In these fifty days of Easter, there are natural echoes of rebirth: the skyscrapers rising daily within our parish bounds, and the change of weather. But were this neighborhood decaying as it used to be, and were we south of the Equator moving into Autumn and then Winter, the joy of Easter would still be vivid, and perhaps more so, for Christ’s triumph over death contradicted the melancholy of the culture in those days.
Each year, the suffering of Christians in many parts of the world bears witness to the power of the Holy Spirit. While the genocide of Christians has discomfited much of our media, who would rather reduce Easter to a quaint Rite of Spring with no emblems more serious than bunnies and funny hats, in his Easter message our President cited the Christians martyred on Palm Sunday in Egypt. Those faithful died while chanting the Palm Sunday Hosannas when they left this world for the Heavenly City.
In the church just outside Cairo and in the cathedral, are icons of Saint George who is the patron of Christians in the Middle East. His feast on the Latin calendar is transferred this year from today to Monday, in deference to the Easter celebrations. The images of Saint George slaying the dragon perdure, and I am doubly blessed to have him as my patron, while being pastor of this parish under the patronage of Saint Michael, who also wore armour in the great spiritual combat.
Recently a lady told me that her Jewish husband has always venerated Catholic priests, and for a solid reason. He was a boy in Germany during the Second World War, orphaned in the Holocaust, when a priest smuggled him through dangerous territory to the border with neutral Switzerland. As the priest entrusted the boy to the border guards, and waved goodbye, he was shot from behind by two Nazi soldiers. Such has been the office of priests since the Risen Lord instructed the apostles in the forty days after he rose from the dead.
Like Joshua leading the Jews across the Jordan into the Promised Land, priests are ordained to shepherd their flocks daily toward the border of time and eternity. Then their task is done. For this reason, a bishop does not carry his pastoral staff, the crozier, at funerals, for he no longer has charge over the souls of the departed.
Christ the High Priest meets the soul, not waving farewell but opening his arms as on the Cross, the Good Shepherd whose judgment separates the sheep from the goats, while willing that none be lost and all be saved. In the words of the eighteenth-century Welsh hymn:
When I tread the verge of Jordan,
Bid my anxious fears subside;
Bear me through the swelling current,
Land me safe on Canaan’s side.