Homily for Easter Vigil

“Come, Easter, come” said a poet (Vernon Watkins).

Well, Easter is coming – here and now. Coming out of the dark of a long winter. Coming after much Lenten preparation. Coming to a world where there’s too much dark, and children are so often the victims of violence.

“Come, Easter, come: I was afraid / Your star had strayed.” Perhaps we were afraid our deacon would stumble and the light of the Paschal candle be lost. But no!

This whole liturgy marks the passage of Christ from death to life, and ours from darkness to light, from selfishness to love. It is our Passover and his. It’s our crossing of the Red Sea.

Easter is Jesus. Easter comes. He is Easter in person. He is the Paschal candle who lights the tapers of our lives, he re-kindles the burned-out stars we are. He steadies us for our journey of faith, chivvies us back when we stray.  He has come tonight in the God-given words of the readings we’ve been hearing. He is the Word. He has led us, candle in hand, up the spiral staircase of the Pentateuch and the Prophets (seven readings, seven steps) till we saw the daybreak shining through the window of the Gospel and glimpsed with St Paul the broad sunlit uplands of the risen life. “There is no need for alarm,” says the Angel by the empty tomb. “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he has risen, he is not here…He is going before you to Galilee.”  And in a moment he will come through the Sacraments, baptising, confirming, feeding.

It’s the climax of tonight. He is passing from death to life, from this world to the Father, and as he passes he takes us up into his passing “lest we pass away with this passing world” (St Augustine). “I was afraid / Your star had strayed”. No way! Our faith may waver in the wind of “strange doctrines” (Ephesians 4), or painful experiences, or our own failures. But his is the light that knows no setting and Christ always makes it possible for us to love. “He is going before you into Galilee; it is there you will see him, just as he told you.”  Yes, the Vigil, lovely as it is, passes but the Lord goes ahead to Galilee. In the life of disciples, “Galilee” means our homes, our lives, our work, where the risen Lord meets us again and we can pass in him, day after day, from selfishness to love, from “I” to “we”.  There’s an open road before us.

“Come, Easter, come.” Come, especially to all those throughout the world being baptised tonight. How busy the fonts and pools of Mother Church must be! In France alone, some 12,000 adults and adolescents will be baptised; the figures grow each year. In the Cathedral and parishes of Sydney – where it’s already tomorrow – some 250 will have been baptised. So our magnificent seven – Payam (being baptised), Aaron and Carole, Ruby and Noah, Elizabeth and Michelle – are not alone. You have our admiration and affection. I want to thank those of you who wrote to me beforehand – all those mentions of the “journey of faith”. I don’t want to embarrass anyone, but one of you mentioned being moved by the banner outside St Peter’s: “Come to me, and I will give you rest.” I want to mention too a story from another part of the world. Perhaps Payam will resonate with it.  It’s of a young woman, baptised tonight in Sydney. She was a Muslim from Indonesia. Her journey of faith began in Mecca. She was on pilgrimage there, feeling disconnected from God and praying for faith. “Then, I heard a voice saying, ‘Come to me. You are my child.’” She knew this idea of Father and child was Christian, and she began to enquire. The connection she had sought at the holiest shrine in Islam, she began to find at Mass and so, in Australia tonight, has professed her faith and been baptised. “Come, Easter, come”. “Come to me, you are my child.” Our Easter, Jesus, Son of the Father, passed from death to life and through baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist sweeps us up into his passing. The sonship he has by nature he shares by grace. We are sons in the Son, sons and daughters of the heavenly Father. His dying and rising become our dying to sin and a rising to a life of hope and faith and love. In Confirmation, his anointing as the Christ becomes ours as Christians. In the Eucharist, his Body takes in ours. The Church is like the new Eve born on the Cross from the side of the pierced Christ, the new Adam. There is a new union sealed in water and blood. Easter is a wedding.

And like a marriage that really is “made in heaven”, there is such a sense of “meant to be”, of prepared from all eternity, of everything falling into place, of coming home. From tonight’s readings, we grasp that Creation, from physics to flowers, was in view of man and man in view of the covenant with God, and the covenants with one chosen people a preparation for the new and eternal covenant of Christ and the Church, which embraces every people. “God created water precisely with Baptism in mind” and when he did “he was thinking of the Baptism of each one of us” (Desiderio desideravi, 13).  Water and oil, bread and wine, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, all find their true purpose and place tonight, and we too. All we are, all we’ve been through and will go through, our tears and our hopes, find their purpose and place tonight.

“Come, Easter, come”, says the poet. “I was afraid / Your star had strayed.” It hasn’t. And he goes on: “It [Easter] was behind our darkest fears / Which could not see our God for tears”. He’s recalling Mary Magdalene finding Christ beyond her tears in the garden of the Resurrection. May this be our joy tonight!

“Come, Easter, come”. Come now to our Seven. Come to all of us. Come as we renew our baptismal faith and, sin forgiven, eat your risen flesh.  Yes, Lord we come – to the marriage feast of the Lamb – now and, by your grace, for ever. Amen!

St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 30 March 2024


RC Diocese of Aberdeen Charitable Trust.
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