Homily: Easter Vigil, 2013

30th March, 2013

Romans 6 3-11 Psalm 118:1-23; Luke 24:1-12

Why look among the dead for someone who is alive? (LUKE 24:5)

This Easter Vigil is the most important Mass of the liturgical year. It is the first official celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus. Historically, it is during this service that people are baptized and that adult catechumens are received into full communion with the Catholic Church. Because the new liturgical day begins at sunset, the vigil begins outside the Church, where an Easter fire is kindled and the Paschal candle is blessed and then lit.  It will remain in the sanctuary and be used throughout the season of Easter and in the coming year at baptisms and funerals, reminding all that Christ is ‘light and life.’ As this symbolic ‘Light of Christ’ spreads throughout those gathered in the church, the darkness is decreased, the proclamation of Easter, or Exultet, is chanted and we have the Liturgy of the Word.

Then the water of the baptismal font is solemnly blessed and candidates are initiated into the church, by baptism and/or confirmation, respectively.  After the celebration of these sacraments of initiation, the congregation renews their baptismal vows and receives the sprinkling of baptismal water.

As we heard in the New Testament  reading, St Paul’s letter to the Romans quite clearly states: Those who had been baptized into Christ will celebrate his conquest of death; so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life’

It is this new life: the resurrection of Jesus, which we celebrate on this night. It is the universal story of God’s grace triumphing over evil.  Each of the four gospels tells its own story of how the women discovered that Jesus was risen from the dead and St Luke’s account has its own sequence of events.  Luke says that the women discovered first that the body of Jesus was not there.  Then, as they were standing there, the angels (two, not one as in Matthew and Mark) announced to them the good news of the resurrection.

Only St Luke includes the words of the angel which express very dramatically the mystery of the resurrection as it is always experienced, ‘Why look among the dead for someone who is alive?’

The angels assure them that Jesus is raised from the dead by his own power. This does not relate any new knowledge, but reminds the women of Christ's words, and teaches them how to apply them. These are the disciples who believed Jesus to be the Son of God and the true Messiah.  These are the same disciples who had been so often told that Jesus must die, and rise again, and then enter into his glory.  They had seen him more than once raise the dead, and so we may wonder that these disciples should be so backward in believing that Jesus had raised himself from the dead.

However, if we think about it, our own mistakes in living our faith can spring from ignorance or forgetfulness of the words Christ has spoken, and that we have heard so many times from the Gospels.  St Luke tells us that Peter now runs to the sepulchre, and we remember how he so lately ran from his Master. At the empty tomb, he was amazed. There are many things puzzling and perplexing to us, too, which would be clearer if we rightly understood the words of Christ.

In Holy week we have seen a world full of betrayal, abandonment, mockery, violence, and death. Holy Thursday and Good Friday are those sacred days which constitute one unfolding liturgy.  They call us to experience communion, death and loss.  Holy Saturday is that ‘space in between’ that lingers between the suffering and death of Jesus on Friday and the vigil Saturday night proclaiming the return of the Easter fire.

To believe in the message of Easter is a matter of having the conviction that it is worthwhile to seek to bring light in darkness, to oppose lies with truth, to work for justice in the face of human corruption, and to say that death does not have the last word.

St Paul reminds us again: Before baptism we were slaves to sin. However, ’Those who have been baptized into Christ will celebrate his conquest of death, and you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive for God in Christ Jesus’. As we renew our baptismal vows, we remember that Baptism confers a ‘character’ that is a kind of seal, confirming our Christian calling and gives us a share in Christ's priesthood and makes us capable of receiving the other sacraments.

When we profess our faith in the resurrection of Jesus we are not setting out something with the intention that our understandings should grasp it and comprehend it.  Jesus has been transformed to a new kind of existence by the Father.  This is beyond our understanding and we can only express it in symbols such as that of the empty tomb and the other symbols in today’s readings.

The Psalmist proclaims: This is the day made memorable by the Lord, What an immense joy for us……. You have been my saviour.  Give thanks to the Lord: His love is everlasting!

May the glory and the promise of this joyous time of year bring peace and happiness to you and those you hold most dear, and may Christ, Our Risen Saviour, always be there by your side to bless you most abundantly and be your loving guide.

Happy Easter!