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The Easter Vigil - 2012

Saturday, 7th April 2012
Saint George's Cathedral

'Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen.'

During the first part of this solemn liturgy of the Easter Vigil, we listened to the story of God's dealings with his chosen people, taken from some of the books of the Old Testament. It is a story born out of a people's experience of God who is both Creator and Saviour. The recurring theme is the incredible love and goodness of the Lord who gives life to his people and who is abidingly faithful to his promises. A God who constantly seeks to bring them back into a faithful, loving and life-giving relationship with himself. His generosity and loving-kindness are infinite and inexhaustible. Even when the community sinned and turned away from him, God continued to offer his love and his life through the Law and the prophets. Finally he promised them a new spirit and a new heart which he will plant in his people through his Anointed one, the Suffering Servant, the Servant King.

On the first Easter Sunday morning, the women making their lonely and grief-stricken way to the tomb had undoubtedly heard the words we have listened to tonight read in their synagogues - perhaps they had even heard Jesus himself preach on them. But these readings would have been far from their minds and hearts as they struggled to make sense of the apparently meaningless death of the one who most embodied the creative, wise and saving love of God. Yet their journey to the tomb, just as the sun was rising, would bring them to the threshold of something they would never have dared to imagine. Concerned about how to remove the stone which blocked the entrance to the tomb, they were amazed to find that it had been rolled back. And they must have been shocked to the core when they heard the words: "You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: He has risen, he is not here … He is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him, just as he told you.”

The stone that blocked the entrance to the tomb in many ways symbolise the ‘stone’ which impedes their vision, that weighs down their hearts and indeed at times ours. It symbolises those obstacles that can and frequently do, restrict our ability to understand, to believe in and accept God's offer of love and life. Yet here in the empty tomb, is where God is seen at his most loving. The tragedy, injustice and pain of Good Friday are transformed into the hope, joy and healing of Easter Sunday. The passion, death and resurrection represent the supreme gift of God to his people, the supreme act of his self-giving love.

The wonder of the creation story, the hope of the exodus from slavery, the consolation of the prophets have taught us that our God is indeed the God of life. This night, more than any other, we affirm that life, we claim it, and give thanks for it, rejoicing with all who will come to share in it through baptism. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, rolls away the stone that encloses us in darkness. He commissions us to go without fear and tell our brothers and sisters of the gift of life that is offered through him.

When we celebrate Easter, we are celebrating the fact that Christ is alive in our lives, that he is a living person for us, and that his life is experienced and revealed in many and various ways in our own lives. Jesus brought out from the darkness of his death into the dawn of his new life something precious for us all. Through our Easter faith we believe that there is a real meaning to life, a vitality to every day, a purpose to those efforts of loving which can tire our hearts and distress our spirit and make us feel lonely and empty as Christ did at times during his life and especially during his Passion. We believe that the meaning and purpose of life is that we are called to love - to love God with all our heart mind and soul, and to love one another as he has first loved us.

So in what ways might we experience that he is a living and loving Lord for us? We will know that Easter is real, that he is alive, when with his help, we make our own lives sources of light and life for others; when our words heal and encourage; when our hearts become more alive with compassion; when we stand firm for the value of life itself in all its aspects. Easter is not real just because it is proclaimed in the liturgy: it becomes real when people are healed, consoled and strengthened by the life-giving Christian love we show to a brother or sister. Easter is real when we become "sacraments" of the presence of the risen Christ, the light of the world, and of the values which he taught during his life on earth.

We are in truth called to be an "Easter people", because there are many Easter moments in our lives. It may be in prayer, when for a moment we really experience the love of God, especially having felt his absence, as we often do, like the disciples who experienced the emptiness of the tomb. It may be that moment when we are touched and given hope by a word of scripture - like the disciples on the road to Emmaus when their hearts were uplifted in joy and hope as the Lord opened up the scriptures to them. Or it may be a moment during the sacrament of reconciliation, after we have acknowledged honestly our weakness and selfishness, our sinfulness and come to experience his forgiveness. Indeed there are times in our lives when we know, through faith, that the times of calm after the storm, of joy after sorrow, of restored vitality after weary days on our journey of faith, are truly times when we share in his paschal mystery.

When we renew our baptismal promises again in tonight's liturgy, we are given the opportunity to commit ourselves afresh to following in the footsteps of the Risen Lord - personally, as a community of faith, and as God’s family. As important as the liturgy and sacraments are, however, we must never forget that true Christian celebration is a matter not just of certain fixed times or moments; it is about the way we live the whole of our lives, steadfastly committing ourselves to do what we know that the life and teaching of Christ demand of us.

The recurring message in the sermons of the apostles in the early Church is that Jesus was put to death because of our sins, but that God raised him to new life. The apostles and all the faithful down the ages have a sacred duty to be witnesses to this. In practice that means that we must, with God’s help, persevere in our efforts to die to sin and to live for God in Jesus Christ, the risen Lord. He challenges us to give expression to our new life not just in church or on special occasions but in our homes, our neighbourhoods and in society every day of our lives. In this way, our faith comes alive and we live the 'truth' of today's feast:

"Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen."