Given at the Easter Vigil on 26 March 2016 in Westminster Cathedral.
At the beginning of our ceremony this evening we used words which expressed our hope and prayer: ‘May the light of Christ rising in glory dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.’ The darkness is real, this week shown most emphatically on the streets of Brussels. The light is strong, overcoming all darkness, as our ceremony has portrayed in light which flooded the darkened Cathedral.
In these days of Holy Week, on Good Friday in particular, we have raised up the figure of the dead Christ, the one who took to himself all the sins of the world, past, present and still to be committed. He appeared crushed by them, defeated and destroyed. But this night we no longer hold up the figure of suffering and death but the enduring light of the Easter candle. It is the light of the risen Christ who, still bearing the wounds of his suffering, comes to us in glory. And this light, passed in faith from hand to hand, has the power to overcome all darkness, all sin.
In these days we have reflected on the words of Jesus: ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man you will know that I am He and that I do nothing of myself’ (John 8.28). In these words we learn to see that Jesus, the one crushed on the cross, is truly God. We see in faith his eternal Father, in and with whom and with the Holy Spirit, Jesus is One in the Godhead, stooping down to lift him up from human death to the glory of the life and light which we now proclaim. The light we raise this night, then, is the light of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, given to us, placed in our hands and seeking its place in our hearts and minds. This Easter candle brings us the power of God, that enduring love, seen in the crucified Jesus, now offered to us all. It is something we can never achieve for ourselves or find within our own resources.
The language and truth of our Easter Vigil is that of rebirth, new birth, a birth which comes from above. Shortly I will baptise six people. We speak of them being ‘brought to birth in the font of Baptism’, ‘rising to the life of new-born children’.
What does this baptism mean, a baptism we all share? Here we are all like Nicodemus who, you remember, came to Jesus by night, as we do, and asked what precisely this rebirth could mean. ‘Is it possible to go back into the womb and be born again?’ he said. Jesus explained that this is rebirth in the Holy Spirit, a birth into a life which is totally and explicitly from God and which directs us in every way to God as our beginning and our fulfilment.
This is the new life in which we all seek to be renewed on this night. This new life is to shape and frame our daily living, our every action, transforming us from within.
This is what it means. In the power of the Holy Spirit our life has a new horizon, a horizon of eternity against which we set every decision and aspiration. Now our life gains new criteria by which we judge what to do, what to seek, what to avoid, what to oppose. Now we can recognise sin for what it is, the rejection of the wish of God in favour of what we want for ourselves. From this new life we gain a new life-force, new blood coursing through our veins, the blood of Christ himself. Shaped by this new life in Christ we form different habits of life, those of daily prayer, of routines of kindness, of determined forgiveness and of self-sacrifice. From the light of this candle, from the waters of baptism with which we shall be blessed, we are reshaped, reborn into God’s people, seeking his holiness and his joy.
Yet here is a further key truth; this new life, this way of faith is not an external imposition on our nature, on our humanity, as many would have us believe. Our faith does not distort our natural selves by asking of us things which are against who we truly are. No, this new life is the fulfilment of the nature which we all share even though it carries us beyond the limitations of our nature. Of course, faith is demanding. But more important it is fulfilling.
This is why this light is so attractive. This is why holding candles in the darkness of our world is such a deep instinct, repeated all over the world, especially in the face of evil. We are born for this light, born to live in this light, born to enter into this light even though at times we prefer the darkness.
This light is Jesus, who is both the one who died and rose again, and the Word through whom each one of us has been created. In coming to us in the light of his risen life, he is completing the work he started at the moment of our conception.
My brothers and sisters, here is our greatest gift: the invitation to embrace the light of Christ rising in glory and to let it dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds. So be it. Amen.
And a happy Easter to you all!