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Easter Vigil Mass

Fr. Gerard dSouza, OCSO [1]

Easter Vigil

The Gospel tells us ‘After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.’ The Greek word used by the evangelist for ‘to see’ the tomb is the verb theoreo. From this is derived the Greek word theoria which is contemplation. It sounds strange – to contemplate a tomb. What were they actually contemplating? They had come to contemplate the one they once loved and hoped in – the dead Jesus as dead as any other dead person. In contemplating they were also mourning their shattered hopes. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary symbolize all those who love and hope, who desire a love that lasts forever and yet whose love is always mocked by rupture of death. This is why we are afraid to love and afraid to hope because we always see it never can last. This is the sadness we all carry within us.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI puts this feeling into words ‘The reason for our sadness is the futility of the overwhelming power of death, suffering and falsehood. We are sad because we are left alone in a contradictory world where the enigmatic signals of divine goodness pierce through the cracks yet are thrown in doubt by the power of darkness that is either God’s responsibility or manifest His impotence. In short we dare not trust God because either He does not seem to be in control of evil or worse still, He is the cause of it. So the women can only, in their helplessness, contemplate the tomb.

Then came the earthquake, the angel and the rolled back stone. I find it very interesting that the resurrection was not in the earthquake. Christ had already risen before the earthquake. It is as if the resurrection is both not of this world and yet in the world and so it does not have all the bells and whistles of a purely heavenly event. It is a still small voice. The women were hooked on death. Even if you had proclaimed the resurrection to them they still would have reverted to the tomb. The earthquake is the disruptor. It forces them out of their tomb like mentality and they now take note of facts – they actually hear the proclamation ‘He is risen’ and see the empty tomb. These facts would not have registered were it not for the shaking of their internal tectonic plates.

To me again, it speaks to us in our own process of conversion. If entombed in sin and despair, we never really listen to the proclamation of the good news. We hear words but sin and despair do not allow us to raise up our minds. We cannot even dare hope and every bit of the good news is greeted with the weary cynicism of frustrated hope. God must disrupt our lives with an earthquake. For some it is the irruption of a foretaste of eternal love, for others it is suffering that overwhelms. This disruption at least opens the tomb of the heart and rolls back, sometimes painfully the stone so that our hope can start breathing again. The empty tomb, the stone rolled away from the entrance symbolize the initial liberation of love and hope. Love and hope begin to raise their heads out of their foxholes but they still have to be attached, energized, reoriented.

In the case of the women who are sort of dazed and disoriented and yet with hope bubbling up in their hearts, the angel gives a task. Go tell his disciples. Don’t stand gawking at the tomb, don’t sit down and hug yourself in relief, get going – reach out in love to others, tell them the good news, do not hoard it for yourselves. They went away quickly and behold Jesus met them on their way. They obeyed and they encountered. In the same way, our hope and love cannot be left fallow. They must be disciplined by living for others which takes us out of our self-love. We do not meet Him in our self-enclosed world.  We must go out in service to the other and it is only there we meet Jesus. We meet Him like the women when we obey the demands of love and service. It is on this way of giving self away that we encounter the Risen Lord.

In the Eucharist today we will see what love means. It is bread that is broken for others. And we encounter Jesus in this breaking of bread. In turn, if we wish to meet Him then we too must be bread that is broken for others. In giving the good news away, we encounter it anew. This is the paradox at the heart of our faith – in dying, we live.