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Archbishop Duncan's Easter Homily

Easter Homily, A.D.2015

Offered by the Most Reverend Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, at the Easter Vigil in Grace Church, Edgeworth, and at Easter Day Baptisms and Confirmations in St. Peter’s Church, Butler, 4-5 April, A.D.2015. 

He is risen, he is risen!

                                     Tell it out with joyful voice:

                   He has burst his three days’ prison;

                                              Let the whole wide earth rejoice:

               Death is conquered, We are free,

                                     Christ has won the victory.

   Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895), an Irish poet and hymn-writer, spent her life giving children verses by which they could learn the Christian faith. She was the catechists’ catechist. She understood that easy rhyme twinned with simple melody made for quick learning and long-term retention. For Mrs. Alexander there were no truths more important for children to learn than the truths about Jesus Christ, about the Holy Trinity, about Christian living, and about the salvation of humankind.

   To help children understand what Scripture and the Creeds meant about “God the Father, creator of heaven and earth,” she wrote the hymn “All things bright and beautiful.” To help children understand the Nativity of our Lord and its significance for their formation, she wrote “Once in Royal David’s City.” On the doctrine of the Atonement she penned “There is a Green Hill Far Away,” with stunning lines such as “he died that we might be forgiven, he died to make us good” and “there was no other good enough to pay the price of sin; He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.” What also still instructs to this day is her hymn on perseverance, “Jesus calls us o’er the tumult,” and her complete translation of St. Patrick’s Breastplate, her words sung to this day whenever we sing “I bind unto myself today…” What Cecil Frances Alexander wanted us to understand about Easter – children and adults alike – is conveyed in her hymn “He is Risen.”

   For Christians, Easter is our defining moment. Everything is interpreted by the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Everything before and everything after is seen, quite literally, in the light of – from the perspective of – this day.

   This event remedies man’s fall – his rebellion from God – at the beginning of human history. {Genesis 3] This is creation’s eighth day, where humanity is re-created and eternal life with God made possible. [2 Corinthians 5:16-21] This is the flood story re-told [Genesis 7], with baptism into Christ (dying with him) becoming the drowning of the old life and the giving of God’s Holy Spirit enabling a new and resurrected life from that moment forward. [Romans 6:3-4] This is the ultimate deliverance from slavery, of which the ancient Exodus story is the pre-figuring. [Exodus 14] This is the satisfaction of the Law (which Jesus has done on behalf of us all) [Matthew 5:17] and the fulfillment of the Prophets (where dry bones are given life and a new heart is bestowed). [Ezekiel 37; Jeremiah 31: 31-34] All of what happened before Jesus’ Cross and Resurrection is re-interpreted – newly understood – by this Easter event.

   For the Christian, everything that comes after is also understood in light of this Death and Resurrection. No event in history and no event in our personal lives can be understood apart from it. The ruler of this world has been defeated – is being cast out – sin and death no longer have the last word. [John 12:30-33] Whether it is 21 Christians beheaded six weeks ago on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Libya or 140 Christian students martyred this week at Garissa University in Kenya, Jesus has the last word. [John 11:25-26] This is our Faith and our proclamation. In the face of personal trials and tragedies we accord Jesus’ gospel the last word. Suffering, derision, sickness, loneliness, loss, betrayal, want, death: none of these is beyond the love we know in Jesus and the life we have in Him. [John 16:33] St. Paul reminds us that this is “foolishness” to the world, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God and the wisdom of God. [1 Corinthians 1:18-31] Being freed from the fear of death, we are free indeed.

   The poet George Herbert (1593-1633), in one of his poems about Easter, says of humanity, “we count three hundred days” [to a year], but says in truth “there is but one, and [that] one ever.” Easter is the day. His tomb is empty, and so will ours be. And in the meanwhile, Jesus’ Easter makes every day different for us. We are already living in his kingdom [the kingdom of love and life], not the kingdom of this world [the kingdom of sin and death]. We have His Holy Spirit and we have His peace. In fact, St. John tells us that our Faith is the victory that overcomes the world. [1 John 5:4] This is what we are baptized into. This is what we are confirmed into. This is what we believe and this is what we proclaim.

He is risen, he is risen!

                                     Tell it out with joyful voice:

                    He has burst his three days’ prison;

                                                Let the whole wide earth rejoice:

                 Death is conquered, We are free,

                                      Christ has won the victory.


                   Come ye sad and fearful-hearted,

                                                   With glad smile and radiant brow!

                          Death’s long shadows have departed;

                                        Jesus’ woes are over now,

               And the passion that he bore –

                                                 Sin and death can vex no more.


He is risen, he is risen!

                                                 He hath opened heaven’s gate:

                   We are free from sin’s dark prison,

                                   Risen to a holier state;

       And a brighter Easter beam

                                                     On our longing eyes shall stream.

   Rejoice with me this day. This day that lasts forever. This day that changes everything. This day when Jesus rose from the dead. AMEN.

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