The Easter Vigil

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Given at the Easter Vigil at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday 19 April 2014

Our ceremony this night is an epic. It presents a vivid portrayal of the whole sweep of human destiny. Here we find our story told in bold symbols, powerful words and beautiful music.

It begins with the Book of Genesis. There we heard an unfolding of the different layers of creation, each in relation to the Creator God. All of creation finds its origin and design in Him. Its high point is the human person, you and I.

'God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them.'

Here, as our starting point, is the bold assertion of the dignity and pattern of human life, drawn directly from the very gift and nature of God, a dignity to be protected at all times, especially in the most vulnerable. From here we all set out on our journey.

From these beginnings, the drama of our liturgy embraces the climax of our human destiny, its fulfilment. This climax, this destiny, was prefigured in the transformation of the darkness of this Cathedral, the darkness of our human history, by the entrance of the light of the risen Christ. From one single candle, a new light filled this place. And the source of that light, the only light to survive the destruction of death, has been solemnly proclaimed in words and in song: 'I bring you a message of great joy. Christ is Risen. Alleluia!' He is the Light of the world.

St. Paul fills out the promise of our destiny. We too, with Christ, are called to live a new life. We are to 'imitate his resurrection', not only in spirit but in our bodies, too. Here is a promise that takes us beyond all our earthly hopes. Each of us destined for eternal glory, our bodies too, like that of Jesus, transformed into images of his glorious bodies. Have that thought in mind when you look into the mirror tomorrow morning! This body is to rise from the dead and become sharer in the glory of God! Let us never disfigure it now. Here is the true depth of our God given dignity, the dignity of every human being, infinitely precious in the eyes of God!

The journey from our beginning to this end has been explored in the other readings we have heard this night. This is the journey we all make, through the highways and byways of our lives, working, wondering, probing, falling, starting again.

The Reading from the Book of Exodus told us of the imprisonment and slavery of the Jewish people in Egypt and of their liberation. This is our story, too, for how often do we imprison ourselves in pursuing unsatisfying priorities: anxiety, work, or, in Shakespeare’s phrase, the 'bubble reputation'? When these things take hold of our hearts we too, like the Israelites, are in need of a redeemer.

The Third Reading, from the Prophet Isaiah, spoke of the wastelands of hunger and of unsatisfied greed that can also capture us. The prophet put before us the promise of good things, rich nourishing food, provided in our Father's house. Here the echoes of the parable of the prodigal son are strong: the boy who squandered his inheritance, all his abilities and ended up destitute. Can we not all identify ourselves with that wasteful son, who is driven back to his loving Father only by a persistent ache for food and for love?

Speaking of food brings mind the thought of our Easter meal. For many, and certainly for me, Easter Sunday lunch was always lamb, a roast leg of lamb. And this is not by accident. Roasted lamb was the menu ordered by God for the people of Israel to eat as they stood waiting their liberation from Egypt. And our ultimate destiny, proclaimed by the Risen Christ, is described as a heavenly banquet. Shortly we shall proclaim: 'Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb!'

Indeed, the earthly journey of Jesus, the words and actions by which he made clear God's loving purpose for us all, is full of stories and events of meals, weddings feast, banquets and, of course, the last supper. For Jesus there is something very eloquent about sitting down together and sharing the food of life. Indeed every Mass is such a moment and at every Mass he himself is offered as the sacrifice, the very food we share, the Lamb of God. And every Mass is always a foretaste of the Easter meal of heaven.

Two aspects of the meals of Jesus are so important. Remember the story of the Wedding feast at which some people are refused admission because they have no wedding garment? The point is that wedding garments were provided, but they refused to accept one. This evening, in a few moments, we will witness eleven people accept their wedding garments, the white robe of their baptism, for baptism is the invitation card, the wedding garment, for the eternal supper of the Lamb. We rejoice with those who are to be baptised and confirmed this evening.

The second point is poignant, too. In one of the parables, when some refuse to come to the feast that has been prepared, the master sends out to the highways and byways and invites in the poor, the lame, the destitute. Here are the Lord's first preferences: that no one be excluded, unless they so choose, and that the poor are particularly close to his heart. These must be our preference too.

These are lessons for our journey. On this night of such promise, we keep in mind all who feel excluded from the fruit of the earth: the homeless and the poor, those in our midst who are destitute and the vast numbers of hungry in our world today. As we rightly rejoice, we rightly hold in our hearts all who are burdened with sadness: the Korean families in who lament the loss of the children, drowned in an upturned ship; the people of Syria, their children in Damascus hit by shells as they played last Monday morning in their school yard; the persecuted people in the Sudan and all who do not know peace. May our prayers and the promise of this heavenly banquet, which is never withdrawn, sustain them in their hours of need.

'I bring you a message of great joy. Christ is risen, alleluia!'

Today we rejoice at this affirmation of our deepest hopes and longings. Indeed in Christ they are surpassed! And as we rejoice, we take hold again of our calling, the mission that we receive this night: that of bringing to others the same invitation to faith that we ourselves have received. As we celebrate our Easter joy, please look for the ways in which you too can be its messengers. In the words of Pope Francis, we are to be a people who share with others the simple joy of knowing, personally, Christ Jesus, of knowing his gift of forgiveness and service; we are to be a people who help others to see the horizon of beauty which he holds out before us, the beauty we first glimpsed in his endless love sealed by his death on the cross. Let each of us try to bring others to our finest beauty spot, to stand at the foot of the cross and gaze on his love for us. And let us be a people who joyfully invite others to this delicious banquet of the Lord, his Easter feast of every Mass and its promise of fulfilment in heaven. Let us really show our faith by the way we live!

A happy and joyful Easter to you all!