Homily for Easter Sunday

Bishop Hugh delivers his sermon at Easter Sunday Mass online, full text below the video:


“Death with life contended: combat strangely ended.

“Life’s own Champion, slain, yet lives to reign.”

Jesus’ Resurrection is a hidden thing. No one witnessed it. And what the disciples first discovered was not someone Risen but an empty tomb and its cloths. And when he does appear it’s often initially in disguise, “in another form” as Mark’s Gospel says, as a gardener or a pilgrim on the road or a man cooking fish on the shore. God “allowed him to be seen”, says St Peter, but “not by the whole people”, by a small chosen cohort only. “Christ, my hope, has risen,” says Mary Magdalene, but then: “he goes before you into Galilee”, not to Jerusalem where the apostles were. He’s not where you expect him to be. “And now, says St Paul, your life is hidden with Christ in God.” “Curiouser and curiouser”, as Alice in Wonderland might say, “mysteriouser and mysteriouser.”

We may have felt this hiddenness more than usual this year. In times past, I’m told, there was a lady who would come to the Easter Vigil wearing a purple coat, and when the Gloria or first Alleluia sounded throw it off to reveal a bright white dress beneath. No chance of witnessing such spectacles this year! We may have followed a livestreamed liturgy, but we won’t have heard or touched or smelt each other (or the incense). We will not have had our usual 3-D or 5-sense experience. And even there, of course, even in the visibility of a liturgy, in candles and words and water, even in the holy bread, Jesus is still the hidden One.

“Death with life contended; combat strangely ended.

Life’s own Champion, slain, yet lives to reign.”

A virus, what is it? I looked the word up. Originally, ooze, slime, a slimy liquid, poison, venom, especially the venom of a snake. If you look the thing up, you learn, it’s a pathogen, something that causes infection, disease. Being submicroscopic, far beyond the range of the unaided eye, it is hidden too. It can only live and replicate itself inside the living cells of an organism; parasitic, as it were, like those pictures of the snake in Eden coiled around the tree. It has been described as “an organism on the edge of life”. Yet viruses seem to have been there as long as life has, and they can access all life-forms, human, animal, plant, even bacterial, and can jump from one to another, as appears to be the case with our current crown-shaped virus, this pathogenic “king”. Yet how this obscure, marginal pathogen has made itself visible, generated its own grim liturgy, as it were, its signs and symbols: empty streets, ambulances, hospitals, wrapped bodies, paralysing a planet, filling graves, not emptying them. (Yet can even a virus serve God’s further purposes? Think of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings).

“Death with life contended; combat strangely ended.

Life’s own Champion, slain, yet lives to reign.”

“Life’s own Champion” – dux vitae: what an uplifting title for Jesus! This is our story. Into this world where death and life are forever contending, where the snake is always coiled around the tree, where even the young and healthy die – into this world comes Life’s own Champion, he a new Adam, his mother a Second Eve. And into the ooze and slime he goes, sinking into the mud as a Psalm says (68), a worm not a man, as another one says (21), allowing all our pathogens, our human virulence and venom to vent itself against him, undergoing all the dynamics of a wounded, dehydrated, asphyxiating body. “Death with life contended; combat strangely ended.”

“The New Testament testimonies leave us in no doubt that what happened in the Resurrection of the Son of Man, Joseph Ratzinger has written, was utterly different [to mere resuscitation, to any form of recycling of our current life]. Jesus’ Resurrection was about breaking out into an entirely new form of life, into a life that is no longer subject to the law of dying and becoming, but lies beyond it – a life that opens up a new dimension of human existence…the Resurrection of Jesus [is something analogous to] “an evolutionary leap”… [It is] a new possibility of human existence…that affects everyone and that opens up a future, a new kind of future, for mankind” (cf. Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week, p.244) – and we can add, for the whole of creation.

“Life’s own Champion, slain, yet lives to reign.” He remains hidden, the hidden King, but as the antithesis of any pathogen. He is the anti-pathogen who can counter everything that wants to infect and distort life, who can fill every form of life and the whole of existence. “I am the Resurrection and the Life”, said Life’s own Champion. This is life with a capital, the real thing. It’s the life Jesus draws from the Father and has in himself. From Easter on, he gives it to us. It replicates itself in us. It’s a life that doesn’t take away natural life, biological, psychological life or anything good that makes our human life. It takes away what’s diseased and takes up everything sound. It perfects it from within. It perfects it by taking us into Christ. It perfects it as a love of God and one another that can never die.

This is the Life, the Easter life, we celebrate usually in fine liturgical style at Easter. But it can signal itself in other ways as well. It must! “Christ, my hope, has risen!” says Mary Magdalen. There’s the best and most timely way of all. If we want to keep Easter, hope! If there’s a virus, or anti-virus, the Resurrection transmits, that’s its name: hope. May we catch it! May we pass it on! It’s a beautiful life-giving thing. It keeps us breathing. It’s air for the lungs of the heart. It’s a great, eternal hope – for the life of the risen world to come – and hope for God’s presence and grace in the here and now as well. It embraces the little things and the great ones. If the Cross teaches us realism, the Resurrection teaches us hope. It teaches us to hope against hope, like Abraham. It helps us see the “few green ears” of good wheat that are always springing up. It enables us to keep working at something because it’s good, not because it’s bound to succeed, to keep washing feet even though they will get dirty again. Easter has a life-giving infection of hope to transmit: “Christ, my hope”. The “sure and certain hope” that God’s goal for us is good and that nothing can thwart it. The Lord has truly risen! Alleluia!

(Livestreamed Mass, Aberdeen, 12 April 2020)


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
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