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Patriarch Emeritus

Pastoral Letters






Easter Homily
March 23, 2008

Brothers and Sisters,

Christ is risen.  Yes, right here, this tomb which we venerate witnessed the events that have been transmitted to us by our faith.  Here, the empty tomb, in front of which we celebrate Easter this morning, testifies to our faith. It testifies to God’s love for all of humanity.  With the entire Church, we renew our faith and we proclaim that Christ rose here.  Yes, He is truly risen.  We pray in this Eucharist for Christians, for Muslims, and for Jews, for all religions and for our two peoples, Palestinian and Israeli.  We pray so that the hope of the Resurrection might revive and renew the hearts of all, and fill them with the mystery of God and of his love.

Here, Christ gave his life to redeem humanity.  In order to form his apostles and prepare them to understand and enter into the mystery of God over and above all purely earthly aspirations – for they believed that he was going to give Israel an earthly kingdom – Jesus had predicted his death to them.  One day, recounts the evangelist, “When Jesus and the disciples met in Galilee, he said to them: the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men who will put him to death, and he will be raised up on the third day.”  And the evangelist adds: “At these words, they were overwhelmed with grief” (Mt 17, 22) because they were still unable to see, locked as they were into a temporal vision of his mission.

He had also told them: “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.  I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again” (Jn 10, 17-18).

Christ is risen.  We pray this morning, and our prayer is universal just like Christ’s own prayer.  It embraces all of humanity so that everyone might come to understand that, in this land of death, the orders given to others to go out and kill are not the appropriate way to regain life, or legitimate rights, or security. Only Christ laid down his life.  He is the Eternal Word of God.  He alone can say: “I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own.  I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again” (Jn 10, 17-18).  And the meaning of this laying down of his life becomes even more understandable in light of another passage by the same evangelist: “Before the feast of Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father.  He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (Jn 13, 1).  Love alone can transform death into something that leads to life. 

That is what Easter means for us: death that leads to life, to the Resurrection.  Death, which becomes through the power of love and forgiveness a redemptive power, creates a new man, a new person.  To pass from death to life, that is the meaning of Easter, that is the meaning of Christian hope: all death, all difficulties lead to renewed life.  Death will not remain a death, and difficulties will not remain the occasion for sterile suffering.  No one has the right to turn personal suffering, even great and incomprehensible, into a prison for oneself or for generations to come.  The sufferings of Christ, his Passion, were great and incomprehensible.  He was counted among criminals, as foretold by the Prophets.  But he loved and forgave: “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end” (Jn 13, 1).  On the cross, as he was suffering, he said: “Father, forgive them” (Lk 23, 33). 

His disciples also ran the risk of turning their sufferings into a prison for themselves: “We were hoping that he was the one who would set Israel free” (Lk 24, 21), said the disciples of Emmaus.  Jesus, walking again with them after the Resurrection, freed them from their frustration and from the failure they thought they had had because they had followed him.  After Jesus had instructed them once again, their discouragement was transformed into their walking anew toward Jerusalem, “they returned to Jerusalem,” and into their announcing the Resurrection.  We have seen the Lord.  He is alive.  He has given us life again. 

To believe that Jesus has risen from the dead, says Saint Paul in this morning’s second reading from his Letter to the Colossians, is to look up to heaven with our heart and soul: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3, 1).  Look heavenward to better understand who we are – in the world but not of the world – in the world, but with our mind in union with God the Creator and Redeemer who transforms death into life.  Look at the things that are above in order to better look at what is on earth and to better conduct ourselves with regard to all earthly matters, including the numerous difficulties encountered in the personal lives of each one of us as well as in the difficult history of peoples, and especially of the two peoples of this land.

It is a land whose daily routine, whose daily environment has become for years a permanent cross, a place of blood, of hate, of prisoners, of people killed, of houses demolished, and of ongoing occupation and insecurity.  For the people and for all our political leaders, the situation has become deadlocked, or still worse, a routine of death which the latter think they must only govern without ever giving it life.  The recent events of these past few weeks, Gaza, the murder at the yeshiva in Jerusalem, the young people killed in Bethlehem, and many others, are no more than sterile repetitions of the events of all the past years.  And we will not stop repeating that security cannot be achieved by inflicting insecurity on others.  New means must be found.

To believe in Jesus who died and rose from the dead is to believe and hope that this land, subjected to death by leaders and by public opinions that are held captive and in chains, is to believe and hope that this land and all its inhabitants can also resurrect, provided that minds and hearts are purified of the evil of war, of the hostility, and of the distrust that are deeply ingrained in it.

Look up to heaven, contemplate Christ who died and resurrected, in order to learn how to die and resurrect each day and each moment and in order to give new hope to this land.  Chosen people, your vocation is the same one that Jesus had: to give new life to the world, but first of all to yourselves.  Military personnel, planners of war, thinkers in Israel, you must rethink your vocation and that of this land, of your election, of the permanent covenant, so that it can become a covenant of God with all of humanity and a source of new life, here and everywhere.

We are witnesses of the Resurrection, said Saint Peter to the crowd after Pentecost. Like him, here, in this very place, we are witnesses of the Resurrection, in order to give new hope and to maintain this hope in everyone, despite all the evil of the people who destroy this land.  Let us pray, my brothers and sisters, so that the Resurrection of the Lord will enable all of us to give new life to our land and to all those with whom we are called to live.  With the Psalmist we proclaim our hope: “God will deliver my soul” (Ps 49, 16) and deliver our land.  Amen.                      

+ Michel Sabbah, Patriarch

Jerusalem, Easter Sunday  23 March 2008


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