Easter Vigil by Archbishop O’Brien

Homily by Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien

Easter Vigil 2017

Tonight, we have spent some time together listening to God’s Word which speaks to us about how God has created and recreated our human family.  From Genesis through Exodus, and by way of the prophets, we hear of God’s action on our behalf.  All of this prepares us for the event we celebrate tonight, the rising of Jesus from the dead.

When we read the various gospel accounts of that first Easter morning, we see that, despite the fact that Jesus had told them that he would have to suffer and would rise again, his disciples and followers were not a very hopeful lot.  And this is quite understandable because, for the Jews of Jesus’s day, what happened was really not on their radar.  Some of the Jews saw death as the end, returning to dust; among others there was a belief in Sheol, a shadowy underworld, a kind of sad, toned down version of this life; still others spoke of a Resurrection of the Just, but at the end of time.

In our gospel account according to St. Matthew, the two Marys come in their grief to visit the last resting place of the one they loved, and they are told by the angel that Jesus is not there – that He is risen, and they are to let the disciples know.  As they are running away from the tomb to do so, they encounter the Risen Lord.

It will take considerable effort for this news that Jesus’s life has not ended in failure and defeat to sink in.  It will take time for them to understand that the Father has not abandoned Jesus but has brought him through death to a new way of life – and not just a restored human life, like Jesus had given back to Lazarus, but, rather, a new glorified existence.

Only gradually, as Jesus appears to the disciples, do they realize what has happened; do they come to see that Jesus is with them and will be with them through the presence of the Holy Spirit, which he will give them.  And, so, they are moved from being fearful and timid followers to being the kind of people who have something to say and to celebrate – who have good news which they want to share with boldness and zeal.

St. Paul, writing to the Romans in the first century, helps these early Christians and ourselves to see what the resurrection means for us.  He says that, in the waters of baptism, we undergo this passage through death to new life with Christ.

So Easter is not only concerned with recalling what happened to Jesus or the impact it had on his disciples.  Rather, it is about how our lives are changed when, in baptism, we unite ourselves to his dying and rising.  In baptism, we die to sin and are brought alive in the joy and peace of the Spirit bestowed on us by the Risen Lord.

In the Letter to the Romans, Paul speaks about what our baptism means.  It joins us to Christ in his death, which conquered sin, and it raises us up with Christ, so that we might walk in new life.  And, so, he asks the Romans, if this is what has happened in baptism,  how can we, who have died to sin, go on living in it?

Baptism, which unites us to the death and resurrection of Christ, puts us on a new plane and gives us the grace of the Spirit, but there is still the struggle to become who we already are – joined to Christ through baptism.

At Easter each year, we renew our baptismal promises and indicate that this is the direction we want our life to take, ”to die to sin and live in Christ”.

Christ is Risen.  Alleluia!  Thanks be to God.