Archbishop’s Easter Message — St.Peter’s Tears of Joy

The Women at the Empty Tomb is depicted in this stained-glass window by artist Guido Nincheri at Notre Dame Cathedral in Ottawa, Ontario. Reflecting on the women who come to Jesus’ tomb in the early hours of that very first Easter, Pope Francis said, “Jesus, like a seed buried in the ground, was about to make new life blossom in the world; and these women, by prayer and love, were helping to make that hope flower.” (CNS photo/Gene Plaisted, Crosiers)

Hanging in my office is a portrait of Saint Peter in tears, and as I look at it, I often wonder when he cried. It obviously relates to his threefold denial of Jesus. Thus, it must have been after Jesus was crucified, perhaps after the resurrection. I wonder if Peter’s tears were tears of sorrow or of gratitude for being forgiven.

Saint Peter figures prominently in the Easter morning readings this year. In the Gospel, he stands at the opening of the tomb, now empty after Saint Mary Magdalene, the first witness to the resurrection, had announced the astonishing news of the empty tomb. As Peter hurried with John to the tomb, his mind must have been racing. Jesus had proclaimed that he would rise again in three days, but it still seemed such an astonishing mystery. His Savior Jesus still alive and perhaps more alive than ever. His Savior Jesus, who promised to forgive, has now changed Peter’s entire outlook on life.

Once the ever so small-in-size Saint Teresa of Calcutta was asked how she could speak so easily to crowds of thousands. She simply said that she was no longer self-conscious because she was God conscious. It is the God-conscious Peter we find in the 10th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. The Scripture begins by saying simply, “Peter proceeded to speak.”

His speech involves two strong words. He says he is a witness. He who ate and drank with Jesus testifies that Jesus is alive. While St. Peter shared many meals with the Lord Jesus during his public ministry, Peter also may have been referencing the Holy Eucharist. Even today, we all participate in the saving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as we share in His body and blood at the Holy Eucharist. Is not the one cup we share a communion in the blood of Christ?

Peter also speaks of being commissioned — sent forth — on assignment. Further, he says that he is commissioned to proclaim the one appointed by God as the judge — the judge of the living and the dead and of forgiveness in his name.

16th Century St. Peter in Tears by El Greco,
Wikimedia Commons

These days we do not like to speak about judgment. Yet our lives are filled with hasty judgments — judgments that we make in our hearts about our own inadequacies, our past failures, our worries for the future. We also worry about tyrants who make heavy judgments. Pope Benedict spoke  about the tyranny of relativism when truth is not sought but imposed by others. Pope Francis warns us to beware of judging. Rather, he says, let God’s Word be our judge.

Perhaps more than ever, we need to hear Saint Peter’s words about being judged by the One appointed by God, who is our Savior Jesus Christ. Saint Peter knew forgiveness in the name of Jesus. Perhaps his tears were indeed tears of joy at having been forgiven!

You know, we all need a savior. Sadly, we sometimes place our bets on the wrong saviors who bring fleeting foundations of fame and fortune, possessions and pride. Our Savior Jesus is the solid foundation. He who is raised from the dead is our great hope.

In the second reading on Easter morn, Saint Paul speaks to the Colossians of our being raised with Christ. When my mother died, I chose a holy card from the Byzantine Press in Pittsburgh, Penn. On the card is an image of Jesus rising from the tomb with His hands outstretched and people clinging to each hand. As he rose, you experienced those people rising up with Him. This image reminds us that the resurrection is not meant to be simply observed. Instead, as Christ conquers sin and death in the resurrection, we participate as we rise from sin and death to new life.

Today we are Saint Peter witnessing to the saving resurrection of Jesus Christ. We’re commissioned to announce with word and deed that we rise with Him in new hope. Psalm 24 proclaims: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” Today we proclaim “Alleluia! Christ is risen, He is truly risen.” Our tears are tears of joy!

A blessed Easter to all of you!

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