Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Vigil: Easter Has Consequences

We have just listened to readings from Sacred Scripture that spanned the creation of the world, the sacrifice of Abraham, the deliverance of the Jewish people from their slavery in Egypt, and the resurrection of Christ. Along the way we listened to the great promises God makes to his people, and we responded with Psalms of praise and victory.

That Biblical banquet reminds me of the woman who started to attend the RCIA program. After four weeks she sent the coordinator an e-mail: “I’ve been learning far more than I can put into practice. Should I still keep coming?”

So where do we begin tonight? With Adam? With Abraham? Moses?

The obvious place to start is Christ—Christ who has been raised from the dead. But if you’ll let me, I would like to place the spotlight somewhere else at the beginning of this homily. Let’s start with you and me.

In tonight’s Epistle, St. Paul speaks about Jesus and his resurrection. But every second thought is about us. His words from the Letter to the Romans are all about the consequences of Easter for the Christian, for each of us.

Almost every sentence has two related thoughts—one about Christ’s resur­rection, the other about its meaning for the baptized.

He begins with baptism. Paul asks forcefully “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” He seems to think that’s pretty obvious: The union with Christ that baptism brings about means union with Christ in his death.

And what a consequence follows from that union: “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father,” we too “walk in newness of life.”

Just so we don’t miss this central point, St. Paul repeats it: “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”

If the Apostle had stopped there, it would have been enough. We could claim our inheritance tonight and place our hope squarely in the life to come. Our newly-baptized Christians could give themselves a pat on the back and we could call it a night.

But of course St. Paul doesn’t stop there. Dying and rising with Christ is not just about the life to come; it matters right now, because we claim our share in his victory over sin right now. In baptism we share in his risen life and so must consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God.

Only the very old, the very young, or the gravely ill can be satisfied with an Easter message that only refers to the life to come, important though that is. For the rest of us, tempted, troubled and tested in one way or another, freedom from slavery has to mean more than freedom from the fear of death.

I wonder what our catechumens were thinking when they heard St. Paul say “For whoever has died is freed from sin”? I don’t want to discourage you, but baptism doesn’t put an end to sin—if it did, we would not need the sacrament of penance, which our new Christians will soon discover as one of the greatest gifts of Christ and his Church.

What we have been freed from is the power of sin—its power to crush and corrupt. We are sinners, but not slaves to sin. As Father Emmerich said during the Parish Mission, “through the grace of the spiritual life, lived one day at a time, we can learn to overcome our inordinate attachments to perfectionism, to winning, to suffering or getting attention, to having to keep the peace at all costs.”

As free people, “we learn not to do God’s part, but to have faith in his ability to run the universe. We do this by detaching with love and surrendering to his will.”

What’s more, those who “consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” are even free from the fear of failure. Certainly our old self was crucified with Christ so that we might no longer be enslaved to sin—but the one who set us free knows our human condition and his plan provides for the forgiveness of the sins that even free people commit.

I saw on the internet some humorous road signs from rural India. My favourite said “This is a Highway, Not a Runway” and “Driving Faster Can Cause Disaster.” But the most thought-provoking sign was one that said “Road Closed Beyond the Cemetery.”

Easter assures us that the road beyond the grave is not closed. Faith is a highway to life everlasting for those who know the Risen Lord and accept the share he offers in the life he lives.

Jennifer, Kwangmo, and Graeme, you have spent many evenings at RCIA studying the truths of our faith. But the truths revealed to you tonight take you to a new level of understanding. The events in the Bible from creation onward are centered on Christ and take their meaning from Christ. “The primordial mysteries are repeated and fulfilled in Him.” The covenants with Adam, Noah and Abraham are surpassed by Him.

And, as our first reading from Genesis reminded us, Christ’s remarkable recapitulation of the whole of salvation history is not only about repairing the damage done by the fall of our first parents, Adam and Eve. Christ is recreating the whole universe in himself, leading all humanity and the entire cosmos back to God.*

You, too, will share in this wondrous drama by your unity with Christ and your obedience in faith.

You are asking for baptism because you believe in Christ’s promise of eternal life. But he also promises you a better life, here and now—a new heart and a new spirit. In baptism and confirmation he will pour out his Spirit upon you, and in the strength of that Spirit you will be able to do what the Lord commands, as a member of his people and adopted children of a loving Father.

You will stumble from time to time as you walk along this new path. But do not, for a moment, allow yourselves to doubt where it leads: ultimately to heaven, and here and now to peace.

Here and now, let each one of us decide to let the power of the resurrection make a difference in our lives—to break with sin, or at least to strive to live as free men and women, who know they can rely on a power beyond their natural strength.

Father Emmerich challenged us to conquer our feelings and to respond in a reasonable, responsible and loving way to those who offend us. He was inviting us to live as Jesus lived—which we can do in the new life he won for us through his cross and resurrection.

Although we have taken such a long and fruitful tour through the Bible tonight, I would like to end with two brief texts. The first is from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (2: 20)

Our Easter faith allow us to say the same thing, every day and in every circumstance.

The second text is from the Letter to the Hebrews, where we read “the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.”

The message we have heard tonight is meant to benefit us—to do us good, to change our lives, and to give us strength. And it will, if we stay united in the faith of the Church—because Easter has consequences.

* See "Recapitulation in Christ," New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd. ed., p. 952

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