HOMILY FOR THE EASTER VIGIL 2014
The beginning of the new life, the life of the Risen Lord, is very like the beginning of his earthly life. Before developing this theme, let us pause there a little. The Son of God entered the world in poverty and obscurity. In St Matthew’s Gospel, he is a baby in a refugee family, and spends his earliest years in exile. His life is short, he has no children, he dies a condemned criminal, and his mission ends in failure. That is his life from the cradle to the tomb. Now surely, with the rolling back of the stone from the tomb, and the undoing of death, there will be a reversal of all that brought him to his shameful end? But God’s ways are not our ways, and the Resurrection is the vindication of God’s ways.
The angel of the Lord was present at the very beginning of Jesus’ life, smoothing the way: appearing to Joseph to explain that his betrothed was with child of the Holy Spirit, and appearing later to guide the Holy Family to safety and to home. The angel of the Lord is there again at the resurrection, smoothing the way again, rolling back the stone so the women can enter the tomb, explaining to them what has happened, greeting them as he greeted Joseph: Do not be afraid.
Jesus spent the greater part of his life on earth with the most lowly and despised of God’s people, in Galilee of the Gentiles. He began his preaching by proclaiming, there, that the poor are blessed. He begins his risen life too with the most lowly – and faithful – ofhis disciples, the women.
His life began in a divided family: Joseph had resolved to quietly divorce Mary. The angel of the Lord reunited Joseph and Mary, so the life of Jesus could unfold as God wanted. When Jesus rose from the dead, his disciples – those he had called his family, saying, ‘Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother’ (Mat 12:50) – were divided. And again, the division was between male and female. The women, like Mary at the beginning, have remained silently resolute. The men have fallen prey to doubt and fear. Again the angel of the Lord comes with no word of blame, bringing unity and peace to the family of Jesus. So the new life begins.
Jesus’ earthly ministry, according to Matthew, had concluded with his teaching: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Mat 25:40) The women come to the tomb seeking Jesus: ‘I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified,’ the angel says to them. The angel of the Lord redirects their steps. Jesus in not here, he says, and you must go to the disciples, to the brothers of Jesus, and quickly. Quickly they go, running, and on the way to the brothers, they meet Jesus. So the new life begins.
It was not for Jesus that the angel rolled away the stone – the tomb could not contain him – it was for the women, so they could go in and see, and go away and tell. He was sitting there waiting for them. He had a message prepared for them: ‘Behold, I have told you,’ is how he concludes his words to them, like one who has discharged a solemn duty. They were awaited, and from Heaven. They had stood with Jesus at the Cross, they had been faithful, and Heaven itself knew that they would come, looking for Jesus. They are the link between Cavalry, and the tomb, and all the brothers of Jesus, a connection stronger than all the doubts and betrayals of his brothers. Heaven itself depended on them, and so may we. Their message is true.
‘Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee. There they will see me.’ Go, that is, to the region where light is given to the people that sits in darkness, and the poor hear that they are blessed. There you shall see me. So the new life began, so it continues, and he is with us always, to the close of the age.
Abbot Anselm Atkinson OSB