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Sunday Homily, 5 May 2024 - Fr Paul Rowse, OP

For Eastern Christians, that is, the Orthodox and some Catholics, this is Easter Sunday.  We join our familiar Alleluias to their renewed ones, in united praise of our risen Lord.  The different date of Easter for Eastern and Western Christianity comes from the fact that the East did not adopt the Gregorian calendar we observe but kept the older Julian one.  Every now and again, the dates for Easter coincide, including next year.  We pray that Easter celebrations will be peaceful in places where Christians share churches, such as Jerusalem.

Some of the elements of their liturgy are familiar to us, which shows the antiquity of the common heritage.  We and they have new light; we and they have blessed water; we and they share Holy Communion.  They too have a holy fire, but not like ours which is in the open air.  The Easter fire in Orthodox Jerusalem comes from inside the little chapel which was built over the Lord’s tomb: the people all gather in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Patriarch goes into the chapel to fetch the new fire.  Some have claimed it is miraculously lit; others would say it has something to do with white phosphorus.  There’s sometimes the question raised about which Eastern denomination’s patriarch should have the privilege of bringing the new fire to the people.  Back in 2002, the Greek Patriarch won out over the Armenian Patriarch by blowing out his candle!  Otherwise, the holy fire of Jerusalem has a charming history: in the year 162, there was no oil for the church lamps, so the bishop instructed that they be filled with water and lit; the lamps wonderfully burned with the water all night long.

The Lord commands us to love one another: proximity and knowledge are required to do so.  Sure, there are other things which go into it: encouragement, prayer, hospitality, service, forgiveness, speaking well of each other – these are ways we love, how we love.  But what is required before we can love one another is proximity and knowledge.  Parents will tell us how the love they have for their children changed dramatically when they were born: they knew they were expecting for months and loved the child all through that time, but seeing the little one, counting fingers and toes, looking them in the eye made them fall in love all over again.  We also know the qualitative difference between having an old friend and being with them: we can think of them, chat through some medium, and send them gifts, but there’s nothing like being in their company in-person.

We are commanded by the Lord to love one another, which means being close to each other and being acquainted with one another.  It’s easy to demonise someone for their flaws when they’re not in the room, and much harder to do so when they’re sitting across the table from us – that’s a good sign that we should love them.

It must be said then that our love for God will greatly increase when we see him face to face in light.  We do love him now: we pray to him, serve him, and praise him.  But we shall do so all the more when we spend eternity together.  We shall wonder how we loved him as relatively little as we do now.  We are so loved by God: he thought of us in the beginning, then he made us and redeemed us and sanctifies us, and eventually will glorify us.  Any wonder we can say that God is love: there is a continual outpouring of his gifts to us, with his only hope being that we use them well and so come to him.

We take our cue to joyful neighbourliness from the Easter celebrations now underway in the Eastern Churches.  We are so encouraged that the whole Church, East and West, from today unites in praise of our glorious Saviour.  We are renewed by their paschal jubilance and love for the risen Lord, who was despised but kept no enemies, who is God but loves his creatures even when they turn from him: to him may we be unswervingly loyal and fraternally bound, until we are united to him face to face in light.  Amen.  Alleluia.

Fr Paul Rowse, OP

Parish Priest

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