Easter Vigil

Homily by Archbishop Brendan M. O’Brien

Easter Vigil 2018

St. Mary’s Cathedral


Tonight, we have spent some time listening to God’s Word, which spoke 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 great event that we celebrate tonight – the rising of Jesus from the dead.  When we are confronted with such a great mystery, we go beyond words to express what we believe and turn to symbols. The two images that dominate tonight’s liturgy are fire and water.


In the lighting of the Easter candle, we have a powerful reminder that the life of Jesus, which people thought had been snuffed out, lives in a new and glorious way.  And when we lit our tapers from that Easter candle, we saw how the darkness of the church was transformed by the light and warmth which was passed on from that Paschal Candle, the symbol of the Risen Christ.  However, as we read the various gospel accounts of the first Easter morning, we see that, despite the fact that Jesus had told his disciples that he would die and rise again, they were not a very hopeful lot. And that was quite understandable, because, for the Jews of Jesus’s day, what happened was not really 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 of the dead, a sad kind of toned down version of life; and still others spoke of a resurrection of the Just – but at the end of time.  What also made it difficult is that no one observed the resurrection; all that existed were signs: the empty tomb, the linen cloths.  Many other reasons could be given for the absence of Jesus’s body.


So we see in our gospel account from St. Mark that the two Marys come in grief to the last resting place of the one they loved, and are astonished to hear the news that He is risen, which they are to communicate to his disciples.  It is only with considerable effort that Jesus’s followers come to see the truth.  Jesus’s life has not ended in failure and defeat.  God the Father has not abandoned him, but has brought him through death to new life, and not just a restored human life like Jesus had given back to Lazarus, but, rather, a new glorified existence which embraces his humanity.   But there is even more – because the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, had taken on human flesh through the incarnation, we, whose humanity he shares, have the possibility of entering into that glorified and eternal life which Jesus, as Risen Lord, has with the Father and the Spirit.


We will see in the gospel readings of the Easter season that it took the appearances of the Risen Lord to his disciples and the gift of the Spirit which Jesus breathed on them to bring them to the realization of this great mystery of Jesus’s risen life.  This perception would move them from being fearful, timid followers to being bold and zealous witnesses of the Good News.