Homily for the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night
Before we begin the homily this evening, I want to offer a word of welcome to our Elect and their family members and friends who have joined us this evening. This is the longest Mass that you will ever attend – that’s a given. But it is also the most beautiful one because it’s the Mass that you will remember for the rest of your lives. The reason: it is at this Mass where we welcome you home to Holy Mother Church. As a community, we are so thrilled that the Lord has called you in this time and at this place to take that step of faith.
In just a few moments, you will receive the Sacraments of the Church – Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist. You will become fully initiated members of Christ’s Body, a journey that, for some of you, has taken many twists and turns. But through all of the challenges and struggles, through all of the questions and doubts that you may have experienced, the Holy Spirit has guided you, and, Jesus, our Lord, has never left you unaccompanied. He has brought you to this point and we rejoice with you tonight. So again, welcome home!
You know, over the last couple of weeks, I have had multiple conversations with many of my friends and many of our parishioners about this Lenten season. I don’t know what it was about this year, but for so many of us, it just seemed to be a really long and difficult Lent. Think about it. How many of us struggled with our Lenten penances and practices – maybe in a way that we never have struggled before?
At the beginning of this season, many of us set out to do some wonderful things with the Lord. And yet, if you’re anything like me, a lot of those things became too difficult to accomplish. Maybe we gave up or compromised in some way on what the Lord was asking us to do for Him. It might have been a season of unrelenting challenges. In some ways, we may even be feeling defeated. At the end of a season like that, we often find ourselves asking: where is our hope?
Nearly 2000 years ago, on the evening of that original Good Friday, the disciples of Jesus felt the same. Their master, their teacher, their friend had been put to death. The one that they thought was the Savior and Messiah was gone. Fearing for their lives, these same individuals remained hidden in a locked room. They felt abandoned, rejected, lost, confused, hopeless.
But then Easter Sunday dawned – and with it, the irreversible victory of the Resurrection. The tomb, once occupied by the body of Jesus, was now empty. The stone, overturned. The shadow of the cross was dispelled by the bright morning light of a new creation. The apparent failure that was the Crucifixion had become the greatest victory in the history of all humanity.
The Resurrection is the mystery that is at the very heart of our Christian faith. It is a relatively simple concept to talk about – someone rises from the dead. Yet, at the same time, it is extraordinary and powerful.
In the Gospel that was just proclaimed, we hear Matthew’s account of the Resurrection. It is announced to the women who walked with Jesus, those who were visiting His tomb that Easter Day that He had been raised and they were then instructed to go and tell His brothers. But then something remarkable happened. Jesus actually appeared to them. How glorious of a sight that must have been for them. What an incredible moment! The gloom and darkness of the preceding days suddenly gave way to joy, hope, expectation, peace. I would venture to say that it was in that encounter that it all suddenly made sense for them. Everything that the Lord had taught them and said to them finally clicked, they finally understood why it all had to happen, and their faith in Him was solidified.
The apostles, the women who followed Jesus, even those who simply wanted to listen to Him were taught everything about the faith from the very author of Faith itself. Jesus shared with each of them about who He was and what He was sent to accomplish. He opened the Scriptures to them and showed them how He was the fulfillment of all the prophecies; how He was the fulfillment of all the teachings handed down from the fathers of the Jewish faith. In the Resurrection, those teachings reached their culmination. It is the one event that changed everything.
This day provides an enormous injection of hope for the human spirit …because Jesus rose from the dead. He is the only one of whom we can say: “He rose again on the third day, in fulfillment of the scriptures.” Only in Christ’s Resurrection does goodness prevail over evil. Only in the Resurrection is life triumphant over death. Only in the Resurrection does abandonment and rejection give way to the embrace of love. Only in the Resurrection do we find the way that leads to the Father. Only in the Resurrection is it possible for us to gain the greatest gift of redemption and salvation.
In Jesus Himself and in His Resurrection, a new hope dawns for the entire human race. It is a hope that keeps us united to Him through faith and grace. It is a hope that promises that we will rise with Him, rise from our tombs, and live with Him for all eternity in the Kingdom of our Father in Heaven. No one else offers such a hope. It is only in Jesus.
So today, let’s not just enjoy Easter, let’s allow it to truly change our lives. Even in the midst of the negative stuff the world throws our way, even in the midst of the doubts, the confusion, the abandonment, the rejection, the hopelessness that we sometimes face…let’s not allow that to steer us off course. Instead, we should use those times as opportunities for prayer and deeper relationship with the Father.
This Easter let’s remember who we are as Christians and who Jesus is for us. May we ask the Lord for an increase in the gift of faith in the Resurrection because it is the basis of our hope in eternal life, a hope which enables us to bear patiently the trials of life. All of us can endure those trials because the Cross isn’t the end of the story. We didn’t end with Good Friday; Easter happened. And it will happen again in each of us because Jesus is Risen!
Painting: Advent and Triumph of Christ, by Hans Memling. Wikimedia Commons. Used under Public Domain. The reproduction is part of a collection of reproductions compiled by The Yorck Project. The compilation copyright is held by Zenodot Verlagsgesellschaft mbH and licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.