FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE SOLEMN VIGIL OF EASTER, April 20, 2019:
Three people died and found themselves at the pearly gates of heaven. St. Peter greeted them and said they could enter if they could answer one question, “What is Easter?” The first one replied, “That's easy, it's the holiday in November when everyone eats turkey, and is thankful.” “Sorry,” said St. Peter, and moved on to the second, “What is Easter?” They replied, “Easter is the holiday in December when we put up a nice tree, exchange presents, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.” St. Peter just shook his head and looked to the third person, “What is Easter?” The third one smiled and said, “Easter is the Christian holy day that coincides with the Jewish celebration of Passover. Jesus was turned over to Roman authorities who took Him to be crucified. He was hung on a cross, buried in a nearby cave which was sealed by a large stone,” the man paused before finishing, “Oh, and every year the stone is moved aside so that Jesus can come out, and if He sees his shadow there’s six more weeks of winter.” So close!
Well, let’s see if we can come to a bit of a clearer answer to the question what is Easter today. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.” That is a passage from a book that I read a few years ago called Home by Marilyn Robinson. Home is a sort-of prodigal son story. It tells of Jack, the black-sheep of his family, who returns home after many years to reconcile with his father and come to terms with the mistakes he’s made in life. But, I can’t help but think this particular passage is good answer to our question about Easter. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful. He lets us wander so we will know what it means to come home.”
Yes, of course, Easter is our annual commemoration of the event that changed the very course of the world, and changed the course of our lives – Jesus, the Son of God, does the seemingly impossible – He conquers death itself. O Death, where is your victory? And through our Baptism, He welcomes us into the same life eternal with Him. This is almost more than the mind can handle.
But, I think Easter is more than that for us, as well. It also plays a role in our own annual journey of faith. “Weary or bitter or bewildered as we may be, God is faithful.” My friends, as we gather in this church on this holy night, we may have found ourselves at some point feeling any of these things – weary or bitter or bewildered; maybe other things – overwhelmed, tired, angry, or sad, even far from God or far from the Church. But, tonight – on this night where everything is made new – our faithful God welcomes us home once again. He wants to renew us in His love and in His grace; to wake us up, to reanimate our faith, to resurrect in us our spiritual life; to make us the people He created us to be.
As our former Pope, St. John Paul II, reminded us so well, “We are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song.” And what he meant was that Easter isn’t just today; it isn’t a one-and-done kind of experience. No, Easter is so amazing, so unprecedented that it is far more profound than a mere moment – it is in fact a way of life. You see, resurrection changes everything. You can’t go from death to life without being changed. And so, if our Lent, our last 40 days, was a time to give things up, perhaps our Easter should be a time to take things up. Take up things like finding more time with family and friends. Take up things like joyfully remembering our own baptism – when we died with Christ so that we might live with Him forever. Take up things like engaging in surprise acts of generosity and kindness and goodness; becoming the embodiment of Christ’s new life that fills our world.
You know that I grew up in New Bedford. One of my favorite things about my home town is our city’s motto: Lucem Diffundo, or “We light the world.” It is a reference to the whaling past when whale oil was used to light the lamps of the world. We light the world. I think this could be a good motto for all of us tonight. Our Easter candle, after all, should not be just a light in our Church, but a bright light for all to see. It is meant to light a spark inside you and me, so that we can light the world – with our goodness, our holiness, our compassion, and our joy. If people noticed our ashes and our fasting during Lent; they should also notice our happiness in the reality of the resurrection throughout Easter. We should embrace Easter so fully that those around us might ask, “What is this all about? What has changed with you?” And we might answer them, “I am a Christian. I light the world!”
God is always faithful. He lets us wander so we might know what it means to come home. So whether you were already near, or perhaps you were far away, Jesus says today, Happy Easter and welcome home. Welcome home to the renewed, refreshed and resurrected relationship He offers you here today.
And, as an Easter people, we proclaim Lumen Christi, “Christ our Light” and Lucem Diffundo, “We light the world!” Let us go and share God’s goodness to those in need; speak love to a world bruised by violence and consumed with anger; show reconciliation to people whose lives are broken; offer hope to those who ache under hardship or failure. Be the Easter people who cry out “alleluia” to the world around us. Let us light up the darkness of our world. After all, we are the Easter people and ‘alleluia’ is our song!
Happy Easter and may the Lord give you peace.