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Friday, 6 April 2012

Easter Vigil Mass (Year B)

(Romans 6:3-11; Mark 16:1-7)

Mark tells us that three women followers of Jesus came to anoint His body in the tomb, and, to their great surprise and joy, found that the exceptionally large stone used to block the entrance to the tomb had been rolled aside; so:
            Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing      a white robe; and they were amazed.
We too have reason to be surprised, if not amazed, at the fact that this young man sitting at the right and wearing a white robe is not named.  He was obviously an angel, and that is the surprising thing, because Pope St. Gregory writing about the Angels and Archangels tells us that:
“Angels are only sent when something is announced through them.  Those who make minor announcements are called angels, those who make important ones are called archangels.  Hence it is that not just any angel was sent to the Virgin Mary (at the Annunciation) but that Gabriel the archangel was sent: it was right that the proper one for this role should be of the highest rank of angels since he was to announce the greatest news of all … When angels come to minister to us, even the names by which we know them are taken from their ministry -- Michael means ‘Who is like God’, Gabriel ‘Strength of God’, Raphael ‘Healing of God’.”
Isn’t it strange then that we are told nothing about this ‘young man in white sitting at the right’ in the tomb; one who was there, had been sent, to announce the very greatest news of all -- pace St. Gregory -- which is the news of the Lord’s Resurrection?  There he is, in the tomb, not a glorious, named, archangel, but simply, a young man dressed in white!!
In that way all our attention is directed to the message he has been sent to deliver; and yet, all that he says about the Resurrection is:
            He has risen; He is not here.
The women could see that the Lord was not there, so really all the young man says about Our Lord’s Resurrection is, “He has risen.”   What, indeed, was the young man there for?  You might say, “perhaps he was there to roll away the stone.”  Very well, but, having done that job, why did he remain?  Just to say: “He is risen”?  Yes; that was, indeed, the main reason for his coming and remaining, because those three words both state a supremely important fact and contain a most important teaching.
First of all, the simple fact is so very important for the disciples because otherwise they might well have thought, as did Mary Magdalen, that the body of Jesus had been taken away by some unknown persons: after all, there were many important people who wanted His name to be totally forgotten.  Had the young man not been there to declare Him risen, the disciples would, it is true, most probably have eventually recalled that Jesus had spoken of rising of the third day, but, due to our human weakness, they could not have had any certainty about whether or not that had actually taken place without their seeing and touching Him.  And this is why the teaching is revealed dear People of God: Jesus did not want to see his disciples hesitant and unsure, fearful and doubtful, for He hates the anxious worrying and the corrosive hesitancy that easily prevents men and women from embracing hope and committing themselves in trust.  Such worry and hesitancy is the tap root, so to speak, of humankind’s sinful self-love; it is, spiritually, a mortal threat for a disciple of Jesus, for a child of God.  That is why the young man in white straightway states the fact simply, clearly, and surely: “He is risen”.
Moreover, the young man’s words, reported back to the disciples, would give them a necessary jump-start, so to speak, moving them to hope again; it would encourage them to look forward to seeing their Risen Lord.  He therefore went on to speak more expansively about that future meeting with the Risen Lord:
            Go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you to Galilee;            there you will see Him, just as He told you.'
How remarkable!  There is no mention of the Crucifixion of only two days ago; the Resurrection itself has been allotted but a very few words, and the angel goes on to speak mainly about the future meeting saying: “the arrangement He made with Peter and the disciples still stands; nothing has happened to change that planned meeting.  He is already going ahead to Galilee.”
And that was what Jesus wanted: His disciples had to begin living again, depression and worry had to be replaced by hope; and all uncertainty and anxiety had to be totally dispelled even before that promised meeting restored and renewed their commitment to Him.  See how self-effacing is Jesus’ love, you might say how careless He is in respect to His own glory!!  The angel’s message was phrased first and foremost for the well-being of His disciples, only secondly for Jesus’ glory.
And so, on this vigil, nothing is said of how things happened or where Jesus had gone.  How did He look: glorious, heavenly, majestic, awesome?  Wouldn’t we love to take away with us tonight a picture, some understanding, of that glorious, never before heard of, event that would give us a spiritual infusion of heavenly zeal and joy?  But nothing of the sort!
Now we know, God is wiser than we are: He is infinitely good, and knows all our real needs; so let us look again, yet more closely, at what is being offered us this holy night.  In our relationship with God, we have, first of all, to appreciate Who we are dealing with, what sort of Person, so to speak, He is.  The angel’s message, as I said, ignored the Crucifixion, skipped over the Resurrection, and concentrated on a future meeting of the Lord and His disciple.  It would seem as if that meeting was of such importance, that nothing, not even a horror such as the Crucifixion, could possibly, in any way, have prevented it taking place; and that nothing so gloriously transcendent as even the Resurrection can be allowed to push it aside into forgetfulness or oblivion!  The angel’s message is, therefore, about God’s Providence and Power: surely you did not think that the Crucifixion could prevent the meeting:  God’s Providence and Power is total and unassailable; it is also about the Lord’s Love and Faithfulness: never fear that the Lord in His Risen Glory could ever forget you and His meeting with you.  His Love and Faithfulness are constant and unfailing!  Surely you can’t fear He might have more important things than you on His mind?’  People of God, these are fundamental truths about Jesus, about the God we worship and serve: first of all, He is the omnipotent Lord of both heaven and earth, Satan can do nothing that will prevent the coming of God’s Kingdom; and secondly, His Personal love and faithfulness is more tender and tenacious than the human mind can imagine, nothing can separate us from His watchful care.
We are next privileged to catch a further glimpse of the Risen Lord’s love in the angel’s last words to the three women:
Go tell His disciples and Peter!
The disciples, as you will remember, had fled and left the Lord; that was bad enough; but Peter had three times publicly denied His Lord.  Since then he would have been breaking his heart with grief and his soul with regret at the recollection of what he had done.  These few words of the angel show the tender, personal, love of the glorious Risen Lord; they assure us that the Risen Jesus has indeed a gloriously human sensitivity in our regard.  He was well aware of the turmoil in the mind and heart of Peter, and He wanted Peter to be assured that he was in no way to be excluded or cut off.  Therefore the angel had to refer to him by the very name Jesus Himself had first given him (‘Go to the disciples and Peter’), insisting that he be present at the meeting in Galilee as planned.  People of God, note well: our God and Saviour is Almighty and -- in the same Breath of the Spirit so to speak -- most lovingly Personal.
Finally, however, for an authentic relationship with God, we must know not only Who we are relating to, but we must also be aware of how we are to relate to Him: for in our life with God we must have total trust and confidence in God and in the Faith we have been given, the Faith that enables us to appreciate and contact Him.  God’s power and the Lord Jesus’ love will never fail us no matter what the appearances may be!  Therefore, we have to develop within ourselves -- for that is where the weakness lies -- our confidence, above all, in God Himself, but also in the blessing of the Catholic Faith which has been bestowed upon us and handed down to us:
The young man said to them, ‘Do not be amazed; Go, tell His disciples and Peter, "He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see Him, just as He told you.'"
Very often, People of God, men and women want to wonder at some apparently marvellous happening -- whether or not it is so marvellous does not really matter -- because they have no sure rock on which to rest within themselves.  They glory in the wonder and for a time they feel confident, think they have faith; but then, as the human chemistry within them, or as the outside circumstances around them, gradually change, they are not quite so sure, and they begin to feel the need of another wonder to give them another boost.  Now we must not treat the Lord’s Resurrection in such a way.
To that end, the anonymous young man who this evening said hardly anything about the Resurrection itself, as we have noted, actually said almost everything about the Faith God wants us to have:
            Do not be amazed.  He is going ahead of you.  You will see Him just as          He told you.
This Easter morning we should leave here with renewed trust and confidence in, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude to, God the Father, Who has invited us this day to a deeper appreciation of the mystery of His Son, our Risen Lord, ever abiding with us, and by His Spirit in us, in Mother Church.    Moreover, we should seek to make this blessing of deeper love for, and appreciation of, Jesus, this blessing of renewed confidence in our Catholic Faith handed down to us over twenty centuries by Mother Church, a permanent feature of our Catholic character. And towards that end, we should constantly seek to strengthen it within us by making acts and aspirations of confidence and trust, in the same way as we make the more customary acts and aspirations of love:  Just as ‘My God, Lord Jesus, I love You’ should always be at home on our lips if we want to grow in such love, so also exclamations of trust, prayers for hope, outbursts of gratitude such as, ‘My God I trust you, I hope in You’, or ‘Thank you Father, Lord, for the gift of the Faith and for Mother Church’ should always be hovering around in our mind and heart.  That is the sort of fruit the Father wants from our Easter celebration.  Therefore, as we leave here wishing each other a Happy Easter, let us all resolve to give Easter joy to the Father Himself by striving to bring forth the fruit that He expects from those who wish to become true disciples of His beloved Son.  A Happy and a Holy Easter to all here present.