Saturday March 30, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Easter Vigil
Reading (Romans 6:3-11) Gospel (St. Matthew 28:1-10)
My dear friends, we celebrate this night the greatest of all the liturgies of the Church, and all of the symbolism that we celebrate is packed into one Mass. We start, for instance, with that dichotomy between darkness and light, and we recall that Jesus is the light that came into the world, that came into the darkness, and the darkness was not able to overcome the light. The Easter fire was lit in the darkness and the light then spread throughout the entire church. We also, in a few moments, will bless the Easter water, and we recall in that, not only the Passover for the Jewish people, but our own Baptism. We recall also the Creation, when at the very beginning there was the waters, and the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters and brought order out of the chaos represented by the water.
We celebrate also tonight, not only the light and darkness, not only the order and the chaos, but we celebrate life and death. We celebrate today the greatest single event that humanity has ever known: the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, something which has never happened in its like, but something which is going to happen for each and every one of us on the last day.
We celebrate also tonight in a special way a new creation. If we think about the events of the last couple of days, yesterday afternoon we recalled the Passion and Death of Our Lord. Yesterday, we thought about how He was scourged and crowned, and how He was beaten and finally crucified. Last night at Stations, we spoke about how God in His mercy does this interesting twist and the irony which is there so that when we look at the human body of Jesus, that that is the mirror for our souls. And on what would have been the sixth day of Creation, we made, as humanity, an attempt to recreate God in our image: We scourged Him; we beat Him; we flogged Him; we crucified Him; we made Him marred beyond recognition in our own image.
But today we celebrate Godís generosity and His re-creation because today we will look once again at the body of Jesus and it will be, once again, a mirror for our souls. But today it is a glorified body and it reflects the glory of God that dwells within our souls when we are in the state of grace. And so today, as we celebrate the seventh day of Creation (for the Jewish people, Sunday began at the moment that the sun went down this evening, so it is now Sunday), the day when God rested from all of the work He had undertaken in Creation, we recall the last words of Our Lord from the Cross: It is consummated. His work was finished; today He rested. And we celebrate the first day of a new creation, a recreated humanity made once again glorious in the image and likeness of God, sharing in His life and in His nature, united with Jesus in Baptism. That is the glory which is ours.
This morning when I came into church to pray, I experienced what I experience every year on this day. I was the only person here early in the morning and there was something that was missing. I looked around the church and I saw all of the beauty, but the church was empty because the real Beauty of the church was not here Ė He was in the grave. But the hope that was there as I sat in prayer this morning, my heart, in essence, searching for the Lord and unable to make the connection that it is normally able to make when Jesus is Present in the tabernacle. I thought of Our Lady and I thought of the apostles. I pondered it, as you may have pondered it as well when you came into church tonight and the tabernacle was empty: the Lord is not Present in His church. We all experienced that same thing.
But what dawned on me this morning is that the great gift God gave was to experience what Our Lady experienced not what the apostles experienced. In those intervening days after the Death of Jesus, the apostles locked themselves in the Upper Room and they did not believe that He was going to rise from the dead. Saint Mary Magdalene did not believe it either. Recall that she came early in the morning carrying all of the things to anoint the body of Jesus, fully expecting that she would find His body there. Our Lady, on the other hand, is the only person who had the hope and the faith that her Son was going to rise from the dead. She was not there with any spices; she was there with her heart - praying, waiting for the moment that her Son would rise from the dead. As I sat in prayer this morning, I knew that same hope. The emptiness in the church, even with all of its beauty, the emptiness - which I could feel in the depths of my heart - I knew tonight would be filled. And that is what we celebrate, not merely the Death of Jesus yesterday, but the glorious Resurrection of Our Lord and the way that He fills our hearts, the first day of a new creation, the first day of a new covenant where we are remade in the very image and likeness of God because we are united with His Son and made members of His Son, sharing His life.
And so now as we continue on with this Mass, we will recall and pray to all of the saints Ė those whose faith in the Resurrection brought them to share in its glory - to pray for us. Then we will bless the Easter water and each one of us will renew again our own baptismal vows; we will recommit ourselves to Jesus where we recall the Death and Resurrection that we have already entered into in Baptism. We recall the darkness of sin and the light of Godís grace that fills us. And we look forward to the day that our faith will be fulfilled, our hope will be fulfilled, and our love will be complete when we share in the Resurrection of Jesus and behold Him face to face.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.