April 19, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier   Easter Vigil

 

Reading I (Genesis 1:1-2:2)    Reading II (Genesis 22:1-18)

Reading III (Exodus 14:15-15:1)    Reading IV (Isaiah 54:5-14)

Reading V (Isaiah 55:1-11)    Reading VI (Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4)

Reading VII (Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28)  Epistle (Romans 6:3-11)

 Gospel (St. Mark 16:1-7)

 

 

The events of these last several days are brought into a very specific focus for anyone who had the opportunity to be here this morning to pray and now to come this evening once again to pray. The first three readings of this evening’s Mass come to light in a very particular way. This morning you come into church very early in the morning as the sun was rising. You settle into your normal time of prayer, you get down into your heart and you focus on where you have always found Jesus, and you are struck immediately by the realization that He is not here – you are in an empty building. And immediately your heart begins to search, as it says in the Song of Songs, “to search for the One Whom your heart loves,” and yet you cannot find Him. Like Mary Magdalene, you want to look at anyone and say, “Where have you put Him? Where is the Lord?” As you search around the church it becomes more difficult because at that point all of the statues are still covered; everything is draped in purple, all of the things that you would look to; there is nothing to hold onto. Finally, your eyes settle on the crucifix which is sitting right on the altar which is bare, other than the exposed crucifix. And even that does not settle the heart because it seems more like a memory which is burned in; you know the Lord is not on the Cross, but He is in the tomb. The church is silent and the neighborhood is silent and everything is dark.

 

Immediately, your mind begins to go to what we heard in the first reading, that in the beginning everything was a formless waste. As you look around for anything to grab onto in your heart, there is nothing. Suddenly, you begin to recognize that there is a mystery going on. It is something similar to the creation which we heard, although more similar to the second chapter of Genesis where we hear that God made man out of the dust of the earth. As we heard in the reading this evening, God made man in His own image and likeness. And now Jesus Christ, Who is the image of the invisible God and in Whose image each one of us is made – yet in the depth of His love was made in our image in the womb of His mother – suddenly He has reversed creation and He has entered into the earth, gone “back to the dust” from which He was made, as was said to Adam in punishment for his sin.

 

As you continue to look around the church in your heart to find someplace for your heart to settle, you come back to that crucifix which sits upon the altar and you begin to recognize that on that crucifix is the fulfillment of the prophecy that we heard in the second reading today. The Hebrew makes it even more clear and it is one of the most astounding passages in all Scripture when Isaac looks at his father and says, “Here is the wood and here is the fire, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” What it says in the Hebrew is “God will provide Himself the lamb for the sacrifice.” God will provide Himself the lamb for the sacrifice. And as your heart focuses in on that crucifix, you begin to recognize that this is the Lamb Whom God provided for the sacrifice, for the redemption of our souls.

 

You begin to go even beyond that as you ponder that mystery and you move on to the third reading. You think about the cross that stands upon the altar, knowing that the Lord is no longer on the Cross, and you see then that it is just a barren cross standing there like a standard, a cross which has been driven into the earth and is similar then to the staff which Moses used when he struck the rock and split it in two, similar to the staff which Moses held in his hand as he reached out across the sea and split it in two. Now the Cross has been driven into the earth – the dust from which we were made – and it has been split in two so that the God of all creation could enter into the realm of death, so that He could enter into the netherworld and preach the Gospel to those who were in prison, as Saint Peter says, so that they too would be able to hear the Gospel and be saved. At that point, you can begin to recognize that everything has been split in two. For the souls in the netherworld, there was a clear distinction between the saints and the condemned. There is a split between Heaven and hell. There is a split between life and death.

 

And as you continue to ponder upon the fact that now this Cross has been driven into the dust from which we were made, it has been driven deep into the heart of each one of us so that that same split takes place within of sin and forgiveness, of life and death, of Jesus Christ and Satan. And the choice we have to make is just like the choice that was made for generations before. As you continue to ponder on these mysteries, suddenly what happens tonight begins to come into focus – but in reverse – because at the beginning of Mass tonight we were once again in the dark and suddenly (as what we heard in the third reading) there was a pillar of light that was shining in the dark. It was the Lumen Christi, the Light of Christ. He is the Light that came into the world, into the darkness, and the darkness was not able to overcome it. That light then spread from that one flame on top of the Easter candle to all of the candles which each one of us held. And suddenly there was a beautiful glow throughout the church, and the darkness had been enveloped in the light – just as each one of us was on the day we were baptized, as Saint Paul reminded us in the reading that we heard from his Letter to the Romans.

 

But we go beyond that, then, to the second reading again, back to the time of Abraham sacrificing his son. And we will recognize, as we continue through the Mass tonight, that the Lamb is going to be immolated once again upon the altar but this is the Lamb Who on the first day of the week brings about a new creation for Himself and for each one of us. On the first day of creation, He re-creates each one of us into His own image and likeness. Just as when God created Adam from the dust of the earth, Adam’s body laid there lifeless until the breath of God entered in and he had life. So, in the tomb, the body of Our Lord laid lifeless until at the moment of the Resurrection when His glorified soul re-entered His body and His body rose to a new and glorified state, and there was new life from death.

 

You begin to meditate upon this mystery that this is the One Whom the Book of Revelation says is the Lamb Who was sacrificed, the Lamb who was slain, and has been found worthy to open the book that is sealed with the seven seals. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and when the Lion was seen He was a Lamb. He is the One who will give Himself now to each one of us so that as we share already in His death and Resurrection through Baptism, now in the Eucharist we will elevate Our Lord and we will glorify in His Resurrection. But that is not all because the dust from which He was made, this earth which was remade in the Resurrection of Christ, is remade now in each one of us because we will receive our Risen Lord in the Eucharist tonight.

 

By the way, I must commend you: The priests of Saint Agnes Parish collectively heard forty hours of confessions in the last week. And other than Thursday night (when confessions ended at ten minutes to twelve midnight) my free time in the confessional consisted of five Hail Marys – that is all. Otherwise, it was completely filled with one confession following the next, following the next, following the next. I commend you for bringing your children and for preparing your souls and the souls of your family members so that what was dead in sin could be brought to new life. Tonight in the Eucharist, God will breathe that new life into each one of us and we will share in the glory of the Resurrection, in the Risen Christ.

 

This glory is ours because Our Lord does not save it for Himself. It is the other element of the mystery upon which your heart settles as you try to find a bridge to link these two parts together. The only place that you could find that is in the one place where Jesus remained alive on earth while He remained also dead in the tomb. As you came this morning to pray in the silence of the church, you found yourself in union with the one person. You sought Him in the Upper Room and He was not there; you sought Him with Mary Magdalene but she was looking for Him as well; and finally, prostrate before His tomb, you found His mother. And in His mother, in her Immaculate Heart where Jesus was conceived first before He was conceived in her virginal womb, there He continued to live. At the moment of His crucifixion, He entrusted each one of us to His mother and there we lived with Him in her Immaculate Heart. She is the only one who believed in the Resurrection before it happened. In her alone the faith of the Church remained for those three days when Our Lord was in the tomb. But in her heart each one of us remained, and the faith which Our Lord would place into our hearts remained alive in her so that now with her we glorify in the Resurrection of her only-begotten Son.

 

As we proceed now with the Mass, the blessing of the Easter water, and the renewal of our baptismal promises, we need to recognize this mystery which we celebrate today, the mystery into which we have been incorporated. And we have that choice to make. That Cross has been driven deep into our hearts, the Cross with the Word of God right on it. As Saint Paul said to the Romans, “The Word of God cuts more surely than a two-edged sword, and it separates spirit from soul and joint from marrow.” It separates from within us Jesus Christ and Satan. In just a moment, as we renew our baptismal vows, we will once again renounce Satan and all his works and all his empty promises and we will once again profess our faith in God the Father, in Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. And just as this church, which this morning was like a void and empty waste, is now once again filled with beauty and will once again be filled with our Resurrected Lord, so too this temple of our body is restored to its beauty and will also be filled with Our Resurrected Lord in whom we profess our Easter faith.

 

*  This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.