11 April 2020

Homily - 11 April 2020 - The Easter Vigil During the Holy Night

Holy Saturday
The Easter Vigil During the Holy Night

Dear brothers and sisters,

On this most sacred night, we commemorate that curious visit of the women to the tomb of Jesus to give his body a proper anointing. I say their little pilgrimage was curious both because they admitted they did not know how to remove the stone and because they went “while it was still dark” (cf. Mark 16:3; John 20:1). It is almost as if they have not quite thought things through, but grief will do that to a person. In these recent weeks, as well as at other moments in our lives, we know something of that thoughtlessness brought on by grief and we feel it particularly on this night which the Church calls “the greatest and most noble of all solemnities.”[1]

This night, this vigil of Easter Sunday of the Lord’s Resurrection, is the greatest and most noble of all solemnities because this is the night that we go with those women to peer inside the tomb. We go with them with the certainty of hindsight that the Lord’s body is no longer in the tomb. Consequently, we usually accompany these women with a certain excitement, a giddiness even, but tonight we perhaps accompany them with a sense of unease. While we may not like this feeling, it can give us a greater understanding of the tremendous mystery of this night.

While those women may not have thought everything through before heading to the tomb, we can be sure that

in no way did they delude themselves about the true meaning of their gesture: to pour oil on a corpse does nothing for the deceased; it only serves to express the affection of others; an affection which at that point is completely powerless to bring the person back to life. Hence the painful anguish of such a gesture. When Jesus was alive, the women were able to show him their affectionate love and devotion. But that time is over, and they can do nothing more for him.[2]

Or so they thought. Now they must be messengers of his triumphant love (cf. Matthew 28:10).

Like those women, “a fear, mixed with disorientation and bewilderment, has taken hold of us. We feel lost, confused, blind. We cannot read what is happening very well, we cannot see or glimpse what it will be, how we will be, how and if we will resume our life.[3] It is as if we, too, stand before the tomb, startled by the angel who is surprised at our grief. As he said to the women, so the angel says to us, “Come and see the place where he lay;” come and renew your faith in the One who has conquered death (Matthew 28:6).

We keep this night in vigil, we keep watch for the Lord, because “the resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our faith and hope, and through baptism and confirmation, we are inserted into the paschal mystery of Christ, dying, buried, and raised with him, and with him, we shall also reign.”[4] We can be inserted into the mystery of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection because he still bears his wounds. Through the immeasurable grace of Baptism, we are joined to Christ and inserted, as it were, into his very heart; our lives “are swept up by Christ into the heart of divine life, so that [we] may ‘live no longer for [ourselves] but for him who for [our] sake died and was raised’” (II Corinthians 5:15).[5]

Even so, the knowledge of his triumphant victory over sin and death, does not automatically bring about an end to sadness within us. Indeed, “the joy of Easter is not a banal happy end of the story of Jesus, it is not the happy end of the Gospel for which they all lived, nor is it the cancellation of the pain of the world or the simple removal of the many bleeding wounds of history.[6] Rather, the joy of Easter goes much deeper than this; it is the certainty that, precisely in the midst of these moments of sadness and suffering, the Lord Jesus has already cleared the way to new life and lasting joy and hope.

The words of the angel were not just an announcement of the Resurrection of the Lord from the dead; he was not simply functioning as a newscaster. No, through his words, the women were

invited to take on a new attitude, … to make a change, to convert. They must recognize that their search and their spontaneous worries were not oriented in the right direction. They want to honor Jesus with funerary rites, but he had no need of them. The women stop short at the event of his death, taking that as the final point. But the messengers remind them of Jesus’ words to the contrary: that is, that death would not have the final say, but would only be a necessary passage to a new life.

In this, they “were led to understand that it was not a question of absence but of a new mystery of life, the Easter proclamation that was just proclaimed also leads us to believe what a mystery wants to reveal to us, a new word wants to be born from this silence.[7]

With those women, we must also take on a new attitude; we, too, must perceive the angel’s invitation to see the world in a new way. This invitation may leave us also “fearful yet overjoyed,” but we must not give in to fear (Matthew 28:8). We must rather return again and again to the tomb to see again the certainty of the Lord’s Resurrection; we must wait in silence for the word which the Lord wishes to speak to us: “Do not be afraid” (Matthew 28:10).

As we stand before the tomb, we must consider the orientation of our lives. Do I live my life focused on myself and on success according to the standards of this world? Or do I live my live focused on Christ Jesus, ever desiring to be inserted into his Paschal Mystery and so to become a saint? The proclamation of Easter joy is rooted in our ability, by God’s grace, to become like Christ, to live not only for him, but with him and in him. This Easter, if we turn our hearts again to the Lord, if we open them to him anew, then the joy of his life and love will be ours. Amen. Alleluia!

[1] Roman Missal, “The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night,” 2.
[2] Albert Vanhoye, Daily Bread of the Word: Reflections on the Weekday Lectionary Readings (Chicago: Liturgy Training Publications, 2019), 109.
[3] Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Homily, 11 April 2020.
[4] Paschale Solemnitatis, 80.
[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 655.
[6] Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Homily, 11 April 2020.
[7] Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Homily, 11 April 2020.

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