Given at the Mass of the day on Easter Sunday, 16th April, 2017, at Westminster Cathedral
Last night there was a fire in the Cathedral. It was strong and powerful and it spread very quickly. We did not call the fire brigade. It was the Easter fire, the fire of the Resurrection of Jesus from the tomb of death. It spread until every person present was holding its flame, at the tip of the candle that each held high.
Today we celebrate that new fire, the new life brought to us from beyond the doors of death for he is risen from the dead!
We have heard from the witnesses to this event: Peter, who was first to enter the empty tomb and who met, walked and talked with the Risen Christ; John, who was also present and who stepped aside to allow Peter to enter first; Mary of Magdala who first raised the astonishing news; Paul, whose life was so dramatically changed by his encounter with this Jesus and who says to us that the glory which is Christ’s will be ours also!
The fire of faith, ignited by this unique event, burns brightly today throughout the world.
It burns in the hearts of the people of the villages of Qaraqosh and Karemlash in the plain of Nineveh, where today Mass will be celebrated in churches damaged by ISIS. There Christians will again gather now that this reign of terror has, at least in those places, been brought to an end.
It burns brightly in the hearts of so many Christians, in Egypt, in many countries in Africa, and in other parts of the Middle East, where many have been martyred for their faith in this Risen Lord. For them, life in Christ is worth more than life without him. These are no suicide deaths. They love life and die only because it is taken from them because of their faith. Theirs is the true meaning of martyrdom.
This Easter fire burns strongly in the hearts of so many people in this country who dedicate time and effort, in the name of Jesus, to providing food, shelter, comfort and hope to millions of the world’s poor, both here and in many nations around the world.
This faith sustains the long, slow work for peace. Patriarch Louis Sakho, speaking about peace in Iraq, said: ‘Peace must be achieved by us religious leaders as well as politicians, through courageous initiatives and responsible decisions.’ With other religious leaders, he will take forward the process of seeking the rebuilding the 12,000 damaged homes and churches, ‘in the land’, as he said, ‘where we were born and have lived for 1400 years, together with our Muslim brothers and sisters, sharing one civilisation’. We too must sustain this work, starting here with our neighbours in this land.
Today we pray for peace in our troubled world, as confrontations harden and threats increase. We pray for wisdom and prudence in world leaders and an unwavering determination for cooperation rather than conflict.
This Easter Day is a call for us to renew, in our lives, the pattern of this faith. In the days of Holy Week we have learned again what that means. There are four aspects, four facets to this pathway of faith we are to walk. They come to us directly from the Risen Lord.
We are to honour him, day by day, with our prayer, especially in the prayer of the Eucharist, for he told us: ‘Do this in memory of me.’
We are to follow him in service of those in need, the forgotten ones. This is his Royal Road of service, which he told us to take, freely offering respect and reverence to the poor for in them we encounter the Risen Lord himself. They are not recipients of our gracious charity. They are the face of the one whom we love. This is why our efforts will never cease, for this love is stronger even than death.
Thirdly, we are to bring to him the burden of our sin and the sorrows of our broken world. He wants us to be free of that load. He soaks up the anger and evil of our world, without retaliation, as he dies on the Cross of Good Friday. Only there will we find the peace and salvation for which our hearts and our world aches.
And, finally, we are to keep fresh in our hearts the readiness to see beyond death, to the vista he opens for us. We are never to lose these eyes of faith, which take us beyond the agony of suffering and tragedy, beyond the pain of the injustices of this world, beyond the darkness of death that awaits us all. In his Resurrection is our hope. His Resurrection is true. Our hope is not deceptive. It is strong and firm and utterly reliable.
The light of this Easter day, the strength of this fire of faith, is the true antidote to the corrosive cynicism of aspects of our public culture that wants to belittle what it cannot comprehend and undermine what it may reluctantly admire. Today we celebrate the true victor, the one whose triumph entails no losers except sin and death, in which all who wish share the victory and find in it the true fulfilment of their souls.
Christ is Risen. Alleluia. May he reign in our hearts and bring us his peace. I wish you all a most joyful Easter indeed!