Homily for the Easter Vigil

Last year we had no Easter in the flesh – just an online version.

This year we have a half and half Easter.

Next year, the 3rd year of this trial, we hope for an Easter kept in full and a world risen from this pandemic.

This Triduum has been strange. On Maundy Thursday, I much missed the Washing of the Feet. Yesterday, I missed the long veneration of the Cross.

Tonight, though, despite some shortening, we will be having baptisms and confirmations. There’ll be less sense of a lack.

“O come to the waters, all you who are thirsty”, says the prophet Isaiah. Sean is to be baptised and also eight year-old Ryan, and then Sean and Gabriella will be confirmed. And in the midst of this, we’ll weave in the renewal of our own baptismal promises. It’ll be complex, but that’s fine. It’ll be complex, but good, very good. Thank you Sean, thank you Ryan, thank you Gabriella – thank you for your decisions to do this. Thank you to all those who’ve encouraged and sponsored and prepared you. Praise to Father, Son and Holy Spirit who have brought this about. “By the power and working of the Holy Spirit, you never cease to gather a people to yourself.” In Baptism we are linked, affiliated to Christ. In Confirmation we are anointed with the Holy Spirit. And in the Eucharist we reach out together to the Father – “to you, therefore, most merciful Father” begins the first Eucharistic Prayer and all of them end “through him [Christ], and with him, and in him, O God almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is yours for ever and ever.”  It’s the prelude to the heavenly Kingdom and anticipates the goal of all creation. And God sees all this and calls it good. Isn’t it wonderful to have even the smallest part in it?

“O come to the waters, all you who are thirsty”.

If you look at the Paschal candle you will see five balls of incense glued round five small nails and pressed into the wax. The candle symbolises the risen Christ and the five markings his five, now glorious, ever open wounds, open for us. Out of the wound in his side came blood and water. In Catholic tradition they signify the sacraments, especially baptism and the Eucharist, his death giving life. By the sacraments, too, the Church is formed, including us. And so the Church is born from the side of Christ, just as Eve, figure of the Church, was formed from the rib taken from the side of Adam.

Our experience this year can sensitise us to this. The sacramental gates are open again, the river is flowing. “O come to the waters.” Now is the time to reconnect with the sacramental life of the Church. Now’s the time for the Church, which has never ceased to exist, to experience a rebirth. Since the feast of the Annunciation, appropriately, when Mary enabled the Word to become flesh, Masses have been public again. The other day, in just three hours, some 120 people came here to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Our three candidates, in turn, are here tonight. The Church is becoming visible again. Three persons representing three continents – very Aberdeen! Very Catholic! Gabriella, Sean and Ryan – all with futures before them. And in the Gospel, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, another trio – once the Sabbath lockdown is over – rise early that spring morning and go to the tomb, “just as the sun was rising.”

“O come to the waters.” That’s worth saying tonight. It’s worth echoing that call of Isaiah, worth sensing the grace at work in our candidates. I want to say, follow them, follow the two Marys and Salome.  Let the Church come out. Then the Lord can say like Adam: “Here at last is flesh of my flesh.” Then Christ can see and speak to us and hear us and touch us and feed us. And after a long abstinence Christ and his Church can come together again and renew their covenant of love. A bishop wears a ring because, in Christ, he’s married to the Church he serves. After the liturgy of Good Friday, he takes off the ring, for “the bridegroom has been taken away”. For the Vigil, he puts it on again. I sense that after the holy / unholy Saturday of lockdown, Christ is putting on his ring again, putting on us. The reason for all this was the testing and purifying of our faith, hope and love. The reason was to increase our thirst. “Come to the waters.” “He is not here”, locked down, wrapped up in the tomb, the place of separation and death. “He has gone before you into Galilee”. So, let our sacramental life flow again. Let the Church come forth. And the mission resume.

“Come to the waters.”

The Deacon will now call forth our candidates.

(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 3 April 2021)


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