EASTER VIGIL 2019
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin
St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin, Saturday, 20 April 2019
“On Good Friday afternoon, the liturgy left us with a sense of darkness. Jesus, the just man, had allowed himself to fall into the hands of the powers of darkness. It seemed the end. The goodness and the loving kindness of our God, which was revealed in the life and ministry of Jesus, appears to have been vanquished, overwhelmed by the power of evil.
In our liturgy this evening, from within the darkness something new emerges. It is not the explosion of revolution. What appears is just a small light. The Light of Christ appears as a small light, but this small light unties and spreads and opens up to something extraordinary.
This small light spreads and we welcome a new light that changes not just our personal attitudes but changes the world in which we live. The great liturgical hymn that we have heard, the Exultet, reminds us that from this small light a new sanctifying power emerges which “dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord and brings down the mighty”. The small light is the sign of a new path for humanity that comes with the Resurrection of Jesus.
To understand the significance of this Easter night, the liturgy called on us to reflect on God’s dealings with humankind across the history of salvation. It reminds us that everything that God created is good and contains within it a harmony between all things. It reminds us that that the history of humankind is however marked by two things: the sinfulness and infidelity of humankind and the extraordinary faithfulness of our God.
We watch then as the significance of this new light unfolds and begins to be understood by the followers of Jesus Christ. Out from the horrendous scene of inhumanity that was the crucifixion of Jesus, humanity is redeemed. Jesus abandoned becomes for us the source of life.
Even the close followers of Jesus struggle to understand what is happening. Jesus had spoken on many occasions about his upcoming death. Peter was so upset that he refused to understand. At the Last Supper, some of his disciples were more concerned about the place of honour and privilege that they should have in the kingdom than about what the kingdom really meant. Jesus’ kingdom changes the very definition of honour and privilege.
For his followers, the promise that Jesus had opened out seems to have vanished. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were disciples who believed but who did not want others to know, get the courage at least to deal with the authorities to ensure that the dead Jesus is assigned a decent burial spot.
Now those women who had accompanied Jesus on his journey want to show their respect for the Jesus who had shown them what self-giving love means. At the first sign of dawn after the Sabbath, they set out to the tomb. They bring with them spices they have prepared. You do not bring spices to adorn an empty tomb. You bring spices to show respect for a dead body. They also had not understood what Jesus had told them.
Resurrection surprises. Resurrection still today brings surprise. Resurrection is the ultimate unexpected that challenges in depth our gloom and doubt.
Even encountering an empty tomb the women fail at first to grasp what has happened. They have to be reminded by the two men in brilliant clothes of the words that Jesus had used saying that that he would rise again on the third day.
This night in Churches right across the world, congregations of believers cry out The Lord is truly Risen. Again, to quite the Exultet “this is the night that even now, throughout the world, sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, leading them to grace”.
The Lord is truly Risen. We do not say that on one night the Lord truly rose. Jesus was not risen among us just for the forty days before he returned to his Father. The Risen Lord is still among us and in all the tribulations of our world, he brings us and the world new hope.
Our Easter faith tells us that the Lord is risen and dwells among us through the power of the Spirit, the Spirit of the risen Lord.
You know that the Creeds of the Church that express the Christian belief are divided into sections of our belief in God the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ and God the Holy Spirit. In all of the Creeds, the reference to the Church is not, as we might expect, inserted into the section on Jesus Christ, but into the action of the Spirit. The Church is the community of believers in which the Risen Jesus is truly present among us through the power of the Spirit.
Resurrection surprises. Resurrection allows us to hope in the face of all adversity. Hope is not some sort of empty flight from reality. If anything, without hope, reality loses its sense. It is hope alone that enables us to understand reality and the complexity of relations between good and evil that exist in our world.
Christian hope is belief that in the long term the good will triumph, because good is something that we do not create on our own terms; it is based on truth that is guaranteed by the spirit of God who is present with us to guide us.
Resurrection surprises. When we look at that terrifying expression of hatred and violence that led in these days to the death of an innocent and idealistic women, Lyra McKee, we see that out of an act of evil, something deeper can emerge. We have witnessed unanimous rejection of evil as the basis for a future. We have witnessed a coming together of people of very different political perspectives in favour of working for the good.
However, coming together in words and not in actions is not hope.
We Christians have to live as those who defend and witness to what life means. We are called to be heralds of peace and understanding; we are called to be heralds of life for those whose lives are weakest and unprotected: the unborn, the elderly, those who our modern society consider less worthy of life than others.
We are called to be witness to the hope that is in us and to be ministers of hope in a world where many languish in anxiety and distress. Being called to be witnesses of hope for those who are marginalized means being called to provide what is needed to allow those who suffer to become free.
The Lord is truly risen and we are called to be witnesses to that reality. At times that may seem too challenging. At times, our failures may lead us to discouragement. Hope is not magic. Hope begins by focussing that first small sign of light onto the darkness of our world to remind us that the darkness will not prevail.
As a Christian people, we are called to be a people of hope. Again the Exultet, recalls that “this is the night when Christ broke the prison-bars of death”. The Christian people, as a people of hope, we are called to be children of the Resurrection and of light and liberty, to banish the power of darkness, and to bring consolation and support to all who are trapped in darkness.
The Lord is truly risen. Alleluia.”