christ has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Hearing this today we are exhorted to get rid of the bitterness and malice that might infect our own hearts, so that we might celebrate today with sincerity and truth.

Bitterness, anger, disappointment, guilt, hurts and wounds can certainly weigh us down. And let’s be honest, these can be very valid. We may be hurting with very good reason. Moreover, we are horrified by the aggression and destruction in Ukraine along with the targeting of civilians, even of children. We are united in prayer for them and I thank you for your generosity in response to helping those who are giving relief.  We still feel the effects of the pandemic that afflicted us these last two years.  And we cry out against the violence afflicting our city – not only the recent subway shootings but also the violence on our streets.

But I have some news for you: CHRIST IS RISEN! Yes, Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead. He has conquered sin and death. There is no evil stronger than he. Through his cross and Resurrection, we have been rescued from slavery to sin and death to begin a new life, a life of freedom and a new identity as people consecrated to the Lord. His resurrection changes everything.

So yes, get rid of the old yeast of bitterness, malice and wickedness and let yourself be formed into a new creation in Jesus Christ. We just heard the Easter proclamation of the empty tomb. Think of Jesus’ appearances after his Resurrection. Think of Mary Magdalene – in her grief she couldn’t get away from the tomb. Last night, in the Vigil, we heard from the Gospel of Luke: the angels asked the women in the tomb, why do you seek the living among the dead? It is tempting to linger at the tombs, nursing our wounds.

Think of the disciples locked in fear and in doubt. They were wallowing in grief having let Jesus down, and let’s face it, what would become of their lives now? They left everything to follow him.  What now? They felt let down themselves by Him, by God. But Jesus makes his way through the locked doors and the closed hearts. He makes it through with his message of Shalom: peace, conciliation, trust. He appears to Mary and calls her by name. And He wants to break through the things that weigh us down to give us life.

On this Easter Sunday, we defy the violence and oppression.  We recall something past and something true – Jesus rose, but that’s not all. We celebrate the future – we too will rise and live forever, but that’s not all. We celebrate Jesus risen and alive today. He comes to us today to cast out the old yeast, to make us new, to give new direction and hope to our lives. Let us celebrate this feast then with sincerity and truth. For Christ our Passover has been sacrificed. He is truly Risen, Alleluia.