It is mid-afternoon on Easter Sunday. Over the last three days, we have celebrated Holy Thursday where Jesus celebrated the First Eucharist and calls us to do the same. On Good Friday, we celebrated the Crucifixion but we can only celebrate the Crucifixion in light of the Resurrection. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist, we celebrate Jesus’ sacrificing of his life for us but again, we can only celebrate in light of the Resurrection.
Here is my homily for the Easter Vigil.
Easter Vigil, Year B – April 7, 2012
Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28
Our celebration began in the dark outside with the Blessing of the Easter Fire. Then, we blessed and lit the Paschal Candle and entered into the church. As we move into the church, we are carrying candles which we lit from the Paschal Candle. All this reminds us how Jesus brought light to the world.
We have just heard eight readings. Why do listen to so many readings? These are not just a bunch of isolated stories. They serve a purpose to tell us how God has been present to his people since the beginning of time. It is the story of Salvation History. There was never a time when God did not exist and God is the creator of all and so all belongs to him. A literal interpretation of our first reading from the first creation story in Genesis might be taken as an attempt to explain how God created us. The point is not how. The point is that God is creator of all. God is the one who brings order to all. In that order, God has created us in his image and given us dominion over the world.
Our second reading is familiar to many as the story of God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son. If this is all we hear, then it seems impossible. Why do we listen to this story? Because it tells us of how much Abraham trusted in God. Because Abraham trusted in God, he was richly blessed. Abraham serves as an example of faith and trust in God to us.
Our reading from Exodus tells of a pivotal moment in Salvation History. God was leading his people out of Egypt. The Egyptians were chasing them down. It seemed like they would not be freed after all but then God saved them in a way that only God could, by parting the Red Sea. Note that the pivotal event involved crossing through the waters to a new life.
Our readings from Isaiah come from the time around the end of the Babylonian Exile. When they were defeated and many were taken into exile, they felt God had abandoned them. But then, in his mercy (the mercy we count on) he takes them back.
This is an important part of Salvation History – the Israelites sin and God forgives. What is the price of God’s forgiveness? Well, God invites them to “come, without paying, and without cost.”
God’s forgiveness is a gift. There is nothing we can do to earn it. It is God’s to give but to open ourselves to that gift, we must acknowledge our sins and seek to do better. We must also believe in Jesus and that he died and rose for us. In our humanness, it can be difficult to understand how Jesus’ death on a Cross can be for the forgiveness of our sins. But we don’t have to understand. We just have to believe. We just need to believe in what God has written in our hearts in the new covenant, the covenant formed in baptism through Jesus.
Remember before when I pointed out how the Israelites entered into new life by crossing the waters of the Red Sea? It is through the waters of baptism that we enter into new life in Christ. In a few minutes we will celebrate the baptism of Olivia and Stephen. We will receive Heather into the Catholic Church, and Anthony and Steven will complete their sacraments. Tonight is a major event in their lives.
What they do tonight, we have already done in some way. After Olivia and Stephen are baptized, we will all renew our baptismal promises. We do this acknowledging that we are not perfect, that we are all in need of constant renewal and forgiveness. Our celebrations of the last couple of days remind us of that. Thursday night we celebrated the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the gift of the Eucharist where we are constantly renewed in God’s grace. Yesterday, we celebrated the Passion of Jesus, believing that our sins are indeed forgiven through Jesus death on a Cross. Jesus’ Crucifixion can only be understood by what we just heard in the gospel. After Jesus’ death, his body was laid in the tomb. But the women have just found the tomb empty.
When we hear that the tomb is empty, we rejoice because we know that Jesus is risen. But we must realize it wasn’t so clear for the women. In fact, if you read the line that follows this gospel passage, we are told that the women were afraid. They didn’t know why the tomb was empty. They did not yet understand.
Ultimately, the Risen Jesus appears to them so that they might believe in the Resurrection and eternal life. This changes our whole view of the world. Things of this world don’t seem so important when we believe in the gift of eternal life. We can’t always understand what eternal life is but we can believe. In our belief, we have hope and that hope changes everything.
With this in mind, we have some sacraments to celebrate so let us continue by first calling up Olivia and Stephen with their godparents so that we help them cross the waters.