Easter Vigil Mass – 2016
Homily by Abbot Peter McCarthy: 3-27-2016
“The dynamism of the Easter mystery is at the heart of the Christian faith. The resurrection is not a doctrine we try to prove or a problem we argue about; it is the very immediate life & action of Christ in us by his Holy Spirit.”
The words, My Sisters & Brothers, are those of Thomas Merton from his last Easter homily.
St. Paul echoes this same experience in our Epistle from his letter to the Romans.
“We were indeed buried with him so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.”
The Story of the Resurrection of Jesus is written in the language of our own most intimate inner-life experience. The Easter Gospel calls us to another part of ourselves … that part of ourselves we “know” is within us but from which we often feel exiled or excluded. Again, Thomas Merton reminds us:
“ We have been called to share in the Resurrection of Christ NOT because we have fulfilled all the laws of God & humanity, NOT because we are saints, but because we are suffering & struggling human beings, sinners fighting for our lives, prisoners fighting for our hope… our freedom!”
The earliest monks believed that the Gospels have eyes that gaze into a person’s deepest heart. So let us allow this Easter Gospel to look into our hearts tonight.
Notice the very concrete & poetic physical setting in Luke’s first sentence.
“On the first day of the week, at the first sign of dawn (at deep dawn) the women went to the tomb with the spices they had prepared.”
Just stop here … we know this language … deep within you you know the experience of walking into deep dawn … the promise of it … the expansiveness … the fresh & intimate perspective … and these are specific women, this first Easter morning …
Luke gives us their names … these women … Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. They call each of us out now to meet them here in this “first light” this “deep dawn” of the Risen One. And because these women are willing to venture out from the security & familiarity of their own homes (unlike the apostles) they are visited by angels.
“Two men in dazzling garments appeared beside them…”
Luke has a sense of the sudden flash / brilliance of lightning here in his Greek … AND just because their love for the Crucified One – their missing & grieving him … leads them OUT into deep dawn
“As if keeping an old promise to meet here in the first Easter Light.”
Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Mary the Mother of James are the first evangelists of the Easter Gospel. They are bearers of Easter Light to the 11 themselves!!
“When the women returned from the tomb they told all this to the 11 … but this story seemed pure nonsense, and they did not believe them.”
It’s an old story & a pattern we are all too familiar with … the apostles won’t “venture out” from the familiar … ”Deep dawn” is too frightening so they won’t go there. After all, they knew Jesus better & longer perhaps then the women. They are clearly the leaders in the early Christian community … practical men and so predictable in their response to the first preaching of the Easter Gospel. “Pure nonsense. They did not believe them.” But really, by this point toward the end of the story we should know better than to think it simply ends here … no one’s faith journey is ever simple!
AND we can never underestimate the “Peter Factor”. The figure of Peter is the key to Luke’s Easter Gospel. Why? Peter is without a doubt the poorest figure in this Gospel. He does not have the “deep dawn” peak experience of the women (remember, Peter tends to sleep through deep dawn experiences!) He doesn’t even have the security & stability & confidence of the rest of the Apostles. Luke writes:
“He went running to the tomb. He bent down and saw the binding cloths but nothing else. He then went back home amazed at what had happened.”
Well, What happened, Peter? What happened to Peter was Easter! AND it happened first, significantly for all & each of us, in the poverty of his inner life …
The key to Luke’s portrait of Peter is that “He went running to the empty tomb.” Luke uses this verb “running” only one other time in his entire gospel and it is very significant. Chapter 15: 20 the Father of the Prodigal Son:
“When his son was still a long way off his father saw him & had compassion & went running to him & fell on his neck & kissed him tenderly …”
Luke is telling us that Peter was waiting for Jesus as the Father was waiting for his prodigal son. This is a waiting – an intense single focus – of illogical & persevering Love. And so at the end of this story it is the irrational & persevering lover –Peter- who goes home “amazed”… Luke’s word for an intimate experience of the physical Presence of Jesus, I would add the FIRST experience of the physical Presence of Jesus after the Resurrection!
So this Easter Gospel looks at us tonight – gazes into our hearts – and it speaks to us.
Just like Peter we need to bend down to real life in all its poverty. We need to bend down with Peter to all that’s really not there in our lives…to our heart’s desire.
BUT … like the Father of the Prodigal son & like Peter we need to make of our emptiness a PLACE.
That PLACE where the love of the Father awaited the return of his Prodigal son.
That PLACE … that cold tomb, where the bled body of Jesus awaited the LIFE of his Abba.
That PLACE where the grieving & confused Peter bent down – saw nothing – and was filled with the Presence of the Risen Lord!
Easter happens to us when we are willing to walk with the women – or run with Peter – toward the longing at the center of our lives. It is that close to us … this empty tomb (of Easter morning) is within you.
+ Abbot Peter