The New Zealand Catholic bishops jointly and individually expressed the message of hope that Easter conveyed, reminding all Catholics that Jesus called on us to “be not afraid”, and that he (Jesus) has triumphed over the “lockdown of the tomb”.
In a statement signed by all the bishops, they acknowledged that this Easter “has been one that we’ve never experienced before”.
“We have felt the pain of not being able to celebrate together the Easter liturgies in our local churches. Some of you were looking forward to being baptised or received into the Church at Easter, and this is yet to happen,” they said.
“The future, for many, appears uncertain or even dire. In the meantime, we are continuing to have the tomb experience of being locked down at home and we know, for many families, that this situation is becoming difficult and stressful.”
They said this lockdown has provided the Church with a quiet time to reflect on our lives and the way we live.
“Our hope and prayer is that, when we leave the tomb of lockdown, we will work together as a community to build a better Church and society. Our hope is that we will all be stronger in our relationships with one another and in our appreciation of the gift of life,” they said.
“Our hope is for a society that is not driven by profiteering, but works for the common good as we together rebuild our nation’s economy. Our hope is that we will be a society that is more aware of the tangible presence of God who journeys with us on the paths of life. Our hope for the Church is that we will be more ardent in our faith, hope, love and service.”
With the country in lockdown, many of the faithful gathered around their devices to pray with priests or bishops as each day of Lent was celebrated.
Many of the traditions were missed, like the blessing of the palms on Palm Sunday, washing of the feet on Holy Thursday, as well as veneration of the cross on Good Friday.
Trust in his voice
Hamilton Bishop Stephen Lowe had been celebrating daily Mass on-line since the lockdown started.
On Easter Sunday, he addressed children in his homily.
Holding an Easter egg up, he explained how the chicken inside the egg is in “a lockdown”, just as Jesus was locked in a dark tomb.
He said he wondered if the chicken would believe, if the children told the chicken that it will be born to a bright and wonderful world.
“If we are talking to the chicken in the egg, we’d have to say, trust me. Believe me. There is a whole new world you are coming into,” Bishop Lowe said. “And that is the same with our faith in Jesus. We believe what Jesus said to us . . . that Jesus is risen.”
Addressing the older parishioners, Bishop Lowe reminded them that life is a mystery. “[that is what our faith asks us to believe] . . . to look beyond the locked-down, closed-down mind or heart that we have, our inability to understand, but to trust in his voice. It is the voice of the Son of God who says, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me shall have everlasting life’,” he said.
Christchurch Bishop Paul Martin, SM, said we must not allow the enjoyment of Easter Sunday to “obscure what this great day is about”.
“We must realise that the first Easter day was the most decisive intervention of God into our world,” he said.
He said there was a long lead-up to this intervention wherein God sent prophets to teach his (God’s) people, until he sent his only Son to bring the good news to his people.
“Having maltreated the prophets, the so-called chosen people went on to do the most despicable thing that ever happened, and they put to death God’s only Son,” he said. “And how does God respond? Instead of unleashing his wrath, he turns the tables on us and wipes out our sins and opens for us the road to heaven. Bishop Martin said we have “an inexplicable God”.
“We have a God who breaks all the rules. We have a God, who, in the face of a catastrophe, turns it into the greatest possible good for humankind. This is the reason we rejoice.”
Life after Covid-19
Wellington Cardinal John Dew said Covid-19 has brought a “deep darkness . . . devastating darkness for thousands” as well as despair and hopelessness for those affected.
He said, while the number of deaths might be small, there are thousands who have lost their jobs and now wondering how they will manage financially.
“Living in the silence, in the darkness of lockdown, with uncertainty and anxiety is never easy,” he said.
The cardinal said Jesus showed us that it is in the way we serve and care for others that we bring light into the world.
In his Easter Vigil Mass homily, Cardinal Dew said Jesus rising from the dead is God’s promise kept.
“That’s the promise of God. He will not leave us in darkness. He will always be with us,” Cardinal Dew said. “God keeps his promises. He has risen as he said he would.”
Cardinal Dew said Mary Magdalene and the disciples didn’t know what the world would be like after the Resurrection, just as we don’t know what the world is going to be like after the pandemic.
“For us, there will be life after Covid-19, because Jesus, the Risen One, stands with us and says, ‘do not be afraid’. God keeps his promises,” he said.
Dunedin Bishop Michael Dooley reflected on the distance between Calvary and Jesus’ tomb which he saw on a trip to the Holy Land in 2014.
In his homily at the Easter Vigil Mass, Bishop Dooley said he was struck by the fact that Calvary, the place of Jesus’ death, fit into the same church where Jesus’ tomb was, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
“The place of Jesus’ death and the place of his Resurrection are very close. That’s not only a geographical point. In a spiritual sense, Calvary and the place of Resurrection can be very close together in our own lives,” he said. “Suffering and death reside next to joy and hope and new life.”
He said, in this pandemic, the suffering of Calvary is close to the people and the reality of death is on our minds. But the many selfless acts of generosity and service bring hope.
“This is God’s grace working in our world. As Christians on this very sacred night, we celebrate that there is very little distance at all between us and God’s gift of resurrection and glory,” he said.
Auckland Bishop Patrick Dunn, in his Easter message to parishioners, said the first reference to the Resurrection in the New Testament is actually in St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians where St Paul had to definitively tell them that Jesus rose from the dead.
Bishop Dunn said that, late in the day of the first Easter Sunday, the apostles were in lockdown, terrified because their lord was executed as a terrorist and fearing that they will face the same fate.
Then, the apostles became conscious of his presence in the room with them and heard his familiar voice.
“It was the dawning of a new age. They were to be missionary disciples now to take the message of this new age to the ends of the earth. And that’s our mission, too,” the bishop said.
Bishop Dunn said there is something in the human heart that longs to live forever.
He said this is the message that the early Christians brought to the world.
He said in these times of uncertainty, we bring a message of hope.
“That’s the great message of Easter, that we have a future,” the bishop said. “St Augustine, one of his great phrases was, ‘we are an Easter people. Alleluia is our song’ . . . We are called to live happily ever after. Jesus walks with us.”