Saturday, April 11, 2009

Homily for the Easter Vigil 2009: "He is not here. He has gone before you."

“You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.”

In this place tonight, enveloped in the darkness of death and confusion, among this people, a single gleam which pierced the gloom has spread to become a profuse glow, a fire great enough to embrace every soul, here and all over the world. Because of this light what at first was confusing, an anonymous mass of humanity, has taken on a new appearance because each face, each person is revealed in this light. The Source of this light has disclosed a new truth to be embraced: each one here must be recognized, loved and affirmed in a unique and personal way. Each flame reveals a new way of seeing, for each flame embraces within its glow a face and a name and a life as good and worthy as every other life here. The Source of light invites all to a new way of being that begins with this recognition of each one present. The light leads us forward, away from the darkness of the tomb of yesterday with its broken hopes and shattered dreams.

And also here the Person who bears this new light has been proclaimed, has gone forth, in the words we have heard, the Truth which beckons to minds and hearts in the darkness of confusion. An invitation has gone forth, and all hears have heard, that there is now a path set before us by means of the light of the Word, a path that leads from darkness to light: “He goes before you.” In freedom we are now called to take a risk and step beyond the familiar, beyond our fears and into the future, by means of this light which illuminates the path before us.

But the darkness still remains, and opposes itself to the light. What are we to say of the darkness? What of the tomb, which remains even in the presence of this Light? The tombs, the places of darkness in each of our lives are the people, places and things to which we have turned again and again and again in an unholy way, whether out of ignorance or temptation or habit or compulsion, and which have always left us sad and empty and alone. We have learned that “He is not here”, that he cannot be found in the darkness of sin. In our weakness, how often have we gone back again and again to the darkness of the tomb, expecting something different, something shiny and new and comforting, and yet always finding it just as we have been told it would be, just as the Light has revealed in the proclamation of this ray of His Truth which is the Word, here tonight among us, the honest light of Truth which reveals in its glare the reality of our lives without God: “He is not here.”

This darkness threatens the addict who returns again and again in slavery to substances, and other created things, and who goes away empty and sad: “He is not here.” Or the person who labors under guilt, even for sins already forgiven in confession, and fails to live the joy of forgiveness: “He is not here”. Or the father or mother, husband or wife, whose love has grown cold and who sees the life of the home only as a source of anger or bitterness: “He is not here.” Or the one who yielded to impurity and rejected the healing of the confessional time and time again: “He is not here”. Or the woman or man who through abortion made a tomb of the womb and returns again and again in memory to the horror of death, rather than going forward as beckoned by the light of reconciling love in Christ to seek His sacred presence in the persons who surround them every day. And this darkness remains in the victim of abuse who returns in memory to the horror of degradation, reliving the disgust and humiliation of being used by another and lacking the growth in healing that comes with forgiving one's enemies: "He is not here."

In our celebration of the Lord's Passion yesterday we accompanied the Lord through His death and into His tomb. Now, tonight, words of great joy and wonder have been proclaimed to us: “He is not here.” We are called to turn away from the places in our past, in our memories and in our imagination, which have been revealed as false promises in the cold glare of His light of truth; to turn away from these tombs where we cannot find Him. And that is not all: what is more, we have been told where we are now to go, what we are now to do. We must follow Him, for “He has gone before us.”

Will each of us now go forward in this new Easter light? Will we make the choice to assent to the truth revealed by Him who is the Light of life, the One whose love can neither deceive nor be deceived? Will we then also take the courageous step of following the one who is victorious over the grave, has left the tomb empty of its power and who has gone before us? He has gone before us, with his flesh and blood and bone, this very flesh and blood and bone that is each of ours here tonight, and with that Body he has touched and healed with His Life the death that threatens us with darkness and fear. He has made what was once dark full of light, for we know that death no longer has the final word: “He is not here.”

And he has gone before us, so that our temptations to seek an escape in fantasy, or to bury our fears in the things of this world, no longer hold power over us. There is now no horror for us in going with the Risen One to the heart of darkness, for we now know and believe that no matter how long or how dark the night of temptation, there need never again be fear of sin, a dread to confront with honesty and truth the horror at the heart of the darkness we have found in our hearts and in our lives because of sin. He who has broken the bondage of the grave now suffuses all that we are and all that we know in His own light of love, the light which has conquered even the greatest darkness which is death, and has thus destroyed the fear of fears.

What does it mean that “He has gone before us”? In the gift of the Risen Jesus, in His Eucharistic Sacrifice and His Body and Blood which is our gift in every Mass, is revealed the secret of Easter joy. In each of our lives, through the grace of the glorified humanity of Christ beyond the grave, God seeks to find His way again into our world. Each of us has a light we must carry, a flame of the truth of His love crucified, by which our own flesh reveals God’s love and His Son becomes incarnate once again each day as we arise anew to say “yes” to life, “yes” to love. In the fleshly reality of family, in our work and play, in our parish of Saint Peter’s and in our world, we live by the light of Easter glory as we see and welcome Him in every human person, revealing by this grace that He is alive in each one of us.

“You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified.
He has been raised; he is not here.
Behold the place where they laid him.
But go and tell his disciples and Peter,
'He is going before you to Galilee;
there you will see him, as he told you.'"

"You will see Him." Jesus Christ goes to the darkest place and makes it full of light. The Lord enters into the bondage of our greatest fear, the tomb of death, breaking its power and leaving it empty, a mere shell shorn of its threat and stripped of its terror. In the grace of the Eucharist he reveals the path of hope, the path of true life, of the Love which does not disappoint. "He has gone before you." Will you follow?

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

He is truly risen! Alleluia!

Happy Easter, everyone.


(Art: Holy women at the tomb of Christ, Annibale Caracci, late 16th century, oil on canvas, State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg)

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