07/04/07 Easter Vigil Homily

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Homily Notes of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin
Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland
Pro-Cathedral, 7th April 2007

The Christian community gathers in every corner of the world on this night to recall the marvels with which God accompanied his people throughout the history of salvation, from the moment of creation onwards.  In our readings we have listened to the story of the great Old Testament events which recall in a particular way how God watched over and saved his people, those who entrusted themselves to his promise and his design. 

This design of God reaches it climax in the Resurrection of Jesus which is re-enacted in our celebration of the Easter Vigil this evening and especially in the Sacrament of Baptism.   Baptism, which we will celebrate in this Vigil, reminds us that the Resurrection which we commemorate this evening is not a distant event of the past.  We look at the Resurrection not from the point of view of the historian or the archaeologist who would try to see more clearly what an event of the past looked like, through gathering up scraps of evidence or documents to reconstruct something of another era.

We look at the Resurrection from the point of view of faith, a point of view which is no less real.   Our faith enables us to realize that Easter is the highest and most mysterious event in the whole of human history, something which is present in our here and now.   Pope Benedict in his homily on Easter night last year described Easter “as a qualitative leap in the history of ‘evolution’ and of life in general towards a new future life”.  He chose the term “history of evolution” to bring home the fact that the event of the resurrection belongs to the real history of humankind and of creation.  The event of the resurrection is indeed a real mutation within the history of humankind as it proceeds along the road to a new world.  The risen Christ is present in every dimension of the world and of human relations continuously transforming them and drawing them to himself.    

The resurrection of Jesus Christ has changed human history.  It enters history, as we have recalled in our re-enactment at the beginning of this sacred rite, as an explosion of light, light which illuminates the darkness, light which allows us to see reality as it is, light which enables us to discern the good from what is evil.

Resurrection means that death has been definitively conquered.  Jesus Christ entered into his passion and death freely out of love for us.   His death was the ultimate expression of his giving of himself.  The Father accepts that self-oblation and through raising his son from the dead completes the cycle of love, through lovingly opening the door which leads to resurrection and new life.  Resurrection is the final authentication of the validity of that path of love by which Jesus gave himself.  Love transforms death definitively.  

What if the resurrection had never happened?   What if the silence of the tomb on Holy Saturday were to have endured for all of history?   What would life be like if the tomb of Christ had never opened to resurrection?  Without the resurrection death would have held victory and all hope for humanity would have been lost.  Our own life would be destined to end in an eternal hollowness of sinfulness and pessimism.

The love of God manifested in Jesus Christ conquers death and sin and shows that love is stronger than sin.  If Jesus had not risen sinfulness would have dominated humankind.  If Jesus had not conquered sin and risen to new life then our sins would have been unforgivable and the instinct to evil would have dominated the world.

But Jesus is truly risen!  With that resurrection comes hope and a new flame of life for all of us.  The fact of the resurrection calls us and enables us to “purify our inner self from dead actions” (Heb. 9:14).   The believer in the resurrection becomes the one from whom the light of life should irradiate.  The Christian must live as one who truly believes it is possible to create a world of hope and love.

As believers in the risen Christ we have a duty to spread the conviction that the world in which we live can become a place of light and life.  Perhaps today more than ever the world needs believers in the Resurrection if we are to see humankind regain vigour and courage, hope and purpose.    

We thank God for the economic progress that we have seen in Ireland in the past years.  We thank God that the harshness of poverty is a thing of the past for so many.   But we cannot place all our hope for human progress in economic hopes alone.   We do not have to look far to realise we do not necessarily become more human or better people simply by having a nicer home, a more elegant car or designer clothes.  Many who cling to the outward signs of new wealth may indeed be hanging on to a false security, and end up only in an ever restricting circle of having to continually defend that security, rather than achieving security in freedom, a freedom which empowers us to take risks, to be creative to be generous and to be good.  That is resurrection spirituality.

The evil that is in our world will only be overcome with goodness, the darkness only with life, self-centredness only by generosity, the culture of death only by the power of life.   Again this morning in Dublin we have had a gang-land murder.  We see again the terrible domino process of how responding to evil by evil only generates in its turn another act of evil, a never ending cascade of retribution.   Easter is the feast of life.  I remind once again all those who believe that they can impose their rule by violence that  by imposing the rule of violence on others all they are doing is closing themselves into the grip of a violence from which there is no way out.   The way of violence leads only to death.

On the other hand we see a glimmer of hope in the fact that the pattern of violence which long dominated Northern Ireland is coming to an end and there is a genuine feeling that what had seemed an “impossible peace” can be established and consolidated.  On Easter night, the feast of life, we thank God for that progress and for all who contributed to it.  Both God and humanity recognise as the “greats of history” the peacemakers, those who work to end violence but also to construct peace.   Peace however is not simply the absence of violence but a culture in which people do not merely tolerate each another but where they wish one another well and work together for a common good which transcends the interests of one or other group.   Fostering peace also belongs to a Resurrection spirituality.

Belief in the resurrection gives a sense of mission to the Christian precisely within the world in which he or she lives.  As believers in a God who raised his son that life and light could enter into the world, we see that our very relationship with the world around us also changes.  In the past fifty years we have seen the capacity of humankind to forge ahead with scientific progress at the most sophisticated level.   Yet at the same time we have been placing new burdens on nature and our natural environment, on the simple yet beautiful and important gifts which God has entrusted to our stewardship.   Announcing the good news of the resurrection also entails a concrete reaffirmation of humankind and creation and a call to re-establish relationships of harmony among people and between humankind and creation.  This is also true resurrection spirituality. 

Being believers in the gift of life means we must welcome and sustain life in all its forms.   It entails that we work to bring in to a community of welcome for and solidarity with all those who are on the margins of society, those who suffer any form of handicap, and those who are troubled or anxious.   

The resurrection frees us.  It frees is from being closed in on ourselves, within the framework of  our limitations, and opens up for us a new way of finding ourselves in the immensity of the love of God. 

It is through baptism that we die to self and enter into this new relationship with God.    Baptism is not simply an enrolment ceremony or a rite of purification.   Baptism is truly death and resurrection, rebirth, transformation to a new life.  In baptism that new life of Jesus enters into our lives and transforms us into witnesses of his love, that love which created us and which now opens the path of new life, of a future of hope.