Given at the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night, 3rd Apil 2021, at Westminster Cathedral
We have entered ‘this most sacred night’. As we gather round this majestic candle, I take the opportunity to welcome you, here and at home, welcoming the light of the Easter candle into our every darkness. We greet and salute the risen Lord. We rejoice in his victory. We acclaim him our King and Lord, to the glory of God the Father, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Every aspect of this Vigil has something to invigorate and instruct us. It’s hard to know where to begin.
This evening let us remember, with gratitude, that women were first to the tomb of Jesus. In the Gospel accounts, exactly who, and how many, is not clear. But the women were first there. It is they who called the other disciples to come and see. Women often are the ones who summon us to faith.
We have just heard the account given to us by St Mark. He tells us that there are three women who went to the tomb: Mary of Magdala, who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears; Mary the mother of the disciple James, and Salome, perhaps the one who danced for Herod and demanded the head of John the Baptist. Now they came with spices and ointments to care for the tortured body of Jesus.
That is what love does. They care deeply for Jesus. Their closeness to him gives shape to their lives and actions.
We cannot care for the actual broken body of Jesus as they wished to do. Yet closeness to him lies at the centre of our lives, too. The body of Jesus for whom we care, to whom we show our love, is those who are around us, near and far, who share in his sufferings and look to us for help.
Indeed, giving Jesus first place in our hearts is the best way to live. This we assert again shortly when we come to renew the promises of our baptism. The sacrament of baptism seals the bond between us and the Lord. Tonight we renew that bond, in heart and mind. We profess again that when we live in him, close to him, we find the very best way to live in this world with all its hardships and joys. We also come to know that united to him is the best way to die.
These are important realities emerging for us from this night.
I thank God that we have tried to live by them during these dreadful times of the pandemic. I thank all who have opened their hearts to those in need. I thank all who have supported and prayed for the bereaved and the grieving, and those whose have died. May the light of the risen Christ shine on them all.
Remember again the words of Pope St Leo the Great we have been
pondering this week: that we are to fix the eyes of our heart on Jesus, recognising in him our own humanity.
As Pope Leo tells us, the body of Jesus that lay lifeless in the tomb is our body too. He tells us that the body that rose again on the third day is ours. The body that ascended above all the heights is ours. He instructs us: ‘If then we walk in the way of his commandments and are not ashamed to acknowledge the price he paid for our salvation, we too shall rise to share his glory.’
We have heard St Paul deliver that message to the people of Rome and to us: ‘Having died with Christ we shall return to life with him.... His life is now with God.... we, then, are alive for God in Christ Jesus.’
This is his Easter promise to us; and it is utterly reliable. The eyes of our hearts, then, are fixed on the risen Jesus, glorious in the light of the Paschal Candle, our light and our life. We are his and he is ours.
Earlier in our Vigil we listened to the reading from the Book of Genesis, relating the creation of the world. We did this to remember that this Jesus, to whom we give our hearts, is the very eternal Word of God. Through him all things are made. Through him comes every gift of life. This means that, flowing from our personal relationship with him, we learn a new way of looking on all life, on the world around us, on all creation. We see everything in the light of Christ, in the light of this candle. To those who can see, then, all creation is ‘charged with the grandeur of God’.
In this way, the colour of the created world is intensified, for it is all God’s work; the imperatives of care and compassion are intensified and extend to all those created by God in his image and likeness; the meaning and purpose of life is deepened, reaching beyond the realms of this mortal life; the hope by which we live is made secure by his victory over death; the joy of his constant companionship, enlivening every day, is now more resilient, overcoming even great hardship.
At the end of the Vigil this evening, may these words resound in your heart: ‘Pour out on us, Lord, the Spirit of your love and in your kindness make those you have nourished one in mind and heart.’
And a very happy Easter to you all!
✠ Cardinal Vincent Nichols
Archbishop of Westminster