Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin
Easter Vigil, St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, 7th April 2012
The resurrection of Jesus which we celebrate on this holy night brings to humankind and all creation an explosion of freedom, of light and of life.
The readings we heard from the Old Testament take us though the history of God’s dealings with humankind. They began with the story of creation, then the choice of God’s people and then their liberation: all of these readings point to the mystery we celebrate on this night, the mystery of the Resurrection. The liturgy is telling us that all of creation and history point to this event of the Resurrection.
The events of the history of God’s people are presented to us in the readings not just as historical narratives, but as events which are also prophecy and interpretation. Right throughout history, God has been close to his people and faithful to his people, even in the face of infidelity. God always remains faithful and throughout the ups and downs of the history of God’s people and indeed through the ups and downs of all of history, God is with his people to lead them by the hand to liberation.
In the resurrection, that liberation reaches a new climax; all creation can rejoice since sin and death, which entrap and imprison us in the most ultimate sense, are overcome in a definitive way through the self-giving sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We rejoice on this night because we can rise to new life.
We receive this new life of the Resurrection in Baptism and I am pleased that this evening two adults who have taken part in the RCIA programme at the Pro-Cathedral will receive baptism and confirmation during this ceremony which commemorates and makes present the grace of the Paschal Mystery. We congratulate them and wish them God’s blessing on their life’s path in the future.
Baptism is not simply a ceremony of welcome and enrolment into the Church; it is not just a rite of washing or purification. Baptism is truly death and resurrection; it is rebirth and transformation to a new life. In baptism the new life of Jesus enters into our lives and transforms us into witnesses of God’s love, that love which originally created all life and which through the resurrection opens a new path for us to follow and a new future of hope.
Through baptism our life takes on a new dimension. Already, within the realities of our day-to-day life, we can live that new life; indeed, as Christians, we receive a non-renounceable call to live our lives in the light of that new life. Day by day we are called to allow the new life of Baptism to become a sort of driving force for the way we live our life into the future. The baptised are children of the light, called to renounce the darkness of sin and its effects wherever such darkness is encountered.
Faith and life, faith and history are intertwined. Our relationship with God is not simply a matter of compartmentalised “religion”, which is somehow separated from the rest of life. The creation narratives are about life, not just about one aspect of life. While it is the true that secular realities maintain their own legitimate autonomy, and that faith respects the autonomy of science and of politics, faith and life are not two totally distinct realities.
There is no way in which the believer cannot wish to bring the new life of the resurrection into all his or her dealings with the fruits of creation. When I speak of the fruits of creation I mean not just the natural world but all God’s gifts, especially human talent and ingenuity, the innovation and creativity of ideas. These gifts of God are vital to serve the plan of harmony and freedom which God originally instilled into his creation and which God wishes to experience continuous redemption from the negative effects of sinful humanity.
The message of the resurrection brings us joy, but it is not automatically an easy message to comprehend and to understand. The account of the resurrection in the Gospel of Saint Mark is an unusual one. Those who go to the tomb are three women who previously had been identified by name as the group of women that followed Jesus and ministered to him. They are pictured again at the crucifixion as those who look on attentively and in sorrow from a distance.
These women set out very early on the Easter morning to go to the tomb, having bought ointment to anoint the body of Jesus. They set out in mourning and uncertainty. They set out to encounter and anoint a dead body, despite the fact that Jesus had spoken about rising from the dead. They set out determined, but puzzled and concerned. Their affection for Jesus has already drifted into affection for the dead. The emblematic question: “Who is going to roll back the door of the tomb?” is a sign of the change in their hopes. They begin to look on their future as one where all possibilities are left to human ingenuity alone.
They arrive thus at the tomb. To their surprise they find that the heavy stone which had been carefully sealed and guarded has been rolled back. Already Saint Mark is pointing the way to the presence of something happening which went beyond human capabilities. They enter into the tomb and are greeted by the mysterious young man in white who tells them that Jesus is not there. This figure is quite clear as to who he is speaking about. The words are carefully chosen. “Jesus the Nazarene” is the very name with which at the beginnings of Saint Mark’s Gospel an evil spirit had recognised Jesus’ identity and power. The mysterious young man says “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified”. The resurrection is not a standalone story of triumph over death. There is no cheap resurrection rejoicing. The only path to resurrection is the self-emptying that we read of in the Letter to the Philippians.
The women are told to look around and see the place where Jesus had been laid. “He is risen; he is not here” they are told. They must go to Peter and the other disciples and tell them that Jesus has gone before them to Galilee. It is there that they will meet him.
They must go to Galilee where they had originally been called and in which most of the events of Jesus’ life and teaching took place and indeed where the initial hostility of the religious and political authorities began to take shape. The good news of the resurrection must be taken into the concrete realities of our life of faith, even into the contradictions which mark the quality of our faith. The disciples of Jesus who had abandoned and betrayed him are being told to go back to where Jesus had called them. The risen Christ would once again reform their fellowship. As with God’s people throughout history, his scattered and unfaithful people will once again be called into community.
Curiously in the Gospel of Saint Mark we are told in the verses immediately after today’s reading, that the women do not do as they were told. They do not go to Peter and the disciples. They fled the tomb because they were overcome with terror and amazement and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid.
Simply knowing about the resurrection is not sufficient to allow us to overcome our natural inhibitions and thus to experience that fundamental freedom from fear which should be the mark of the believer. It is only a real encounter with the Risen Christ that breathes the freedom of faith into our heart.
The resurrection frees us. It frees us from being closed in on ourselves, within the framework of our limitations, and opens up for us a new way of finding ourselves in the immensity of the love of God. This new life is different to those ideologies of violence and compromise and untruth which marked the sordid planning which led to Jesus’ condemnation.
Announcing the good news of the resurrection entails therefore a concrete reaffirmation of humankind and creation and a call to re-establish relationships of harmony, truthfulness and integrity among people and between humankind and creation. This is true resurrection spirituality. Our relationship with God is not simply a matter of compartmentalized “religion” which we can somehow separate from the rest of life. Faith can never be privatised. Where believers, whether lay or cleric, betray their calling to foster harmony, truthfulness and integrity in their own lives and in public life, they betray resurrection; they betray and damage their Church, they betray and damage human dignity and community.
The Church in Ireland is called to celebrate resurrection also in its own life, through a process of renewal and purification, but a renewal that will foster new authenticity and new fidelity to the teaching of Jesus. We proclaim that he Lord is truly risen and is with his Church. That is at the root of our confidence and hope. We should have no fear or timidity in bringing the message of Jesus, in its authenticity, into the world of today, on to our streets, into our media, to our younger generations. The Lord is truly risen.