3 April 2010
Homily Notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at Easter Vigil Mass
We have heard the familiar yet striking readings from the Old Testament which recount the wonders which God had worked for his people from the beginning, from the moment of creation and right throughout the history of salvation. God’s relationship with his people is a relationship of love and of fidelity on his part. His people do not respond in the same way. His people doubt; they challenge the words of the prophets; they loose their patience when they do not receive an answer to their expectations in their time.
The Church once again at this Easter Vigil presents us with this Old Testament witness about God’s fidelity. That witness is addressed to us today, God’s people in the twenty-first century, at a special moment in the liturgical year just as the entire Church of God slowly begins to break the silence of a Church in mourning; a Church which has been holding vigil around a tomb. A tomb would seem to be a signal of the end of human hope.
The great prophet Jesus, whose life had filled his followers with such hope, has faced the ignominious death of a common criminal. Many of his closest disciples have fled and deserted him at the first sight of what appeared to them to be a catastrophe. The work of Jesus, who had marvellously taught his followers about the face and the thoughts of God, seems to have been overtaken and defeated first by lies and then by death brought about the corrupt.
The disciples are in disarray. Early in the morning the women head out to the grave to carry out the normal rituals of anointing a dead body, which they had had to interrupt because of the impending Sabbath. They had prepared spices with which to anoint a dead body and with heavy hearts they head for the tomb.
They set out to find a dead body but they do not find it. The stone has been rolled away from the tomb. They fear – as Pilate indeed had also feared would happen – that someone had taken the body. They are saddened that they do not find the body of Jesus they had come to anoint, but on their own they are unable to comprehend what really had happened.
Then two figures in dazzling garments surprise them with a question: “Why are you seeking the living among the dead. He is not here, he has been raised”. The women are reminded of what Jesus had said and indeed they do remember. But are they convinced? It seems not. When they arrive back to tell the other disciples, their words begin to sound to themselves and to the others as, to quote the Gospel: “nonsense”.
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. Darkness already begins to be dispelled even when only one single flicker of light appears. Even one single flicker of light can be the beginning of hope within any darkness.
We remember in our prayers this evening all those for whom darkness seems impossible to overcome, for whom darkness seems unbearable and without hope. We remember those for whom the darkness of their past still haunts them. We remember those whose torment and anxiety tears away at their will to live. We have one of Europe’s highest rates of youth suicide.
As a Christian community we are called to be light in the world. We are called to be with those for whom darkness is excruciating and who see no future, no hope. Woe to a Church which hides and destroys light in people’s hearts. Woe to a Church which prevents the light of Christ from appearing as it should.
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. Christ’s death lovingly opens the door which leads to resurrection and new life. It is love that transforms death definitively. That explosion of light which is the Resurrection tells us and reminds us even in the darkest days that there is always a future beyond darkness.
Do we truly believe in the resurrection? The disciples encounter the first evidence of the light of resurrection precisely in a place of death, a tomb. Like them we find it difficult. To believe we need faith, not irrefutable proof. To believe fully above all we need to understand the resurrection as a mystery of love.
The two factors which bring about a change in the attitude of the early disciples were their great love for Jesus and their willingness to be guided by the spirit to rightly interpret the scriptures.
In our days there is so much scrutiny and examination of the Church here in Ireland. There are exposés of the failings of the Church; there is questioning of the role of the Church in Irish society in the past and in whatever our future may be. The role of the Church in Ireland is being examined under a microscope and from every possible direction. The spotlight of media and public opinion is focused on the failures and the betrayals of Church leaders and a damaging culture which has grown up in the Church.
I am not criticising the media for that. That is their job. In doing their job some will feel the media have been unfriendly to the Church, even unfair; others will welcome and recognise valid criticism, from whatever angle it comes, even if it comes from people patently unfavourable to the Church. We have to remember that the truth will set the Church free, even if the truth is hard to digest.
Identifying the failures of the Church may however be the easier task. There will be some who will hope that such exposure will mortally would an organization which they consider has gone irreparably astray. But what of those who love the Church? How do we overcome our disgust and shame for the sins of Christians?
The sins of the Church can well be exposed by the spotlight of the media; but the Church will be converted, renewed and reformed only when it allows the light of Christ to inspire it and guide it. It is the light of Christ which will show the real significance of the darkness that has slipped into our lives.
The light of Christ will expose the sins of Christians but the light of Christ does not abandon us naked and alone in the exposure of our shame and sin. The light of Christ heals, it leads; there is no way we can switch off or dim that part of the light that exposes the sad realities of the past; there is no way we should switch off or dim the light that can open the path to a new future. No generation is too sophisticated not to need the light of Christ; no generation is too sophisticated not to be able to comprehend that light and what it can bring to society.
Actually that was the message that the Archbishop of Canterbury wanted to bring home in his BBC interview: a wounded Church is not something positive for Irish society. Archbishop Williams spoke with me by telephone earlier today explaining his sadness regarding some unfortunate words in his interview. I appreciate that. I thank the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Dublin and the Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath for their supportive comments. Easter is the feast of Baptism. At Easter Christians celebrate the same baptism; we profess the same creeds; we all called to the same proclamation of the Risen Christ. We must witness to the unity we have achieved. We must all pray and work for full unity.
The tomb signifies a place of death. The Resurrection brings new light. The spirit gathers us as children of the light, prepared with all our weaknesses to ensure that the message of Jesus Christ is not just transmitted abstractly to the next generation, but that the next generation will be a generation inspired by the light of Christ. The message of the Resurrection comes to us at a moment of darkness. The message of the Resurrection comes to as a message of hope that the darkness will not prevail. Christ is truly risen. Let us go out into life filled with joyful hope.