Given at the Easter Vigil of the Holy Night, 15th April, 2017, at Westminster Cathedral
Today in these words of majesty and in this sumptuous music we celebrate and we sing of his new life. We read of echoes of his victory in the past, in the history of Israel. We hear that it is ours to share. As we strive to make ourselves one with Christ, we receive our mission.
St Paul says to us: ‘You too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.’
Yet there is one symbol that we have used uniquely in the Church’s year: a fire. We lit a fire to help us to understand the brilliant, life-changing newness of what we celebrate. And from that fire we all received a part, the fire at the tip of the candle we hold.
To understand the significance of this fire, we look at the story of Moses. Moses is saved from certain death as a child. One day as he is tending the flock, he sees a burning bush in the desert. ‘Funny,’ he thinks, ‘it’s on fire but not burning up.’ As he approaches, God speaks: ‘Take off your shoes.’ There he comes, as it were, face to face with God. There, he receives his mission, as we do, gathered round this fire.
Moses is told to go to Pharaoh and demand the freedom of his enslaved people. ‘How can I?’ he asks. ‘I will be with you always,’ the Lord replies. Moses asks, ‘Who are you?’ ‘I am who am,’ comes the reply.
Our mission seems as impossible: to bring to this troubled, war-torn, exploiting world, the peace and new life of Christ; to bring to our wayward hearts, with our capacity to misuse people, to belittle them, to cast them aside, the mercy and gracefulness of Christ. Surely, this is impossible, unrealistic!
Yet, in the majesty of this Easter fire, in the light of this Easter candle, in the summons of the candle that each one of us holds, Jesus says the same to us: ‘Yes you can, for I am with you.’ And who are you? ‘I am who am. I bear the Divine title, for I am God. I have conquered death, and I will set you free!’
Over the days of this Holy Week, we have learned what he wants of us. He wants four things.
First, he wants us to offer our prayers to him, most of all the prayer of the Mass: ‘Do this in memory of me.’
Second, he asks us to offer our service to one another, especially to those most in need, for this is his royal road, the pathway to true dignity as taken by him, the Lord and Master when he washed his disciples’ feet.’
Third, he wants us to bring to him our sin and brokenness, for this is why he died on the Cross, to bear our burden and bring us his mercy.
Fourth, he wants us to hold firm to the life beyond death, beyond suffering and pain, and never to lose heart, for he has both overcome that last enemy and given us a share in his victory.
In a moment, we will welcome and baptise those who want to know and share this way of life. They will receive a lighted candle. Ours will be burning again.
On this holy and wondrous night, let us hold up our candle with pride. See in its tip of fire the burning bush of Moses, the sign of God’s power and presence now given to you, that you too may live in God’s freedom and be his witnesses in your way of life, today and into life eternal.