15 Apr – Easter Vigil St Patrick’s Cathedral Armagh
BROADCAST BY RTE
MOST REV. SEÁN BRADY
ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH
15 APRIL 2006
One year ago – during these days – the attention of the world was fixed on St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. We were waiting for news; the news that came in these words, “We have a Pope”.
Tonight the world looks towards another basilica and another city – the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Built on the site of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus, it is, for Christians, the most sacred place on earth. For, from that sacred place, on that first Easter morning, there came news of the greatest joy the world has ever known; “You are looking for Jesus. He is not here. He is risen. Come and see the place, then go and tell His disciples.” Jesus, Light of the World, has scattered the darkness of our hearts and minds. Death has been defeated, life and love have triumphed.
I once had the privilege of celebrating Mass at the Holy Sepulchre. It was the experience of a lifetime. Like the women of Easter, we were out very early in the morning. We had to be, because today the Holy Sepulchre belongs to three different communities – the Catholics, the Orthodox and the Armenians. They all celebrate there at different times. If you miss your slot, you miss the boat.
The high point of our pilgrimage was, without doubt, the Mass celebrated at the Holy Sepulchre within yards of the Hill of Calvary. The music and the singing, led by the Franciscan Friars, were majestic. There we knew we were at the wellspring of our faith. The words of St. Paul came flooding into my mind like a mantra. ‘If Christ be not risen, then our faith is in vain’. But Christ has risen and the empty tomb was a prominent element of the resurrection story.
The Italian painter, Caravaggio, has painted a marvellous picture of Jesus being buried in the tomb. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus are holding the body, lovingly and reverently. Mary, the mother of Jesus, gazes intently on her Son, her right hand stretched out towards him, as if in a last fond farewell. She is determined to accompany him, with a mother’s love, to the end. John, the beloved disciple, raises his eyes and hands to Heaven as if to ask: ‘Heavenly Father what exactly is going on? What is the meaning of all this?’ Well, it wasn’t the last farewell and the meaning of it all was soon to begin to appear.
For three days later, on Sunday morning, Jesus rose from the dead, despite the fierce efforts of his enemies to prevent him from rising. They had asked Pilot to place a guard at the tomb because they were afraid that his disciples would come and steal his body and then proceed to say that he was risen. Well, their precautions were all in vain. Jesus rose, not withstanding their every effort. No one saw him rise but there were extraordinary signs, a sudden earthquake and the angel rolling back the stone.
The tomb was not deserted for long. The women, who had not succeeded on Friday evening in embalming the body, were out very early on Sunday morning. They had work to do. They found the tomb empty and an angel sitting on the rock. Their faith was rewarded because they got the honour of announcing the news to the disciples ‘Come, see the place where he was laid, go and tell’
I suppose the amazing thing is that each one of us is called to do exactly as the women did. For the Resurrection is at once an invitation and a challenge that faces every follower of Christ of every nation in every age. We are to carry out, with real joy, the work of, first of all, coming to see that Jesus is truly risen, then of going and telling that news to all who will listen. We do so by the kind of New Life that we lead.
Like the women, we too have got our orders – ‘Come and see, go and tell’. We got those orders on the day of our baptism. Baptism unites us to the death of Christ. It gives us a share in the victory won by Christ.
I am so happy we have a baby boy for baptism later in this ceremony. I congratulate his parents, Bernard and Orla Conlon, on the birth of their son, Daniel Matthew. Later on in life, with their help, please God, he too will be a great witness to the fact that Christ is Risen. As St Francis of Assisi once told his friars, “Tell the news with every means possible. Use words if necessary”.
And this is exactly what the Church has been about, down through the centuries. St Patrick rose to that challenge magnificently. Exiled in Ireland on the slopes of Slemish, he discovered the Risen Christ as a real friend, alive and present in his life, especially in the midst of his troubles.
Every time I go to Dublin, I pass near to the Hill of Slane. I often think of Patrick bravely lighting the Paschal fire there to proclaim his faith in the Risen Christ. He had to do so in defiance of the edict of the High King Laoghaire, who always lit the first fire in honour of the Spring. By lighting the Paschal fire there Patrick ran the risk of being put to death, but his courage and his faith won him his admirers. On the walls and windows of this Cathedral you can see many scenes of Patrick teaching and baptising. In fresco and stain glass you can see Patrick baptising Eithne and Fidelma, the Princess daughters of the same King Laoghaire. Obviously Patrick’s earlier brush with the authority of their father did not prevent them from listening to his message and believing in the Risen Saviour whom he preached.
For centuries missionaries have left our land and gone to the ends of the earth to tell the news that Jesus is risen and we are the witnesses. The Resurrection is the fundamental argument and foundation of our faith. It is the light that shines out on the holy mountain, for all nations, until the end of the world.
So with his resurrection, Jesus has given, to every believer, the power to rise with Him. So Easter is not just a commemoration of the resurrection of Christ. The Risen Christ provides the hope and the reason for our own resurrection with Him. A happy and blessed resurrection for those who believe, and an inglorious and shameful resurrection for those who refuse to believe.
What will our own resurrection be like? That depends on the choices we make, the values we hold and the life we live. To gain a blessed resurrection, a happy resurrection, we must die, day by day, to ourselves and be buried with Christ. We must die to selfishness and pride, to over-attachment to the goods of this earth. We must seek, with greater devotion, the things that are above. What things? you may ask.
Prayer; Truth; Justice; union with God; loving service of our Brothers and Sisters and, above all, we must treat all as we would like them to treat us. A Happy Easter to you all.
As we bow our heads and pray for God’s blessing on this Easter morning. I pray a special blessing – the blessing of Real Easter Joy – on all of you and on all those whom you love. The entire Parish of Armagh – Tullysaran and Knockaconey – have excelled themselves these days.
This Holy Week – the days of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ – were made very special by the presence here of the RTE personnel and by their work of broadcasting the ceremonies.
I thank Father Dermod McCarthy, and the Director General of RTE and all involved in the decision to broadcast from Armagh this year. I thank the wonderful staff, who are doing such a splendid job of transmitting these broadcasts with such dedication and professionalism. Long may this excellent example of public service broadcasting continue.
May the Risen Christ bless and reward you all.
Will this Easter bring new life to many? I hope so. I hope that I have learned the lesson that it is because Jesus is mocked and wears the cross of suffering that he is seen as a true king. Jesus, the True King, does not reign by throwing his weight around, or by bullying, but through a love that suffers for us and with us. He – now risen and alive – continues to take up the cross – our cross – and helps us carry it, especially in our darkest and most difficult moments.
Pilate let his fear of what others might think of him and suppressed the voice of conscience and, as a result, he ended up doing what he did, not really wanting to. I wonder how many are there who would do the same? I wonder how many are there – boys and girls – who would like to show their faith in Jesus and their love and appreciation of what he suffered – by going to Church regularly – and yet are afraid of what others might think of them if they did so? They need our encouragement.
AT SIGN OF PEACE
Here in St. Patrick’s Cathedral we are about to offer each other the sign of peace. But, before doing so, I want to say to those of you who may be participating in our ceremonies, if you are alone that you are very much included in our gesture of peace tonight.
I offer you the Peace of Christ.