[Homily: Easter Vigil, April 15, 2014]
This night Light vanquishes darkness. The flames of new Fire dance against cold and gloom. The Paschal Candle bearing the wounds of the Crucified Lord heralds Christ alive, the Light, yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and the Omega. This Light dispels the darkness – the darkness in our Church, the darkness of our world, the darkness in our souls, the darkness of sin. In what is perhaps the most beautiful song in Catholic liturgy, all are now called to exult and rejoice. Why? Because “Jesus Christ, our King, is risen.”
They thought he was dead. They thought they had killed not only him but with him everything he had taught. They thought that all he had said of the Kingdom of God, of his having come to bring life and life to the full, of our need to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves, and of his being one with the least of our brothers and sisters, was dead.
The Father had introduced him as his Son. He had lived among the people, taught them, healed them. He had been recognized as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Mt. 6:16). When his divinity shone through in his Transfiguration, his Father commanded, “Hear him” (Lk. 9:35). Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). To return to God, to overcome the division between God and man, heaven and hell, God’s will and man’s will, the division that had begun with the sinful disobedience of Adam, one must put faith in him. He stood up against the forces of darkness: he rebuked evil spirits and cast out demons; he healed the sick, raised the dead; he battled hypocrisy, he attacked those who manipulated God for their own purposes, who instead of facilitating access to his Father complicated it. He called them “whitened sepulchers, beautiful on the outside but inside full of dead men’s bones” (Mt. 23:27). He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). He said, “I am” (John 8:31). He shocked them, scandalized them, angered them. So they conspired to kill him. They demanded the Roman authorities crucify him. Pilate accommodated.
Jesus suffered immensely. He died.
But this night, we are called to exult: With St. Peter we know: “This Jesus God raised up again… Having been exalted to the right hand of God…”(Acts 2: 33). “God has made him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2: 36). “He is the one whom God exalted to his right hand as a Prince and Savior, and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). St. Paul says, “Christ became obedient for us unto death, even to death on the cross. For which cause, God has exalted him and has given him a name above all names” (Phil. 2:8-9-10)
With the Messiah resurrected for all times, the Exultet intones: “This is the night when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement, are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.
“This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.”
At this point, the Exultet goes berserk in its praise and exultation:
“Father, how wonderful your care for us! How boundless your merciful love! To ransom a slave, you gave away your Son”. Such divine extravagance poured out on us!
Then the Church sings the unsingable, speaks the unspeakable:
“O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!”
Do you hear that? Sin – which caused the rift between heaven and earth, between God and Man, and which we are supposed to avoid at all costs – is spoken of as necessary. Fault is spoken of as happy. For it was because of man’s sin and fault that the Father showed us his compassion, sent us his only begotten Son, who in dying dealt death its death blow, so that together we might all live not unto death, but unto life.
I suppose in celebrating Easter it’s important to hear that: we do not live unto death, even though we all know that death is inevitable, we live unto life.
“I have come to bring life,” Jesus said, “life to the full” (John 10:10). As Christians, we live unto life – whose fullness comes through the Resurrection. Through Baptism, what was Jesus’ is ours:
“Do you not know,” St. Paul asks, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Rom 3-4).
That newness of life is Resurrection. It is the prospect of life after death. But it is also life before death in Resurrection light, so that even here on earth – in this vale of tears – we might live lives impacted by the Resurrection, transformed by it, energized by it.
This Easter, I invite you to reflect on how true this may or may not be in your lives.
It is important to live the moment, to seize the exhilaration of the present. But it is important not to live just in the moment, but to appreciate the moment enriched by the past and challenged by a future. For the Christian, that past is in memory of Jesus and that future is not just unto death, but unto Resurrection. That makes a difference in the value of a sum of money, a marital relationship, a friendship, a lustful attraction, a use of power, or even of a life. It makes a difference in how I treat my child, or in how I treat my workers. A life can be very dark. Or it can be enlightened by the Resurrection.
It is in Resurrection light that one recognizes that the highest good that one can attain is after death in an eternal embrace with the Father. But it is in that recognition that my behavior on this earth must be determined. It cannot be as if there were no Resurrection; it cannot be behavior that denies eternal life and refuses responsibility in this life. The goodness that I have received from the Crucified and now Resurrected Lord must be shared with others in the hope that all without exception may flourish together and that all may cooperate toward this common good in Resurrection light.
It is in Resurrection light that one can feel hope, no matter how discouraging the poverty, how insensitive the selfishness, how callous the corruption, how violent the hatred. We are hurt by the 49 lives of Christians killed in a Coptic church in Egypt, we are mortified by the human beings, men, women, and children, killed by sarin gas in Syria, we are dismayed by weapons of mass destruction fired against “the enemy” and the threat of yet more lethal weapons to be unleashed by martial masters against “the aggressor.” These enemies or aggressors, whether in North Korea or in Afghanistan, whether in Stockholm or in Moscow, whether in the Mediterranean or the West Philippine Sea are all human beings of delicate flesh that hurts and of blood that flows, of sensitive feeling and of deep love. We are horrified by the costs of interminable killing, the increasing liability of unending sin. We are tempted to think this is the way it necessarily is. But as children of the Resurrection, our perspective is different. Sin has always been there, and some would say necessary. But it is in this situation that leads so many to despair, that the Christian encounters the Resurrected Lord inviting – commanding – newness of life, change, love, for which Christians must take responsibility, leading towards the fullness of Resurrected Life.
In the light, life, and hope of the Resurrection, I wish you all the abiding joy of Easter!