22 Apr – Mass of Easter Vigil
MASS OF EASTER VIGIL, 2000
HOMILY BY CARDINAL SEÁN BRADY
ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH
The belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the cornerstone of the Christian faith. To be a Christian is to believe that God raised His Son from the dead. The faith of all Christians stands or falls with the Resurrection. That belief is a solid cornerstone, rock-solid in fact, for it is based on the evidence of witnesses, trustworthy witnesses, witnesses who saw Jesus after his resurrection and were prepared to shed their blood and give their lives rather than deny what they had seen.
Even though Jesus had foretold his suffering and death, the faith of his followers was drastically put to the test. In fact the shock caused by the events of Good Friday were so great that at least some of his friends did not at once believe the women when they told the news that he was risen. The Gospels present us with a community, completely demoralised and frightened. “Idle talk” was how they described the reports brought back by the women from the empty tomb. In fact when Jesus revealed himself to them later on, on that Easter evening, he raised the matter with them. He upbraided them for their lack of faith and hardness of heart. Even when faced with the reality of Jesus appearing to them, his disciples were still doubtful they thought they were seeing a ghost.
It is impossible to believe therefore that the Resurrection is to be explained by the attitudes and expectations of the Apostles. That theory simply does not hold up. On the contrary, their faith was born on the actions of God’s help. It came from the direct experience of the reality of the Risen Christ. That faith opened the eyes of the Apostles to a new way of understanding life. They saw that the Risen Lord was alive. Gradually they saw that the Risen Christ was nowhere to be seen and touched as he is everywhere unseen. They realised that he is present in the community of risen Christians, the community of those who believe in him. He is present there, through the power of his Holy Spirit.
Of course the Risen Christ did not appear to all and sundry. He appeared only to specially chosen witnesses. Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener. But all he had to say to reveal himself was, “Mary”. Jesus took a walk with two very disheartened and disappointed disciples. After quite a lot of conversation and explanation they recognised him. Their spirits were lifted immensely. He had an early morning breakfast with Peter and friends on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. He ate fish and honey with others and said, “Peace be with you”.
The mood of Easter is one of joy, peaceful joy founded on the conviction that his death is our ransom from death and his resurrection our rising to life. But just as on Good Friday it may be difficult to create a mood of grief if all around us is fine and prosperous, so on Easter Sunday it can be even more difficult to experience the joy of Easter in the face of surrounding cares and worries.
Easter, joy is a deep and lasting joy. It is not to be confused with passing pleasure or temporary thrills, where difficulties are simply pushed out of sight in an attempt to look at the brighter side of life. The joy of Easter is not something superficial, something which rolls easily off our lips and indeed which we deeply desire without knowing exactly how to achieve it. There is always the risk that our Easter joy will be built on loss of memory, like forgetting the Passion and death on the Cross, and forgetting the nails and the scourging. In reality those things are still with us, in the suffering of so many people today.
St. Paul tells the risen Christians that they must seek the things that are above. Since Christ is now their life, they are to set their minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. That will mean a totally new way of life. But we could also suggest to the risen Christians that they must also seek the things that are below. Not what is earthly and sinful of course, but to be raised with Christ means, in a strange way, that the Risen Christian still lives on Calvary. He/she continues to walk his/her own way of the cross and stands beneath countless crosses to which other Christs are fixed with their own nails.
The new life brought by Christ is not simply a cancelling out of his death on the cross, it is instead the discovery of the secret of how Jesus lived his life. He lived that life in total dedication to his Father’s will and the loving service of his brothers and sisters. That discovery is the basis of Christian joy. For me it is beautifully summed up in one of the Easter hymns which says:
Jesus Christ is that morning star
who came back from the dead
to shed His peaceful light on all humankind.
He lives and reigns in glory forever.