A Bishop's Perspective

With Easter, suffering and death do not have the last word

A Bishop’s Perspective column in the Juneau Empire, March 31, 2013


In the gospel accounts of the resurrection, when the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples, he showed them his wounded hands, feet, and side. He did this, no doubt, to assure his astonished disciples, that the one whom they had seen dead on the cross was the same person who had been raised to new life. But I think too that he showed them (and us) his mortal wounds, as a sign that God does not permit violence and hatred and death to have the final word in our lives.

This past Thursday I attended the “Alaskans Choose Respect” march that convened at the Capitol steps. In 2009 Governor Sean Parnell began this initiative to address the terrible effects of domestic violence. The speeches given at the rally indicated how the emotional and physical wounds of these cruel acts devastate lives and harms families. In knowing that men are primarily the source of such violence, I often say that the best gift a father can give to his children is to love their mother.

Our world and society are filled various forms of evil, hatred and violence. Easter is a time when we look at sin, suffering, and death through a faith filled view that such evils do not have the last word. This is what Christian believers celebrate at Easter. The resurrection of Jesus is the fulfillment of the deep and enduring human longing that goodness is stronger than evil; that love and mercy are more powerful than hatred and violence; and that all of our lives and hopes are not, in the end, swallowed up by death.

There is no human person that Christ is not concerned for and that his resurrected life does not seek to save, transfigure, and glorify. From my perspective, this lived out faith in the resurrection prompts us to perform works of mercy. In the Catholic tradition, these works of mercy are also called corporal – which means related to the body — these emphasize what people need as physical and emotional creatures, embodied in historical circumstances, influenced by injustice, and evil, while at the same time needing basic necessities such as food, shelter, safe and just living environments and medicine. Then there are the works of mercy that we call spiritual, which focus on the deepest, most integral, but often unseen needs of persons, such as the desire for God, the desire for inner peace, joy and happiness, the desire for spiritual freedom, the desire to love and be loved in a way that liberates, and ultimately the desire for suffering and death to not be the last word in any human story.

We can see a powerful sign of this commitment concretely lived out by the recent visit of Pope Francis to a juvenile detention center in Rome to wash the feet of the inmates there who are largely from a Muslim immigrant population. Pope Francis spoke of Christ’s nature and his sacrificial love, remarking, “It is the Lord’s example: he is the most important, and he washes feet, because with us what is highest must be the service of others.” I was touched to learn that one of the inmates said in preparation for the Holy Father’s visit, “At last I’ll meet someone who says he is my father.”

The wounds of the risen Lord are such a sign of compassion and hope. Like Jesus, each of us has been wounded by others. For some of us, these wounds have mercifully been healed and no longer burden our lives. Others of us continue to bear wounds that are still raw and painful. Each of us as well, have wounded others who deserved better from us, either because of our hurtful actions or our failure to act with love.

Bishop Burns blesses the outdoor cross at the Shrine of St. Therese following the annual Good Friday Stations of the Cross service.
Bishop Burns blesses the outdoor cross at the Shrine of St. Therese following the annual Good Friday Stations of the Cross service.

Jesus, in showing his wounds to his disciples at Easter, did so not to humiliate or shame them, but to assure them of his enduring love and forgiveness. I think that this season of Easter joy and rejoicing is an opportunity to contemplate our wounds and the wounds of our society in the light of Jesus’ triumph over the power of sin, violence and death. Although what we have suffered becomes a permanent part of each of our stories, (as we see in Jesus who bears his wounds even into the new life of the resurrection), our suffering and our wounds are not the final definitive story of our lives.

Happy Easter to you and to your loved ones.


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