Orthodox Christians greet each other at this Easter time joyfully saying: “The Lord is risen!” The response of the person (who didn’t get the proclamation in first) is: “Indeed, He is truly risen!” To this I must add “Alleluia, Alleluia!” How I have missed our Alleluia’s together in the Holy Mass. It is a bold outcry of joyful, optimistic faith. Alleluia is the indestructible response of God’s Easter People, whatever our circumstances, because it speaks of our living in the eternal love of God which the world did not give us so it can’t take it away. True security. It is the bold acclamation of a believing, redeemed people whose joy is rooted, not in the passing things of the world, but in the unlimited depth and breadth of the Risen Lord’s Sacred Heart. After the resurrection, the devil in his definitive defeat can fight a rear guard action to undermine our joy, and in truth we all have our moments. But though he can hurt us, he can’t prevent that enduring sense of confidence and wellbeing Christian faith always bestows. The inevitable bad news and vexing situations can unsettle us but not ultimately destroy the peace this world could never give and the joy our God imparts in abundance. So to all our issues we respond “The Lord is risen. Alleluia!” and take it from there. I remember a little boy known to be boisterous (the type that can wear out grandparents in fifteen minutes) told his teacher his parents favourite prayer was: “Thanks be to God. Alleluia!” Asked did they pray it as a family. He said, “No, Miss. They only say it when I go to bed”.
A good Lent makes for a good Easter. I want to revisit the opening prayer of Ash Wednesday. It says: Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that as we take up the battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint. I want this Holy Easter time of Jesus rising from the dead and opening the doors of Heaven, to truly affect us as God’s Easter People in a beneficial and enduring way. In a time when people feel so powerless we must point to the God who is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega, to Whom all time belongs, and Who is in absolute authority. The above prayer speaks of fasting and battle. I find these two aspects to be helpful guides to increase my appreciation of this most holy of times.
When we fast, we fast from things we will go back to, chocolate etc., fair enough. But more importantly there are aspects we fast from which we should never return to. Attitudes, inappropriate attachments, sins, and such that should not find a home in the life of an Easter person. We will slip back to these aspects if we are not vigilant. The resurrection of Jesus is a fresh start for all of us. God is making all things NEW if we let Him in! We hear people saying, that when we are beyond the virus things will have to change. We can’t go on the way we were. It’s as if we have had a chance to pause, step off the treadmill, and have a good, honest hard look at how we live and relate to others. Some people are hoping for a more kind, caring, generous, selfless and neighbourly society. Isolation has whittled an increasingly complex existence down to what truly matters. God willing that will be so. But, in my case, what is to stop regression to the old and in need of improvement me? I suggest a true spirit of fasting. A determination. What we gave up we will not go back to. Let us fast from sin. To sin means to miss the mark. To fall short. Let us fast from thoughts, attitudes, and habits that cause us to fall short of the holiness, love, concern, friendship and Christian action an Easter person must value and live in order to please God and be effective.
Now Easter is here we must value the lessons of Lent in order to be effective witnesses to the Risen Lord. Lent invited us to focus our minds and hearts on all that is good and true, to root everything in prayer, to accept the guidance of God’s Word and Spirit; to put others before self, to not count the cost but to joyfully love and serve. These things make people Easter people. One of my Lenten ambitions was to let out the better me I knew was inside somewhere. I wanted to be in good shape to truly celebrate the Paschal Mystery of the Lord’s resurrection. Some may say of Lent: “Thank God it’s over”. My prayer is: “I hope it worked”. Lent is an attitude for life. It keeps us crisp, on our toes able and ready to act. If we get fasting right and behave accordingly, effective Easter living is facilitated. St. Paul said we must be ready to give the world the reasons for our hope. We will witness to the world of our Easter joy emphasising the spiritual happiness which gives an attractive quality to our faith. We feel special and we want others to feel special too. Lent made us spiritually fit for purpose. Let us get our spiritual running shoes on and get sharing and proclaiming. Not easy but worthwhile. Now I come to the term battle.
Talented minds are battling at the moment to find a cure for the virus. We pray this battle will soon be won. We as Church as Easter people are called to battle by our baptism, to fight the good fight. To pit light against darkness. Truth against ignorance and error. Compassion against indifference. Love against hate. Peace against discord. Justice against injustice. Gentleness against cruelty. To state that every life is sacred and unique from conception to the Lord’s call home to Heaven. Tonight at the Easter Vigil and tomorrow on Easter Sunday we, spiritually in our homes, renew our commitment in our baptismal vows to actively and prayerfully oppose all that is evil and destructive to human life body and soul. To renounce Satan, all his works and empty show. To let the devil be in no doubt as to our loyalty to God and our unstinting desire to oppose evil in all its many forms. No wiggle room for Satan in our lives which are consecrated for God’s holy purpose and this alone. The devil may feel he can use this virus to drive a wedge of separation between us our Worship and our gathering. But he is wrong. We will love the Mass all the more when we celebrate it together again. We will be an even closer and more other aware community. We are bound by cords of love that separation cannot break. I keep telling you the devil just keeps getting it wrong! In killing Jesus the world was saved. Post virus we will be even more aware of the value of our faith, the Holy Mass and what it is to be the Body of Christ in the world.
Tonight we are given the tools for the battle. I see energy. Divine Power moving back the huge stone against the tomb entrance guarded by the soldiers. This stone represents all that oppresses, hurts, saddens, demeans, inhibits and imprisons us. All of us have our issues, many long suffering, and some feel overwhelmed and that they will never be free. We can’t go to Confession at the moment but don’t let that stop you feeling the release of Easter. Put all the bad stuff in a rucksack and leave it at the door of the empty tomb. Emerge from the overlay of regret, disappointment, waste and what has been lost and cannot be sorted; all that is life taking. Slough it off in the power and energy of God’s victory. Put low self-esteem, timidity and any lack of confidence in the bin (no worries about blue, green or brown). Stand erect and hold your head high. Allow the all-powerful Divine energy of the Holy Spirit Who raised Jesus to life fill every space in your life with all that is good, holy and life giving. Leave no room for rubbish. Let us pray: Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of Your faithful. Kindle in them the fire of Your Love. Which brings me to fire.
Our Vigil Mass begins with the lighting of the fire. Sadly, fire can be destructive as in Australia recently. But there is a positive side to fire and it can be a particularly powerful image for us at this worrying time. In the past, fire was the only way to cleanse pestilence; to render a place safe and habitable. As a child I would gaze at the little fire at the base of the cross atop the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus came to set the world on fire! Let us feel the fire of God’s love at this special time. Let us sense it warming all that is cold in the human condition. Melting what is hard and unyielding to love. Burning away anything that has been added to us but does not belong in a life dedicated to God’s service. Let it ignite our vocation anew, spark a new effort on our part to do justice to God’s message of love in all that we think, say and do. Let help others to catch the fire of faith and life that is our God. Let God’s fire burn down barriers and all that seeks to come between God and persons and each other.
This is our Feast of Light. The Easter (Paschal Candle) represents Jesus the Risen Lord and Light of the World. We walk in the light of Christ and are enlightened by the Holy Spirit. As the Wise men seeking the new born King once followed a star, we follow the reborn Son. Jesus is the Light guiding our steps through life to Heaven, the place of perpetual light. Jesus is the Way we follow, the Truth we serve witnessing to the Life all have a right know is there. To the world we invite: Believe and belong.
The smallest light can penetrate any darkness. The strange thing is we need the backdrop of darkness to see light. When you look at Jesus the Light your shadow is behind you. when you turn away from the Light your shadow and darkness is in front of you. The darkness in my bedroom as a child made me truly value the landing light my parents left on for my reassurance. At Baptism, as the priest presents the baptismal candle he says: “Receive the light of Christ this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly walk always as a child of the light”. We are asked to become more the light God has already made us as we journey the pilgrimage of life. The sacraments of Easter enable this. Not to hide our light under the tub of embarrassment, indifference or selfishness. But put it out there in the public forum for all to see. The darkness that seems to be everywhere will one day succumb to the light. Some curse the darkness, we light a candle. Let us be like the Easter Candle. In order to burn it needs air. As we need the Spirit to breathe on us. As the Candle burns it gives itself selflessly away. It will give light and a little warmth to the very last moment; when it has no more to give it dies, its purpose fulfilled. I’ve pondered the words Jesus said on the cross: “It is accomplished”. I wish for all of us to be able to say the same.
Jimmy was asked by his teacher what was Holy Water, he said: “It’s water that has the hell boiled out of it, Miss!” Mom always put holy water on us before we went out to school and in due course to work. To protect us from the world, and if we were naughty, to protect the world from us. Tonight we cry: Waters of life, cleanse and refresh us. Paul taught us that in baptism we went down into the waters and for a moment there we died. We died to enduring death, to darkness and sin, to all incompatible with our baptized state. Then we came up out of the water taking in a huge breath fully alive in the new and eternal life of Easter. Let us feel the rebirth of joy, hope, optimism and reassurance that we and the world badly need to experience. If you have a candle at home light it this evening for a few moments in solidarity with the Paschal Candle that I will bless in our evening Liturgy. As it burns say a little prayer especially on behalf of those in their own particular darkness at this time.
In all let us feel empowered and enthused with the Easter message. We will not regress, there will be no going back to what was old and useless and we are determined to cling more tightly than ever to the Risen Lord’s hand.
God bless you all with a happy and blessed Easter. When you are on the phone to your loved ones far way please send them my love.
Father Gerard X