Homily of Bishop Kevin at Easter Vigil
Our daily life is a continuous cycle of endings and beginnings. Winter turns into Spring. Autumn fades into Winter. Every ending is a new beginning. Fashions change, ideologies are abandoned, and walls crumble, only to be replaced by others, which may be interesting in their own way, but are just as temporary as those that went before them.
The poet T.S. Eliot seems to suggest that this continuous cycle of endings and beginnings is part of our humanity:
In our earthly life we tire of light.
We are glad when the day ends, when the play ends;
and ecstasy is too much pain.
We are children quickly tired: the children who are up in the night and fall asleep as the rocket is fired;
and the day is long for work or play.
We tire of distraction or concentration,
we sleep and are glad to sleep.
There is a little bit of the child in all of us. To use the words of Eliot in another of his poems: “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” In the weakness of our humanity, we can only take the challenges of life in small doses.
If you cast your mind back to our first reading this evening, you will notice how even our image of God’s creative work itself is expressed in terms of endings and beginnings. “Evening came and morning came the first day. And God saw that it was good.” We simply can’t imagine the miracle of creation unless we break it down into manageable proportions.
The readings of our vigil this evening speak to us about God’s saving action in human history, and especially in the history of the people of Israel. It is a history full of hopeful beginnings; creation and covenant, prophesy and promise. But it is also a history of false-starts and back-sliding. There is bloodshed, betrayal, and exile. The people of God, to use Eliot’s image, are like children, “quickly tired,” always looking for something new. How easy it is to recognise ourselves in this headstrong people, with their mixture of enthusiasm and apathy, their love for God and their preoccupation with themselves. During the season of Lent which we have just celebrated, we have been confronted once more with our smallness and our sinfulness, and we have been invited once more to prepare for a new beginning.
Alongside the need for routine, there is something deep within each one of us that longs for a beginning after which there will be no end; a Summer which has no Winter on its back; a home-coming without always having to go away again; reconciliation without the possibility of future sin; and – yes – life without the fear of death.
Early in the morning, on the first day of the week, the women went to the tomb with the spices they had prepared. It was another beginning, and it must have been a painful one, waking up to the realization that Jesus was gone. But when they made their way to the tomb they found the stone rolled back, and the body of Jesus was gone. There were strangers there who said: “He is not here. He is risen.”
The promise is fulfilled; not just the half-forgotten promise Jesus made to his disciples that after three days he would rise again, but also that promise which is written deep within the heart of each one of us; the promise of an eternal day. Through his human life and death in history, Christ has brought an eternal value to everything that is human. In his resurrection from the dead, he has been acknowledged by the Father as Lord of history.
As we proclaimed during the service of light:
Christ, yesterday and today,
the beginning and the end,
Alpha and Omega;
All time belongs to him, and all the ages.
To him be glory and praise through every age
Jesus is the morning star which never sets, and he is offered to us by the Church to be our hope.
Hope for our friends who have died, because he has died and is risen, and now he lives forever. He gives life to all who hope in him; he brings joy to those who mourn.
Hope for sinners, because through the power of this night he proclaims an end to sin and a new beginning of holiness. He is the forgiveness after which there is no failure.
Hope for all who feel themselves to be outcasts or exiles; because he is the home-coming after which there will be no more going away.
We still live in time, not in eternity. To us the days and the seasons continue their apparently endless cycle. In this sense the journey is not yet over, the hope is not yet fully realised in us. But, as we continue our journey, we are refreshed with His Eternal Word; we are nourished with the bread of the Eucharist which is his dead-and-risen body. The light of His resurrection transforms and illuminates our praying, our work and leisure, our fasting and our feasting. Each act of ours, because of him, has the capacity to be life-giving and redemptive. We are called to be for each other the reflection in time of His eternal light.
Again Eliot expresses it well:
We thank thee for the lights that we have kindled,
The light of altar and of sanctuary;
Small lights of those who meditate at midnight
And lights directed through the coloured panes of windows
And light reflected from the polished stone,
The gilded carven wood, the coloured fresco.
Our gaze is submarine, our eyes look upward
And see the light that fractures through unquiet water.
We see the light but see not whence it comes.
O light invisible, we glorify thee.
Bishop Kevin Doran
Easter Vigil, 15th April 2017
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo