Homily for the Easter Vigil

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Brothers and Sisters, this is the night when our Lord Jesus Christ passed from death to life. It’s the night he passed from the dark confinement of a tomb on the edge of Jerusalem into the radiant expanse of an unfettered and glorified life. It’s the night his share in our alienation from God, our estrangement from each other, our mental suffering and physical pain, our dying was turned for him into communion and joy and indestructible life.  I’ve never forgotten my parish priest saying to me, after a Good Friday liturgy: ‘How good to think he’s out of pain now.’ And tonight, at this Vigil, we can add: ‘How good to think he’s in joy now.’ This is the night of this Passover, his Passover. But because Christ is he who he is, it’s ours too. Ours too.  Ours was the humanity he took from Mary. ‘Ours were the sufferings he bore, ours the sorrows he carried’, says Isaiah. ‘He bore our sins [not his] in his body on the tree’ [of the Cross] (1 Pt 2:24), says St Peter. ‘He was put to death for our trespasses, says St Paul, and raised for our justification’ (Rom 4:25). It was all ‘for us’, pro nobis. He is all ‘for us’. And so tonight is our Passover, our passage. ‘Let us pass over in the Passover of Christ, says St Augustine, lest we pass away with this passing world.’

We’ve already, tonight, passed from outside to the inside, from a car-park to a church, from darkness to light, the light of the Paschal candle being passed to each of us. We’ve just passed – with all those readings! – from the Old Testament to the New: from Genesis’ ‘in the beginning’ to the new and greater beginning of an empty tomb. We’ve flicked through as it were our biblical family album: creation, Abraham and Isaac, Moses and the Exodus. We’ve listened to Isaiah, Ezekiel and Baruch. We’ve watched the hope of Israel grow. Then came full light, the bells, the Gloria. We heard St Paul talking of baptism. We’ve sung our first Alleluia for forty days. We’ve seen the two Marys and Joanna, the spice-bearers, discovering the tomb empty and Peter, baffled, confirming the fact. How much movement, momentum! How many suggestions of Passover, passage! ‘Let us pass over in the Passover of Christ, says St Augustine, lest we pass away with this passing world.’

Now, straight after this homily, there’s a new, still more powerful, sequence beginning. Tonight, those being baptized and confirmed and receiving Communion for the first time are making their passage, our gallant quintet. Through the sacrament of baptism, they are dying and rising with Christ. They are passing from an old way of life to a new one: receiving the forgiveness of sins, being reborn as children of God. They are coming in from the cold and entering the family home of the Church. This is their passage. Then, after their baptism, all of us ‘old-timers’ have our moment. There’s the renewal of baptismal promises. Our Lenten efforts come to their climax: we renounce Satan and sin once again, profess our faith again, and are sprinkled with newly-blessed water. It’s a recalling, renewing, confirming, progressing of our own passage. And then N. She’ll profess the Catholic faith, enter fully into the Church, receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation, together with the newly-baptised, and make her first Holy Communion too. Thus we all converge, we all come together: together in the bond of faith, together in the bond of the sacraments, together in communion with the Church throughout the world, with the Holy Father, Successor of Peter and all the bishops in communion with him. ‘You are a chosen race, St Peter told his fellow Christians, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were no people but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy’ (1 Pet 2:9-10). This is our passage. And our passage is Christ’s passage passing itself on to us. ‘How good to think he’s out of pain now, how good to think he’s in joy now’ – but not just in himself. If our hearts are right and our faith alive, he’s out of pain in us, he’s full of joy in us, here, now, tonight. St Joan of Arc put it famously: ‘Christ and the Church, it’s all one.’ St Thomas Aquinas put it succinctly: Christ made his passage from death to life, he rose again, ad informationem vitae fidelium, ‘to inform the life of the faithful’. He didn’t mean Christ gives us some facts, some data, though in a real way he does. But he mainly meant that risen from the dead, Christ is the inner form, shape, pattern of who believers are. He’s our template, our mould, our example. And more, he’s our energy, our driving-force, the battery that powers and lights us.

And so we will pass to the Eucharist. Out of the womb of that Jerusalem tomb, Christ was born to the risen life. Out of the womb of the font, the Church is born to the life of faith, hope and love. And in the Eucharist, they kiss, they embrace, risen Bridegroom and washed and anointed Bride. We find ourselves at the wedding feast of the Lamb. The Eucharistic banquet, our Easter communion is the climax of all the journeys that converge this night and opens our passage to heaven, journey’s end.

What a thing it is! How much to be grateful for! But the good news is, that’s not the end. Christ’s risen life passes to us and then on through us, on to others. Another Passover. Even when life’s hard and we suffer, it is to radiate from us. Mary Magdalene and the other women took it to the disciples and the disciples passed it between themselves. He is risen! And then, men and women both, they began to pass it to the world. Here’s what can carry on when we return to our carparks and homes. It’s not some funny, overheated process. It’s simple and natural. It’s done, in the love of God, through our own human lives and loves, our natural relationships, to the people we know, neighbour to neighbour, between husband and wife, children and parents, friend to friend. It’s done supporting, comforting, restoring, the good word, the kind gesture, the giving of time, through the daily bread of our human love.

Yes, tonight is too full not to explode. Christ passes from death to life, in himself, in us and out from us. He can’t be stopped. ‘Let us pass over in the Passover of Christ, says St Augustine, lest we pass away with this passing world.’ Amen, may be it so! For those newly baptized and confirmed, for all of us. It already is so! Alleluia!

(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 20/21 April 2019)