Bishop David celebrated the Easter Vigil at Northampton Cathedral on Saturday evening. To a packed church he delivered the following homily.
So how was Lent for you? Was it just me, or did Lent seem to fly by this year? Did it leave us feeling a little guilty, we should have made more of these weeks? The forty days of Lent remind us of many biblical times, the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness. But also, the forty days of flood, the forty days Moses was immersed in a cloud on Sinai, the forty years Israel was in the wilderness. Like those biblical moments, our time of Lent was a preparation on our part for what the Lord will do, acting in and through the pilgrim people of God.
And so to the familiar events we call to mind this evening (morning). We know the elements of the story so well. Disciples came to the tomb and found it empty. Messengers shared the basic narrative, he who was crucified and buried here is now risen. The Lord appears to his disciples. Sometimes they recognise him immediately. More often, it takes some time for them to realise who he is.
But if these accounts are all that lie behind our celebration today, then we will never fully understand the resurrection. Every Sunday and holy day, we profess our faith, ‘he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day’; ‘I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’; ‘I believe in the resurrection of the body.’
It would be easy to say these words, whilst thinking about other things. The family gathering together for Easter lunch. The chocolate we have waiting for us in the car. And certainly, the Creed speaks of events which happened in ancient history. We look forward to something which will happen one day in the future. But what does it all mean for us today, Easter 2023?
Jesus did not share with us, some interesting religious ideas, a kind of self-help programme to make this world a better place and give us something to hold on to at difficult times.
What intrigues me about the stories of the resurrection, this is clearly not what his friends expected. They were confronted with something very different, a new understanding of reality. Pope Benedict XVI put it this way, ‘Much as the reality of the event overwhelmed them and impelled them to bear witness, it was still utterly unlike anything they had previously known.’ He goes on to say, ‘The Resurrection opens up the new space that transcends history and creates the definitive. In this sense, it follows that Resurrection is not the same kind of historical event as the birth or crucifixion of Jesus. It is something new, a new type of event.’
The resurrection is not a myth story. It is not some kind of mystical experience. It is a real event. And we have a choice. We might get on with our lives, gently or firmly setting all this to one side. Or, we may choose to become intrigued by this new type of event. We seek to immerse ourselves in the resurrection in such a way, our lives are changed completely.
For many of us, there are no Damascus Road encounters with the risen Lord. Like Moses, we seem to dwell in the midst of a cloud, but in our case, it is a cloud of unknowing. We say our prayers. But God doesn’t seem to listen. And if he does, he doesn’t seem to do anything about it. We are full of questions. We stutter along. All this is the experience of the disciples in the Gospel. This was the reality of their relationship with Jesus before the resurrection.
After the resurrection, something has changed. These are new people who live within a different reality. It is as though they are caterpillars or silk worms, gone through the chrysalis stage and now they are butterflies. This is what it means to experience the dying and rising of Jesus within ourselves. We look at the world around us with new eyes. We see ourselves in a new way. We have been born again.
The best way we come to know what this new life looks like, is to get to know the saints. Like the first disciples of Jesus, each saint is different. We may find some more attractive than others. But all saints share one thing in common, they have embraced the dying and rising of Christ within the setting of their particular life. The life of the saint has embraced a new reality. The saint has become a new kind of event.
And this is what Easter is all about. In a moment, eleven new brothers and sisters in Christ will be baptised or received into full communion with the Church. They are signs of new life to us and we welcome them accordingly. But this night, all of us can share in their experience when we renew our baptismal promises. We are able to step into the reality of the resurrection. As always, the apostle Paul puts this succinctly and completely,
‘When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.’