Easter Vigil, March 26, 2016

Homily by Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien
Easter Vigil 2016
St. Mary’s Cathedral
March 26, 2016

Our liturgy is so rich this evening that it is hard to know where to begin, but perhaps the gospel we have just heard is the right place. We see that three women, very early on the first day of the week, go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. These women had accompanied Jesus for some time; they were very attached to him and had remained loyal to him through his unjust condemnation, his sorrowful way of the cross, his humiliation and death, and the triumph of his adversaries. In all of this, they had remained faithful. And so they now go to the tomb to pay their last respects. They had been wondering how they would get the stone rolled back at the entrance to the tomb, but, when they get there it has been rolled back; instead of finding the body of Jesus, they encounter two men in dazzling clothes. They tell the women that Jesus, who was crucified, is not here; He has been raised. The women do not know how to react — nor do the apostles when they convey this news to them.

For the women, death was something normal. They could handle the traditions to be carried out, such as anointing the body of the deceased, but this was something entirely different and very difficult to fathom. If Jesus was not in the tomb, and if what the two men said was true, then God had intervened in an inexplicable way. They had been focussed on Jesus of Nazareth, the Jesus whom they thought they knew well. Now they do not know what to make of things. A whole new world is opening up before them, and they do not know how to handle it. Instead of finding a peaceful resting place, they find a place of terror and upheaval. Only gradually would Jesus’s friends and disciples begin to see the meaning of the resurrection — how God raised Jesus from the dead so that death in its many forms would not have the last word.

Today, many centuries later, as we reflect on what the scriptures have passed down to us, we proclaim the Church’s conviction that, “By his death, Christ has liberated us from sin; and, by his resurrection, he opens for us a new way of life that reinstates us in God’s grace, giving us a share in the life of the only Son and making possible our own resurrection.” (CCC 654)

In the Liturgy of the Easter Vigil, we give expression to this belief through gestures and words. The new fire struck from flint, and the Paschal Candle, the symbol of the Risen Christ, express the conviction that Christ is our light in the darkness of this world. And when we lit our tapers from that one source of light and the flame spread throughout our gathered community, we were reminded that we are “children of the light” called to bring the love and enlightenment of the Risen Christ to those around us.

The readings which we heard from the Old Testament show how the Resurrection of Jesus and our gift of new life are the culmination of many acts of God’s goodness toward us: God created us, made a covenant with Moses, and now this plan is fulfilled as we are recreated in the image of His son and made sharers in the divine life.

As we heard in the Letter to the Romans, entry into this new life in Christ is through baptism, where we follow the pattern of Christ’s death and resurrection as we “die to sin and rise to new life”. In a few moments, one among us, Marisela, will receive the sacrament of baptism, and we will have the opportunity to reflect on what it means to say “I am baptized”. Then our catechumen, Marisela, along with others, will be confirmed in the Spirit, strengthened to live that new life won for us by the death and resurrection of Christ.

To sum up what I wanted to convey tonight, Easter is not only concerned with recalling the resurrection of Jesus or its impact on the lives of the first disciples. It is also about the meaning of this event for our own lives. As Jesus’s disciples changed, so, too, we should be changing, seeing more clearly. The sign that we are sharing in the risen life of Jesus is when our lives and actions undergo constant development.

Each year, at Easter, after we have prepared for this feast through the observance of Lent, we are invited to renew our Baptismal Promises, which commit us to die to sin and to live for God in Jesus Christ. Hopefully, each year we come to see more clearly that this involves committing ourselves to struggle against our own selfishness and to respond to the needs of those who suffer from poverty and injustice.

During this Holy Year of Mercy, we are invited to carry this out in a special way by practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, as a sign of our commitment to carry forward the work of building up the Kingdom of justice, peace, truth, and love. It is only with faith in the Risen Lord’s presence among us, and with the guidance and help of His Spirit, that we will be sustained in this work of carrying on the Saviour’s mission.

On behalf of all who serve you here at the Cathedral: Father Shawn Hughes, the rector, Father Stephane Pouliot, associate, Deacon Blaine Barclay, and in my own name, I wish all of you a Joyous and Blessed Easter.