How many journeys are reaching their destination tonight!
The journey of the two Marys to Jesus’ tomb.
The journeys of Elisabet, Balazs, Paul, Alan, Philemon and Philomena to faith and the font where they’ll be baptised, going down into the death and burial of Christ and up into his risen life; the journeys of Pearl, Mantas, Gabriele, Gregory and Lenka to their Confirmation. And none of these have travelled alone. They have travelled with friends, sponsors, catechists and clergy. How many stories to tell! And tonight, they reach their goal.
Then there are the Lenten journeys of us in this parish, this diocese, in the Church throughout the world. For many of us, it has been a journey through many liturgies – Ash Wednesday, the Mass of the Enrolment of Names, the Scrutinies, Station Masses, Chrism Mass, Stations of the Cross and Penitential Services, Holy Week, Holy Thursday, Good Friday. And perhaps we have done a little in the way of prayer, fasting and almsgiving; perhaps we have been to Confession; perhaps we have experienced some difficulties and had a small share in the sufferings of Christ; perhaps we have tried to simplify our lives. But tonight, we hear those cheering words: ‘now our Lenten observance is concluded.’ Tonight, we come into port. We arrive, and we are ready to renew the promises of our baptism, to seal that covenant again. And we’re with the whole Church as we do, in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australasia, Europe. We’re with the Holy Father keeping this Vigil in St Peter’s basilica in Rome. We’re with Christians of other denominations. We’re with the Christians of the East, Orthodox and Catholic, keeping Easter this year the same day as us. We have all arrived.
Think of the paschal candle, symbol of the risen Christ, making its way up the church spreading light. Think of that long series of readings, the long journey of Israel, arriving tonight at the Gospel of the Resurrection.
Here’s a familiar piece of oft-repeated pseudo-wisdom: ‘it’s not arriving that counts; it’s the journey’, and variations on that theme. This has always seemed to me nonsense. Would you want to spend your whole life in a bus or a car or a train? ‘Never mind where we’re going; it’s such fun travelling!’ It’s nonsense literally and nonsense spiritually. As a human being, I want to know where I’m going and then I want to get there. I want to arrive. I want rest.
And the Gospel of Easter, the good news of Easter, the glory around it, is that there is a goal. We are made, each and all of us, for goodness, beauty and truth. We’re made for friendship and love. We’re made for meaning and delight. And we’re never happy till we find these things. They’re what give us life, a full life, a real life. But are they there? Do they exist? Can they resist the corrosion of cynicism and cruelty and death? The Gospel of Easter, the glory of Easter, is that they can. They do. ‘And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus.’ ‘And the women came up to him and falling down before him, clasped his feet.’ The strange hope that had taken them from Galilee and attached them to this mysterious man, the things he had awakened in their hearts no-one else ever had, the stubborn instinct that had made them stand by him at the Cross when everyone was against him, the bewildered love that drove them to the tomb that morning just to show care for his crucified body – it was all suddenly vindicated, incredibly, gloriously, superabundantly, overflowingly vindicated. ‘And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus.’ ‘Greetings / hail / rejoice / chairete’, he said. ‘And the women came up to him, and falling down before him, clasped his feet.’ It’s not a chance encounter. It’s, in a snapshot, the embrace of God and humanity, Christ and the Church, the Bridegroom and the Bride. This is the goal, the arrival, journey’s end. This is what faith is. It’s what happens in the font tonight. It’s the Eucharist. It’s the foretaste of heavenly rest.
This is what God has done by raising Jesus Christ from the dead to a new and immortal life. It’s sunrise for the soul. It’s light for the mind and heart. There are words of Pope Benedict which Pope Francis loves quoting (and I too): ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’ This is what the Resurrection is: life’s new horizon, the goal God has had in his heart for each and every one of us before we were born. It’s a whole new world the risen Christ opens up. And in it is the beauty, the truth and the goodness, the friendship and love, the meaning and delight we long for. Here is journey’s end. ‘And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus.’
One last thought before we get ready to go to the font.
Creation, we heard from Genesis, climaxed with the making of man, male and female. And immediately after, God rested. The first rest. And then the long tortuous journey of history began. And in the middle of history, in Jerusalem round 30 A. D., the goal of history is suddenly given. It’s the new man, the second Adam, Jesus Christ, raised from the dead. As God incarnate he had made the journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, from cradle to grave. He had gone into the heart of the darkness that wrapped him round on the Cross. He had gone on down into the underworld and broke its bars. He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. His journey’s end. The second rest. And so there is a little journeying for us left to do. Tonight is a beginning as well as an end. ‘Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers…’ What’s left of history is the journey of the disciples, encouraging each other, faithfully living and courageously expressing our faith. The journey of our own vocation of service. The journey of the Church, the new Eve, a journey through time to eternity with Mary going before. It’s a journey that will end in the Sabbath rest kept for the people of God (cf Heb 4:9), a journey that will end when the bride is ready for her husband (cf. Rev 21:2) and Jesus comes in his glory to meet her and take her to the third and final rest.
Tonight we taste this already. Tonight we’re with Elisabet and Balasz and their companions. Tonight we all know it, we feel it: Jesus is coming to meet us. He has risen from the dead!
St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen