“We shall not cease from exploration and the end of
all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time”.
These words of T.S. Eliot come to mind, as does yet another memorable phrase from The Four Quartets: ‘We had the experience but missed the meaning’.
How sad, how very sad it would be if that were true of you and I as we come to the climax of our celebration of the Triduum. How tragic if this becomes just one more collection of liturgies that we have got through. If it somehow descends into evaluating the quality of the musical accuracy, ceremonial choreography and the lack of preaching skills of the new Abbot. While all the time missing the encounter with Christ.
The liturgy is not something we merely passively attend – it is not a re-presentation of our academic knowledge, but rather a formative experience that transforms us and takes us to a completely different dimension. As Blessed Columba Marmion wrote in his epic book ‘Christ in His Mysteries’: The mysteries of Christ are our mysteries. We become what we pray and how we pray and live reflects what we believe.
That is especially true of the mother of all vigils – this Easter Vigil. Brothers and Sisters, can you not feel and sense His presence among us? As we listened to God’s dream and plan unfold in the liturgy of the Word this evening did you experience the excitement and urgency? Are you not left in awe and wonder, or have we become so gospel hardened that that the story of God’s great love affair with us leaves us cold and unmoved? Have we become so cynical and indifferent that we cannot hear the sensational and shocking truth of our salvation?
What a story - what a God!
This is the night – how many times did we hear that amazing phase in the Exsultet? This is the night, the night above all nights. The power and mystery of this night is perhaps beyond our imagination and understanding. This is the night when the demons tremble with fear, when evil is conquered, when great healing and grace a tsunami of grace is poured out. Listen again to what was sung:
This is the night when Christ broke the prison-bars of death
and rose victorious from the underworld…The sanctifying power
of this night dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores
innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred,
fosters concord and brings down the mighty.
The Word of God this evening has brought us to the realization that there is something new on offer – a new creation – we had seven Old Testament readings because there were seven days of creation leading to the New Testament readings, the new Adam is forming a new people. Are we ready to be renewed and refashioned in His image and likeness?
If I was to ask you a simple question: Why was Jesus born? Why did God become a human being? Why did he die? My guess is that the answer would come back: to save us from our sins. Well, yes, but no, that is not the complete truth. It was not sin that brought God into our world – it was love! It wasn’t sin that kept Jesus nailed to the cross - it was love. What we are celebrating on this night is the victory of love. What we rejoice in is the truth that no matter how grim life can be – love has the final word. The resurrection is an explosion of light and love in a world that is dark and fearful.
It is well worth remembering that at this moment, someone somewhere has just been told that they have a terminal illness. There will be a woman or man who has walked out of their marriage and family. At this moment people are sitting at the bedside of someone who is dying, someone is about to be murdered or is a victim of a violent crime or domestic abuse. Some terrorist group or other has planned or planted a bomb that is about to explode. In many parts of the world people will end or begin another day of hunger and destitution. Here is life in all its fullness, in all its stark reality. Here is the place of resurrection.
You and I, in the power of the light from the Easter candle, are not missionaries of defeat and despair. There is as the young man/angel said to the women in the Gospel: ‘There is no need for alarm’. Our Baptismal faith, the faith that we are about to renew is a clear strong statement that love lives. I think of the words of Pope Benedict:
‘Baptism means this, that we are not dealing with an
event of the past…but a seizing hold of me in order to
draw me on…it is more than a simple washing, more
than a kind of purification and beautification of the soul.
It is truly death and resurrection, rebirth, transformation
to new life’.
That is what you and I are about to reaffirm: Are you ready to die? Are you willing to be reborn? Do really want new life? Or, as St Benedict says: is there anyone here who yearns for life?
If the answer is yes, then this is the night when we immerse ourselves in Him. We take hold of the gift of new life. We take hold of the risen Lord and through Baptism we grasp hold of his hand, more importantly we known that we are held in his hands and thus we also hold on to one another’s hands and become the body of Christ.
Here is our confidence: we are dead to sin and alive to Christ. Let this be our conviction as we move now to renew our faith and receive his power in the renewal of our Baptismal promises.
Abbot Robert Igo, OSB
Abbot of Ampleforth
3 April 2021