Friday, April 07, 2006

Senator Byrd on Easter

An appropriately moving speech by Senator Byrd.

On the promise of everlasting life, given by Jesus.

It's quite the speech, in light of the recent death of his wife - his lifetime mate.

"In all the moments of our life, large and small, triumphant and abject, He is there, He is there, at our side, with support and hope. I do feel for those 1.2 billion people who do not have faith to sustain them and give them strength. It is a deep deep well of support and nourishment for the weary soul, for the weary soul."

He reads from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow - "The angel in shining vesture said, 'The Lord is with you, he is not here.'"


Mr. BYRD. Mr. President, this Sunday, April 9, is Palm Sunday, thank God. It marks the beginning of the Christian holy week and Easter. The Senate will recess today so that Members might celebrate this holy week in the home churches, among their families, friends, and constituents. Before we adjourn, I would like to give a little consideration to those world-shaping events of some 2,000 years ago.

Whether one counts himself or herself as a Christian of any denomination or a follower of any other faith, one must admit that the man, the person, at the center of the Easter celebration was and is a figure of historical import, just as are the founding figures of the rest of the world's religions. There are today, by some estimates, approximately 2.1 billion Christians of all denominations, more than any other religious affiliation, and almost twice as many as those who describe themselves as secular, nonreligious, agnostic, or atheist--1.1 billion. By way of contrast, there are approximately 1.3 billion adherents of Islam and just 14 million of Jesus' Jewish faith. That one man's example and teachings have affected so many people so deeply and for so many years is a testament to his faith.

On Palm Sunday, a rabbi from Galilee, whom we know best today as Jesus, made a public entrance into Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover.

In doing so, Jesus surely knew what was in store for Him. He knew--He knew--He was a wanted man. He knew He was a wanted man--He knew it--marked for arrest by the civil authorities who feared that He would incite a rebellion that would lead to Roman occupation and unprotected by religious authorities who feared His teachings and who could not countenance His refusal to deny being more than human. But still He came. Still He came and the people cheered and threw palm leaves, a symbol of triumph and the national symbol of an independent Palestine, before his path. What a remarkable act of faith. What a remarkable act of faith to come willingly to one's tragic end, seeing through the suffering to the miracle of resurrection. The miracle; the miracle of resurrection. What a remarkable act of courage, to remain silent and smiling at the people He knew would not or could not aid Him in His final hours.

Some 2,000 years later, those 2.1 billion Christians around the world commemorate Jesus' final entry into Jerusalem by making crosses out of palm fronds, combining the triumphant entrance with the lasting image of Jesus Christ on the cross.

By Thursday, called Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, Jesus' freedom ended after His last meal, when He was arrested and imprisoned, betrayed--yes, betrayed--by Judas for 30 pieces of silver. Foreknowledge could not have made those fateful moments any easier to bear. On Good Friday, Christians will solemnly remember His suffering and death upon the cross. Candles and lights will be extinguished in memory of His final hours. Good Friday remains a sad, dark day despite the knowledge of His resurrection to leaven the terrible suffering He endured.

Holy Saturday is a day of vigil, as Christians figuratively keep watch over Christ's tomb and await the glorious resurrection to come. And Easter Sunday, or Resurrection Sunday, is a joyful, glorious day of reaffirmed faith, of promises kept, of hope restored.

I read now from the Book of St. Matthew, the 28th chapter, the first through the seventh verses, the King James version of the Holy Bible:

In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.

And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.

His countenance was like lightening, and his raiment white as snow:

And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.

And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.

He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where [Jesus] lay.

The scriptures say:

Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, He ``goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see Him: Lo, I have told you.''

For the next 40 days, Christ proved to his followers that He had, indeed, risen from the dead. Then He ascended into Heaven, fulfilling the final promise of His wondrous life. As John 3:16 so beautifully summed up the central promise of the Christian faith, ``For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.'' In Jesus' resurrection and ascension, God offers the greatest and only proof of His love and His promise that in death, there is life in faith. That--that, not chocolate bunnies and colorful eggs--is the great gift of Easter. Its comfort and solace linger on in the soul even longer than chocolate does on the lips. It warms us even more during sad times--yes--than does the spring sun after a cold and cheerless winter.

And so it is because of this great gift, this promise--yes, this promise of everlasting life and the heart-searing proof through sacrifice that Christianity survived the passing of its founder. Nearly 2,000 years later, the words and example of the Rabbi from Galilee motivate and support over 2 billion--over 2 billion--people around the world. Governments have tried to stamp Him out, but still He endures in the hearts of His devout followers. Technology has tried to distract us, but still His word--yes, his word--beckons. I am sure that whatever trials and tribulations lie ahead, His teachings and faith will offer comfort and hope no matter how bleak the future might appear. In all of the moments of our lives, large and small, joyful and desolate, triumphant and abject, He--yes, He is there at our side with support and hope. I do feel for those 1.2 billion people who do not have faith to sustain them and give them strength. It is a deep, deep well of support and nourishment for the weary soul--for the weary soul.

Mr. President, I close my speech with the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow from his poem ``Christus: A Mystery.'' In the poem, Prince Henry is speaking to Elsie as they cross the square:

This is the day, when from the dead our Lord arose; and everywhere, out of their darkness and despair, triumphant over fears and foes, the hearts of his disciples rose, when to the women, standing near, the angel in shining vesture said, ``The Lord is risen; He is not here!'' And, mindful that the day is come, on all the hearths in Christendom the fires are quenched, to be again rekindled from the sun, that high is dancing in the cloudless sky. The churches are all decked with flowers, the salutations among men are but the Angel's words divine, ``Christ is arisen!'' And the bells catch the glad murmur, as it swells, and chant together in their towers. All hearts are glad; and free from care the faces of the people shine. See what a crowd is in the square, gayly and gallantly arrayed!

Mr. President, let me close--and I hope I have not imposed too long on the Senate and on my friends who may have been waiting--let me close with these words spoken by William Jennings Bryan in his speech on immortality. Now is the time to think about it. That is what Easter is: the promise of immortality.

If the Father deigns to touch with divine power the cold and pulseless heart of the buried acorn, and make it burst forth from its prison walls again in the mighty Oak, will He leave neglected in the Earth the soul of man, who was made in the image of his Creator? If He stoops to give to the rosebush, whose withered blossoms float upon the autumn breeze, the sweet assurance of another springtime, will He withhold all the words of hope from the sons of men when the frosts of winter come? If Matter, mute and inanimate, though changed by the forces of Nature into a multitude of forms, can never die, will the imperial spirit of man suffer annihilation after a brief visit to this tenement of clay?

No.

Rather, let us believe that He who, in his apparent prodigality, wastes not the raindrop, the blade of grass, or the evening's sighing zephyr, but makes them all to carry out His eternal plans, has given immortality to the mortal.

Amen.

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