Homily for the Easter Vigil by Fr Gabriel
This being in the liturgical cycle the year of Matthew, the dramatic conclusion of tonight’s Liturgy of the Word is from the beginning of St Matthew’s account of the resurrection of the Lord. And in Matthew’s case dramatic seems the right word.
There is a violent earthquake as an angel of God descends from heaven to roll away the huge stone from in front of the tomb of Jesus. His face is like lightning, his robe as white as snow. The guards set by Pilate at the tomb on the request of the chief priests are terrified into immobility. The angel speaks not to them, but to the women approaching the tomb, two of them in Matthew, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary, earlier identified as the mother of James and Joseph, and his words are at the very heart of the Gospel down all the ages: he has risen as he said he would. Resurrexit sicut dixit. So we shall sing from tomorrow night in the Regina Caeli.
The earthquake in Matthew is reminiscent of the dramatic happenings at the moment of Jesus’ death just earlier in his Gospel, as we heard last Sunday in the Matthew Passion: the veil of the Temple was torn in two, the earth quaked, rocks split, tombs opened and the holy ones raised. The soldiers at the cross, like those at the resurrection, are terrified. Matthew is here portraying for us the dramatic world changing nature of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is the beginning of a new creation, a new heaven and a new earth. It is the 8th day of creation, the passover into eternity.
In the Exultet at the beginning of this liturgy we heard ‘Rejoice let Mother Church also rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of his glory, let this holy building shake with the mighty voices of the people’. In this shaking of our building we have the anticipation of the end time when the frame of this world and our lives will give way to the world of peace and joy and glory, for which we long and for which we are made.
Joy. Matthew tells us that the women came away from the tomb ‘filled with awe and great joy’ with the angel’s mission to go with their gospel to the disciples and to Peter. Then, almost literally, they bump into the risen Jesus, coming to meet them. The risen Lord comes to meet us. Jesus tells Mary of Magdala and the other Mary to rejoice, they fall down before him and clasp his feet. They do him homage.
Homage, as paid by the wise men at the beginning of the gospel of Matthew. Homage, as paid by the disciples after Jesus walks on the water in the middle of the gospel and as Matthew will have it again in the final resurrection appearance on a mountain in Galilee. Then the eleven disciples fall down and worship him, though some doubt, and Jesus says to them: ‘I am with you always to the end of time’.
In the Spirit, in the sacraments of the Church, Jesus is present to us always, present to be received in faith, present as we kneel and worship, wherever we find ourselves to be and in whatever circumstances, until the end of time. Because of the resurrection, heaven is always close to us. Paul put it thus in the New Testament reading tonight from Romans: ‘when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life’.
We are not yet in our true and final home, for which we are made. We have our moments of doubt and faltering (do we not know it?) but even in the frame of this life, we may yet see Jesus and we do. We see him in one another, in those who need our love, in those to whom we are sent, in those who have been our guides, apostles to us, and we see him in the Blessed Sacrament and in our prayer. To be sure, these are all in a sense hidden revelations of, and encounters with, the risen Lord, but nonetheless, reflecting on them, they are Easter moments for us in our Galilee. Galilee was home for the disciples, so in the home, the Galilee of the daily moments of our everyday life.
It is there that the majestic angel of the resurrection told the disciples they would find the Lord. All of these everyday moments and experiences, whether they quite feel like them to us, can be contemplative moments which we may take with joy and gratitude, trusting that they will truly bring us to God.
BIDDING PRAYERS FOR EASTER VIGIL (READ BY FR XAVIER)
Celebrant: Sisters and brothers in Christ, in this holy night may we pray in faith and hope, to God our Father who wills to raise us to be with his Son in glory.
Reader: Let us pray for those seeking to celebrate their faith in the resurrection life this Easter at a distance and without the sacraments.
May the Lord bring us all together again in this present time and for eternal life.
Lord in your mercy
Let us pray for vocations to the priesthood and the religious life and for vocations to this monastic community and for those who are our novices, postulants and aspirants.
Lord in your mercy
Let us pray for all those suffering in any way and in particular from the current Coronavirus; we pray for healing and for life.
Lord in your mercy
Let us pray for the repose of the souls of all those who have died and for the comforting of those who mourn, that they may find in the Gospel of the Risen Christ their joy and their consolation.
Lord in your mercy
May Mary, mother of our saviour and cause of our joy, help us on our pilgrim way that we may come to the glory of the risen life in heaven
In silence let us bring our own intentions to God
Celebrant: God our Father, you sent your Son to save us and to unite us in one body through his death and resurrection. May we grow in the knowledge of your truth and live more deeply in your love through Christ our Lord.