Easter Vigil -2020
We gather once again on this Holiest Night of the Christian year. It seems like all other Easter Vigil nights of yesteryear in this church. And yet at previous Easter Vigils, the tabernacle would be open and empty- a gaping hole. This time, the Lord is present and yet the gaping hole is all around us. How do you explain the shuttering of not just one country but the entire world? How do you explain the holiest time of the year being live streamed only and churches shuttered? Our attention is on flattening the curve but what about the 17 million and counting, many who live from paycheck to paycheck and now are out of work. If we sense a menace out there, we are in good company – here is Henry Kissinger in an opinion piece in the WSJ – ‘The surreal atmosphere of the COVID-19 pandemic calls to mind how I felt as a young man in the 8th infantry division during the Battle of the Bulge. Now as in late 1944, there was a sense of inchoate danger, aimed not at any particular person but striking randomly and with devastating effect’ If there is a time when we celebrate Easter with either the greatest cynicism or with an almost avid and desperate hope – then it is surely this Easter night.
And yes, what is Easter in the face of all this? I speak as one who like you walks the razor edge of faith. We are not dispensed from the onrush of chaos and pandemonium and hideous death. If there is even one dark corner on the globe, we own it. It is happening to our flesh and blood. Is there a real, more real than the present of irredeemable gloom? Is there a real that can defang the present panic stricken narrative filling up all the spaces of our attention? I was pondering our Gospel in the light of all this.
This particular narrative has always intrigued me because it runs counter to my expectations. I have found it incongruous and even amusing that there is only one heavenly intervention in this narrative of the resurrection and yet it is only tangential to the resurrection itself. Here you are – you have an angel arriving with an earthquake, with an appearance like lightning, clothing white as snow to roll back the stone. Well they could have got a couple of men with crowbars to roll back the stone. You did not need an angel. But of the resurrection – the mightiest event in the space time continuum, the greatest miracle, the resurrection from the dead. No nothing. And then the gospel continues rather nonchalantly – and behold Jesus met them on their way and greeted them and they embraced his feet and did Him homage. Just like that. No atomic flash, no ever expanding spiritual mushroom cloud. Just an early morning stroll and they saw Jesus in the park. Come on – they embraced His feet and did Him homage. It is all so ordinary and yet extraordinary – these were first century Jews with a Temple, the exclusive place where God was found. You did your homage there. Here they did Him homage. The atomic flash is right there but concealed in the ordinariness of daylight. It is as if the resurrection world is the world, our normal world now. It is not some heavenly dimension hovering over our real world and now and then shooting down into it and then retreating. It is the ordinary now. You do not need lightning and peals of thunder and fire consuming the mountain. It is just that we do not see it. Which brings me back to the angel. The earthquake was needed not for the resurrection but to shake the women out of their habitual patterns of thinking and perception. They needed an earthquake to notice the kerygma – He is risen. Stop that obsessive death dance in your minds. That death dance that clouds your eyes and plugs up your ears. Pay attention and expect to see Him.
My brothers, the past usually determines our expectations of the future and our perception of the present. As the past has been so is the present and so will the future be. This is the prison. There has to be a great reversal, a great conversion. A great earthquake in our lives so that the future determines our perception of the present, The world is transformed. At the end of the age we will see this clearly. But even now the eschaton, the transformed world is present with us – especially in the Eucharist. Behold I am with you to the very end of the age. This is the Risen One who says this. It is this that must shape our perception, that must be the desire of our eyes and the logos our ears long for. He is found here in the sufferings and the triumphs of the Church militant. Not in some pious bubble and hazy transcendence. The food of the mature is not looking past into the sky for Him to reappear always miraculously but looking through to where He awaits us. I will not leave you orphans. Behold I am with you always to the very end of the age. This is not some promise for the future. It is for now.