Homily of Bishop Kevin Doran for the Easter Vigil
Why Look Among the Dead for One Who is Alive?
- Shock and Disbelief
When I was twelve years old, St. Michael’s Church in Dun Laoghaire was destroyed by fire. Even though I saw it with my own eyes I could scarcely believe it. As far I was concerned, St. Michael’s had always been there. It was the Church where my parents were married, and where I went to Mass for the first eight years of my life. I suppose the fires that destroyed St Joseph’s Church in Boyle (1977) and at St. Mel’s, Longford 2009) touched many people in a similar way.
In recent days, as the people of Paris spoke about the fire in Notre Dame, they expressed shock, disbelief, and real sadness, almost as they would if someone had died. They clearly had different kinds of relationship with Notre Dame Cathedral. For some it was more cultural and historical, while for others it was spiritual and liturgical and deeply personal.
At the time of a funeral, people often cling to little things that give them comfort. There is a heightened sense of awareness and people see meaning in little things that, otherwise, they might never have noticed. In much the same way, some of those who spoke about the loss of Notre Dame took comfort in the fact that some of the relics and art works were saved. In the midst of the rubble, for example, the weathervane from the spire was discovered and it may be possible to repair it and it may still contain one of the thorns from the crown of thorns. But the sense of sadness is tangible.
- They Shall Mourn for Him
For some reason, a passage from the Old Testament book of the prophet Zechariah, popped into my mind:
I will pour out a spirit of compassion and supplication on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that, when they look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. (zech. 12:10)
I thought of the people of Jerusalem going about their usual routine on that Good Friday afternoon, before the Passover, many of them seeing nothing more than three criminals being taken away for crucifixion. And then I thought of the disciples of Jesus, facing the reality that the Master, who had healed the sick, calmed the storm and even raised Lazarus to life, was dead. It couldn’t be true…. but it was.
- Christ the True Temple
The talk of rebuilding put me in mind of another Scripture passage, this time from the beginning of St. John’s Gospel. Jesus went up to the Temple at the Feast of the Passover. It was probably about three years before his death. Most of you know the story. Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers, complaining that they had turned his Father’s House into a market place. Their reaction, predictably enough, was one of anger and they asked Jesus what authority he had to act like that.
He answered them: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But St. John explains that they had missed the point:
“The temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken. (Jn 2)
Essentially, Jesus wanted the people to realise that it wasn’t the building that mattered. What matters is that God is present among his people. For centuries the Temple had been the visible sign of his presence, but now Jesus himself was that presence, in the flesh.
- Why Look Among the Dead?
When the three Mary’s came to the tomb early in the morning on the first day of the week, they met an angel who asked them “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive. He is not here; He is risen.” In the Eucharistic acclamation, we say “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” The “is” is quite important. Christ is Risen. The Resurrection of Jesus took place at a particular moment in time. It is a historical event, attested to by many witnesses; but it is much more than that. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, the Resurrection of Jesus is a daily reality in the Church today. The question we might ask ourselves, is where then should we look for him?
There is something irrepressible about the human spirit. St. Michael’s Church was rebuilt, St. Joseph’s was rebuilt and St. Mel’s was rebuilt. Already they are talking about the restoration of Notre Dame, which is a huge task. (I’m sure Fr. Declan would like to have access to even a fraction of the money that has already been pledged for the work that has to be done on our own Cathedral). It is good that we look after our Churches, because they are the visible sign of our faith in Jesus Christ. But there is more to our faith than Church buildings. Indeed there was a time when our ancestors didn’t have the blessing of beautiful Churches but, as they gathered around the mass-rocks, their faith remained strong.
In one of his letters in the New Testament, St. Peter, writing to the first Christians, said: you, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house offering spiritual sacrifices to God, through Jesus Christ. (1 Pet. 2:5). Today, we are called to be those living stones and to become a home for God.
- Rebuild My House
There is a story told about how Francis of Assisi, during a time of spiritual upheaval in his life, went into the dilapidated old Church of San Damiano, in the valley below Assisi. He knelt down to pray. He had been trying to discern what God wanted him to do with his life. As the story goes, he heard the voice of Jesus speaking to him from an old Byzantine crucifix. The voice said: “Francis, go rebuild My house; as you see, it is all being destroyed”.
In his generosity, Francis responded to God’s call initially by rebuilding San Damiano with some of his friends. Over time, however, he came to realise that what Jesus wanted most was that Francis should build up the faith of God’s people, who are the Church. So Francis, filled with the Holy Spirit, became a witness to a new way of life, a life of following Christ, a life of uncomplicated simplicity, of poverty, of care for creation. It was a life and an example which others found attractive, and the Church began to live again.
Ultimately, we are the Church; we are the house that God wants to rebuild. It is in our lives, individually and collectively that the Resurrection takes place. We gather this evening to celebrate our faith that Jesus is risen. Everything in our Scripture readings speaks of new beginnings; the Creation, the escape of God’s people from slavery in Egypt to begin afresh in the land that God gave them; the invitation to come to the water for life.
The Easter Vigil was always associated with the Baptism of adult Christians, after the final period of preparation during the season of Lent. Baptism was thought of as a kind of dying to self in order to live with the new life of Christ. In our New Testament reading this evening, St. Paul reminds us that “if in Baptism, we have imitated the death of Christ, we will also imitate him in his Resurrection”. To be a Christian is share in the sacrifice of Christ; there is no other way to the Resurrection.
In the liturgy of Baptism, as the light from the Paschal candle is passed to those who have been Baptised (or to their parents in the case of a child) the priest says: “Dear brothers and sisters, you have been enlightened by Christ. You are to walk always as a child of the light. May you keep the flame of faith alive in your heart. When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom”. So if you ask me where we should look for the Risen Jesus today, the answer is “here” among those who live with the new life of the Resurrection”.
Easter Vigil, Saturday 21st April 2019, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo