Saturday 20 April 2019: Easter Vigil
The Lord is indeed risen
Genesis 1:1-2:4a and Psalm 136:1-9, 23-26, Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18; 8:6-18; 9:8-13 and Psalm 46, Genesis 22:1-18 and Psalm 16, Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 and Exodus 15:1b-13, 17-18, Isaiah 55:1-11 and Isaiah 12:2-6, Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 or Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 and Psalm 19, Ezekiel 36:24-28 and Psalm 42, 43, Ezekiel 37:1-14 and Psalm 143, Zephaniah 3:14-20 and Psalm 98, Romans 6:3-11 and Psalm 114, Luke 24:1-12
By Duncan Macpherson
Features editor and Roman Catholic Deacon, Retired University Teacher
Context: an Easter Vigil celebration in a, mainly middle class, suburban parish. Beginning in darkness, the Easter Fire has been lit, the Easter Candle has been carried into the darkened Church, the Easter proclamation has been sung and the narrative of Salvation history has been read in the light of the Risen Christ. Water has been blessed, and new Christians have been baptised and everyone has renewed their baptismal vows. Due to the time and length of the service the congregation includes fewer children and more committed adults
Aim: to demonstrate that although the empty tomb goes beyond our rationalism it still resonates with human experience
We all like a good story and we have just heard the best and most important story ever. But is it true? Luke says that, ‘This story of theirs seemed pure nonsense.’ The well-known atheist Richard Dawkins would agree. ‘Presumably’ he tells us, ‘what happened to Jesus was what happens to all of us when we die. We decompose. Accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension are about as well-documented as Jack and the Beanstalk.’ Leaving aside Dawkin’s ignorance of the documentary evidence for the resurrection, he might be pleased to know that according to the documentary evidence in Luke’s Gospel the initial response of the eleven apostles when the women told them the news of the empty tomb and the two men in brilliant clothes was precisely that - this story of theirs seemed pure nonsense.
So how do we respond to the message of the empty tomb? Sometimes - we may, like the apostles have suspected the resurrection to be unbelievable. But it is not only the story of the empty tomb that may seem to be pure nonsense.
We cannot make sense of the story our times either. In the last hundred years there have been wars and massacres on a scale never before known. The hungry have not been fed. The homeless have not been housed. The sick and the old have often been neglected. New hatreds have been born and old hatreds have been revived.
In our personal lives too, there have been too much darkness: the darkness of bereavement and disappointment; the darkness of our own selfishness and lack of love; the darkness of a terrible anxiety and fear of what is to come. This story of theirs seemed pure nonsense.
But perhaps we are hesitant believers, like Peter who went running to the tomb … bent down and saw the binding clothes, but nothing else … and went back home amazed at what had happened.
The Light of Christ
Faith begins like that. But what follows is amazing. Peter was led from doubt to amazement and then to faith. As the story continues in Luke the apostles will hear how the risen Christ met the two disciples on the way to Emmaus and then that he met Peter. The two men returned to Jerusalem and found the eleven gathered there saying, ‘The Lord is indeed risen, and he has appeared to Simon.’ Suddenly everything fell into place. The story of the life and the teaching of Jesus, of his suffering and death - it all suddenly made sense. It was as though the light had suddenly come on. And in that light - the light of the risen Jesus - they saw light. Their individual stories fell into place. The story of the people of Israel fell into place. The whole human story took on a new and exciting meaning.
The New Life in Christ
These last few days we have followed the story Jesus in the upper room, prayed with him in Gethsemane, stood at the foot of his cross and run to his empty tomb. And now we can see. In the light of the paschal candle we have listened to the story of creation and to the story of the people of God in the Old Testament. And now we can see. Everything that is puzzling and amazing in our world and in own lives looks different now - we are enabled to live a new life. It is life without the risen Jesus that is ‘pure nonsense’ - it makes no sense all. And this new life is what we received at our baptism and what we celebrate and renew in our Eucharist tonight and in every Eucharist. Paul tells us that, joined with Christ in his death we have been raised to a new life. All our previous struggles and failings have been given meaning in the light of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
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