Easter Vigil 2015:
He is not here, he is going before you. These faithful women expected to find Jesus with all the other dead people. They went in search of a dead person and found something that amazed them. They didn’t find a dead body, but an empty tomb and a messenger with an astounding message: he has been raised, he is going before you. Imagine their surprise. We know this story quite well. We know that Jesus was raised from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is central to our belief. If Jesus had stayed dead, we never would have heard of him. But, Jesus is alive, this is no surprise for us, but imagine again the surprise and amazement of those first people: he is not here, he is going before you.
When was the last time you were amazed by God? When was the last time you knew how something was going to turn out, but it didn’t. When was the last time you were looking among the dead, but found someone alive? I think it happens all the time. Maybe we get nervous about some important meeting, but everything goes well. Maybe we get anxious about how we are going to pay the bills, but everything ends up working out. Maybe we are stuck in some impossible, intractable problem, but then a surprising solution presents itself. Or even in the midst of some sad circumstance, or some difficult suffering, God surprises us simply by giving us strength. God surprises me all the time.
Let the message of Easter be surprising to you again. Because we have heard the story of Jesus before, it can become a bit to common or ordinary: oh, yeah… Jesus rose from the dead… yawn. I hope and pray that I never take that message for granted, that I never get bored of the resurrection, that I never stop being amazed by this message. If we let it, the amazing message of the resurrection can change our whole lives.
Over the last couple of days we have been reflecting on a passage from St. John’s gospel. It reads, “he loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end.” I believe that this passage is the interpretive key to the whole Triduum. Thursday evening at the Last Supper, Jesus loved his disciples, by bending down and washing their feet. He loved us all by giving us the gift of the Priesthood, and the Holy Eucharist. Yesterday, Jesus mounted the wood of the cross to show us just how deep this love goes. Yesterday, he poured out his life, even his heart was pierced. He gave us everything because of his great love for us.
Again, love helps us to understand what we celebrate tonight. The resurrection of Christ is proof that love will not be defeated. That even when things look bleak and hopeless, love finds a way. Jesus died because he loves us. But, he also rises because he loves us. Jesus rises from the dead so that he can take us with him, like we hear tonight, he is going before us. He loved his own, and he loved them to the end. But, the beauty of this story is that death is not the end. In fact, we haven’t gotten to the end yet. The women today went to the tomb thinking the story of Jesus had ended, that’s why they were so surprised, so amazed. Tonight is a chance for us to be amazed by God as well.
One of the best parts about being a priest during Lent is all the confessions. I cannot tell you just how amazing it is to be a priest and to be able to absolve people of their sins. Very often people come in weighed down by their sins and by the circumstances of life. Very often we face a lot of difficulties in this life. Some of these difficulties are because of our own poor choices, our own bad decisions. But, sometimes these difficulties just happen to us, maybe an illness, a loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, a difficult family situation. I sometimes meet people whose lives are filled with darkness. My message to them is the same, Christ is our light even in darkness. St. Francis of Assisi is quoted as saying that all the darkness in the whole world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle. No matter how much darkness we have in our lives, and there might be a lot, the light of a single candle can be the beginning of something new. When times are tough, we need something bright. Look at this candle. The Easter Candle is a symbol for Christ. Jesus Christ went into the darkness of the tomb, the darkness of death. But, he rose from the dead. Now he lives forever, he has gone before us to His Father, he wants us to follow him. He is the light of the world. He is the light that can shine in our darkness. His love is so pure and so bright, that it can be our light in dark times. Look again at this candle, let the love it proclaims amaze you all over again.
My friends every time you see this candle, remember the words of the Gospel: he loved his own in the world, and he loved them to the end. Let this one light, namely the great love that Christ has for us, be the light in darkness. Let this light shine. No matter how much darkness we might face in this life, it cannot extinguish the light of this candle, the light of Christ, the symbol of his love and presence among us. He loved his own, and he loved them to the end. This candle reminds us that this love hasn’t ended. I hope the light of this candle surprises and amazes us all. Christ is Risen, he is not here, he is going before us.