22 Mar – Easter Vigil – St. Patrick’s Cathedral
ST. PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH
HOMILY GIVEN BY ARCHBISHOP SEÁN BRADY
SATURDAY 22 MARCH 2008
On Monday – 14 January last – it was a joy to celebrate Mass for all of you in a very special place. On that day it was my great privilege to celebrate Mass at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. I felt it was something awesome to be there changing bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ at the exact spot where that same body was laid to rest after his death on the cross.
To actually get into the Tomb of the Holy Sepulchre you have to stoop and bend down low. It was 6.30 am on a cold January morning. As we hurried along those same streets, I thought of Mary Magdalene and the other women and of Peter and John, hurrying to that same spot on that first Easter Sunday.
I thought of those women rising very early and hurrying down those same streets – after the Sabbath – at the dawn of the first day of the week. It was still dark but it was not just the dawn of a new day! It was, in fact the dawn of a whole new era really. It was, I am sure, a dawn of sadness for these women, after a night of great darkness and sorrow. They had been present, on Calvary, and had watched Jesus die a most painful death. It was a death reserved for slaves only. It was a most shameful death for it was the death of a criminal. Afterwards they had partially prepared his body – but only partially – for the onset of the Sabbath had interrupted their work and the law would certainly not tolerate them breaking the Sabbath – even to carry out the work of preparing the dead for burial.
On the Friday evening – when we arrived, we ourselves experienced that same reaction when the minibus in which we were travelling was thumped angrily by someone who disapproved of our travelling on the Sabbath.
These devout women wanted to properly honour and mourn the one they loved so dearly. So they were up early, at the crack of dawn, once the Sabbath was over to complete the anointing for burial.
There was one problem to which they had no solution. How would they roll back the huge stone which had been placed at the entrance to the tomb? Today, there is no stone at the entrance but there are usually a couple of hefty clerics are in attendance whose job it is to ensure an orderly access to this tomb. They are there to ensure that nobody stays too long in prayer lest others be deprived of the opportunity to visit and to venerate this holy place.
So those women were not really expecting to find any great joy. They were going to do what had to be done and then get on with their lives as best they could. Yet, what they discovered was totally different. Not only was the stone rolled back – the tomb was empty. Jesus had risen, as he had said he would. Not only the darkness of night but the darkness of the world had disappeared – for death had been defeated.
There was no human witness who could tell them what happened. For that they must rely on heavenly witnesses to explain what had taken place. This illustrates the fact that when we come face to face with the resurrection – we literally are in a different world.
In a sense, at this Easter Vigil, we enter into that other world. The magnificent Exulted hails this truly blessed night – the only night that deserves to know the time and hour when Christ rose from the realms of the dead. Truly blessed are you who appreciate the meaning of this night.
We are in the world of saluting Christ – that morning star which never sets. The star who came back from the dead and shed his peaceful light on all mankind. I simply love that phrase – the morning star which never sets.
Did any of you notice the full moon last night and tonight? It is, of course, the first full moon after the March Equinox – the one which determines the date of Easter.
We live in a world that loves its stars – stars of varying degrees of brilliance and permanence and excellence, it has to be said. But here in this other world, we meet Christ the star which never sets – the star whose light burns brightly in the hearts of all who love – the star who came back from the dead.
We all love someone who makes a come-back – especially against all the odds. But what about someone who came back from the dead and shed his peaceful light on all mankind.
There are many places where the peaceful light of the Risen Christ will be especially needed and welcomed this Easter. I think it is very important that we keep them all in our prayers.
Recently I had a visit from a Lithuanian priest who spent twenty two years in Soviet prisons. He had come to say thanks for the prayers of the Irish for Lithuania and its people in their hour of need.
And so tonight, I want you to remember, in a special way, the Holy Land where there is, at present, terrible tension and terrible trouble. I was there in January and I hope to go again, in the near future, with the other Church Leaders from Ireland, to show our support and accompany, with our prayers, the people who suffer there.
I want to you to pray also, for Iraq. Recently the Archbishop of Mosul was found dead after being abducted. Last year one of his priests – Father Ragheed Ghanni, a past student of the Irish College in Rome, along with three sub-deacons, was taken out and shot. Iraq and its people need our prayers in a special way just now.
Finally, there are many Irish missionaries in Kenya. I think of them and their worries and troubles and I pray that the Risen Christ will shed His light and His love, in a special way, on this troubled land and its people this Easter.
But, above all, I pray that the Risen Christ will shed his peaceful light on another category of people this Easter. I pray that the peaceful light of the Risen Christ will come into the hearts of those people so filled with anger, hatred and envy that they do not hesitate to shed the blood of those with whom they come into conflict.
The message of Easter is ever ancient, ever new. By His dying, the Risen Christ has destroyed our death. By His rising, He restored our life. Yes of course, we shall all have to face death but we do so now with new courage and new confidence. We face death with new hope – the hope that after death, the righteous will live forever with the Risen Christ. The hope that Christ will raise us up on the last day
In the meantime, we believe that every life is precious, every life is sacred, and every life is fragile. And we are all to respect and protect and take care of every life – our own life, first of all and the lives of others.
The Risen Christ has promised to make one more come-back and he does keep his promises. He has promised to come back again to gather his chosen ones into the glory of his fold. So, never again will the word ‘tomb’ mean the same. From now on, because of Jesus, the tomb is the home of resurrection and of life. Henceforth every grave is the promise of new life.
Christ is Risen – Alleluia –
God be praised – Alleluia.