Easter Vigil Mass – 2017
Homily by Abbot Peter McCarthy 4-16-2017
Midway along our road of life I woke
to find myself in a secret dark wood,
for I had lost the narrow path. To evoke
what it was like – how hard, I barely could.
This wood was savage, dense and strange! The thought
of it renews those fears that I withstood,
a place so bitter, only to be caught
in death is worse.
I cannot rightly say how I came there,
I lost the true way wandering unaware,
Yet when I looked up, saw the hill’s wings with their clean
early light cast from the planet whose sight
leads men straightly on every road. The scene
diminished and I felt the force of fright
lessen in the lake of my heart, that fear
I felt so piteously throughout the night.
My brothers & friends,
Perhaps many of you recognize those lines of poetry; they are from Dante’s Divine Comedy. Dante’s words came to me when I was reflecting on the opening scene of our Easter Gospel tonight. It is “deep dawn” (Matthew tells us) on the first day of the week & Mary of Magdala and the other Mary are on their way to visit the tomb. We have two friends since the early days in Galilee; two women who have lost the One they loved most in all the world. Where are these two women going?
We know the answer from our own life experience and here we step more fully into this Gospel.
Where do the mothers & widows & sisters of Palestine or Israel go today?
Where do the mothers & widows & sisters of Iraq or Syria go today?
Where do the mothers & widows & sisters of our own deployed military go today?
The answer is right here in the Easter Gospel. Matthew tells us simply the two women are going to see, to touch, the grave – the tomb – of their beloved One. Unlike Mark Or Luke, the women are not going to do something – to anoint the body – no, they are simply going to BE there at the tomb of their loss.
The indeed find themselves this early morning in a dark wood, savage, dense, and strange – a place so bitter.
And yet, I want these two Marys to hear the words of our Father, St. Bernard in his first sermon for Easter.
We should ponder in diligent thought – he writes – what is that which is especially commended to us by this glorious solemnity of Easter. As for myself, I take it to be three things: 1) a resurrection, 2) a passage, and 3) a transmigration. For Christ has not fallen back today, but has risen: He has not returned, but passed on:
Now, however, having Himself passed on to a newness of life, He invites us also to make the same passage, He summons us to Galilee …
And so the women’s’ journey is interrupted by the sudden, blinding, flash of lightning – in the “deep dawn” of their awareness and the message delivered by an angel (because it is so foreign to our world)
Those four powerful words repeated throughout the Easter Gospels:
Do not be afraid.
Aside from the fact of the empty tomb – the evangelists don’t agree on much of anything concerning Easter Morning – BUT this they all agree on – The message / the experience / of Easter is this Do not be afraid whenever you find yourself in that secret dark wood of your own life’s loss & mystery.
Easter intercepts our life’s journey and calls us out to another journey toward others..out of isolation and into community (communion).
It is the angel who intercepts the journey of the 2 Marys this morning:
Come and see the place where he lay,
Then go quickly and tell his disciples.
The two women turn and run toward the community and then they see Jesus. And what does Jesus say to them?
Do not be afraid – Go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.
In this one final verse of our gospel is the truest – most intimate – experience of the Risen Christ by the earliest disciples. The very person of Jesus Risen unites these scattered deserters (each lost in his own “dark and savage wood). Jesus brings them together and calls them his brothers and sisters and sends them on a journey together.
Where? Not to some exotic destination but “return to Galilee” enter again your everyday life with me for others…that’s what it means to return to Galilee. You will see me there.
Earliest tradition has it that Peter & John and the others first returned to fishing – BUT it was all different now – They were a community called together & breakfasting on the shore with the Risen One! I am reminded of another fisherman, the South American poet Juan Ramon Jimenez who wrote:
I have a feeling that my boat
has struck, down there, in the depths,
against a great thing.
– Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
And are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?
My sisters & brothers, let us join the two Marys this very early Easter morning – let us pray for one another, encourage one another, that we Do Not Be Afraid – that we discover that New Life – the Risen One – within our own lives – within our own community – within our own families this Holy Season.
+ Abbot Peter McCarthy