Homily given by Cardinal Vincent Nichols at the Mass of Easter Morning 2019 at Westminster Cathedral
This morning, as we celebrate the Risen Christ, I ask you to have foremost in your prayers the people of Sri Lanka as they face the dreadful deeds of death that have devastated their community this morning. We pray for those who have been massacred; for those who are bereaved; for those whose lives are shattered. Every Easter Day has within it the death of Christ. Today in Sri Lanka death dominates hope and joy. But Christ always rises again and we pray that his victory will sustain the people of Sri Lanka in this darkest hour.
Today in this Mass, with great solemnity, we rejoice in the risen Christ. We have heard the account, in the Gospel, that only at this moment did the Apostles understand that Jesus must rise from the dead. We heard the early proclamation of the Church in the Acts of the Apostles, and we heard St Paul’s wonderful reflection: ‘your life now is hidden with Christ in God’. When your life comes to its fulfilment, you will be filled with the glory of God.
There are many ways of wishing a happy Easter. Here are two: ‘Happy Easter’, ‘Buona Pasqua.’
Happy Easter has its origins in Anglo Saxon, and so it has its echoes in Dutch and German as well, and can teach us a little bit about this feast we celebrate. It has its origins in the title of a pagan god, Eostre, whose festival, the great Bede tells us, was kept in the month of April. So this is a goddess of spring, and we can see how the images of spring have been used to express the richness of the risen Christ, rising to new life from the depth of the earth.
But, you know, I think there is more that we can draw from this greeting. We learn, in the light of faith, that the rhythms of nature are of God, for he is their Creator. We learn, too, how we might best relate to that creation. We see it primarily as a great gift of God, for which we give thanks. This is the basis of our respect for the world of nature and the deepest reason for our desire to protect this environment. Our relationship with nature is so well expressed and taught by our tradition of saying a prayer of thanks and of blessing before we eat, and when we’ve finished to remind ourselves, day by day, that this world has a Creator and its fruit comes to us as a gift.
We can also learn from the words of Jesus, who said, ‘Look at the lilies of the field (we see on the Sanctuary this morning how beautiful they are). They neither toil nor spin’ (Mt 6.25). So he teaches us to have a simple relationship with the goods of the earth, not to be caught in a spirit of entitlement, but rather to be simple in our needs and free to give praise to the Creator.
The other way of wishing a happy Easter: Buona Pasqua, shapes the greeting given not only in Italian but in Spanish and Portuguese as well. It opens up a different tradition for us. The word Pasqua come from Hebrew ‘Pesach’, meaning Passover. The accounts of that seminal event tell us of when the chosen people escaped from the slavery of Egypt into the freedom of God’s children. The Jewish community celebrates Passover at this time; so as we wish each other ‘Buona Pasqua’ we wish our Jewish friends ‘happy Passover’.
This greeting teaches us that Christ is the new Passover, the one who takes us away from our slavery to sin, our slavery to things that are destructive and disordered in our hearts, from the desires that lead to unhappiness. He leads us from that into the freedom of life, hidden with God in Christ.
And so we have these strands that flow into our celebrating of the risen Lord.
Let me appeal to another ancient source. Fifteen hundred years ago, Pope Leo the Great exclaimed at this time: ‘O Christian, remember your dignity.’ The deepest dignity in each one of us is human dignity brought to a new clarity and a new purpose in the risen Christ. He breaks open not only that bond of sin but also the great door of death. In Christ this seemingly final horizon of human life is broken open for us, so that we may live in the greater horizon of faith, an Easter faith, which gives rise to the lasting joy that our true life, hidden with Christ in God, will come to its utter fulfilment.
In a few moments you are invited to renew the promises of your baptism, the foundation of that great dignity you have as Christians. I hope the water, as it touches you, invokes a memory of your baptism, perhaps, but also invokes a longing for more: to know more of this Jesus, more of this Christ, who, in the gift of the Holy Spirit, gives the power to transform us and to transform our world.
So, Buona Pasqua. A happy Easter to you all.