Bishop David Oakley celebrated a beautiful liturgy at Northampton Cathedral on Holy Saturday evening. He was joined by priests and people of the Northampton cluster of parishes including, Towcester and East Hunsbury, Northampton Cathedral and Kingsthorpe.
The liturgy began as always around the fire, the light of Christ outside the doors of a Cathedral in darkness. One by one was individuals had their candles lit from the paschal candle, the light of Christ, which was lit by the flames of the fire the light spread throughout the whole church.
During the service Bishop David baptised three new Catholics and confirmed a further six people, men and women of all ages.
At his homily Bishop David said
Gathering in the gloom of night, a single candle light led us into the Cathedral. Other lights soon appeared. And in the glow of this paschal candle, we heard the Easter Proclamation sung. Then began the vigil of readings and psalms.
Together we listened to the history of salvation. It began in the beating heart of love between the divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity. Creation was no accident. We are not the fruit of some random chemical cocktail coming together under the influence of natural forces. We were born out of a love which has purpose and direction. Creation has a destiny, moving towards the fulfilment of God’s imprint within every human being.
But then a cataclysmic tragedy. Through the enemy’s envy and our disobedience, we fell away from grace. The Fall gave birth to sin and death, and shaped so much of the world we find ourselves in today. There is no need to rehearse the many ways corruption has manifested itself. We struggle. We struggle to find the God who loves us so much. As news broadcasts daily proclaim, we struggle to achieve peaceful relationships with each other. Again, we need to be very clear about the human condition. None of this was meant to be. Even though it is difficult to imagine otherwise, this place we find ourselves in, is not our default position, before God or with each other.
And so, in the light that represents the risen Lord, began the long journey of God’s compassionate plan of salvation. We heard something of this story in our vigil. It began with the choice of Israel. Bearers of the promise, this people had a mission to the world, but they too are damaged by the Fall, and often struggled to embrace God’s plan for them.
God never gave up on us. God finds ever-new ways to mend and restore, to build and to advance the promises he never forgets. And finally he sent his beloved Son. Look what we did to him! We brought him to a place where he could know within his own experience, the devastation of sin. So much so, he cried outfrom the Cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
But that was never going to be the last word of Jesus. And yesterday afternoon, we heard God’s final word of judgment on the mess we had created for ourselves: It is accomplished. God took the risk. And the promise is fulfilled. The exile is over. We have been brought back home.
And this is where I want to share some thoughts with those of you who are receiving the sacraments of initiation this evening.
Because this is where the story of the Church begins. And now dear brothers and sisters, who are about to be baptised and received into full communion with the Catholic Church, this is where our story becomes your story. And what is the heart of all this? I can find no better words than those of Pope Benedict XVI:
‘We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’
The death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is not an event which can be dumped into the waste basket of human history. It changes everything. And through faith, we are invited to step inside this event. St Paul sums this up in fourteen life-changing words, ‘we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him’. This Church you are joining tonight, cannot be reduced to just a set of social and cultural habits, a private business for those who like that sort of thing. This Church is a work of God, even more than all the moments of salvation history we have shared together from the Old Testament.
And so my dear brothers and sisters, I want you to join the Church for the same reason that I stay in it. Because here, in the life of the sacraments, we allow the same power that raised Jesus’ dead body from the tomb, to be at work in our lives today. We cannot find this kind of power anywhere else. And to receive this power, it means we have to turn around and face a completely different direction than we have been doing until we came to new life in Christ. Beforehand, we struggled to make do out of our own effort. Turning to the crucified and risen Jesus, admitting our powerlessness and trusting in him, we discover a new power at work in our lives. But please be careful and be gentle with some of the other people sitting here this evening. They think they have to get to heaven out of their own will-power. They know this is not possible from their own experience, but still they keep trying.
So finally, let’s take a closer look at the Gospel we have just shared together. We meet with some women who are disciples and friends of Jesus. They are coming to the tomb as soon as the sabbath day is over, eager to do the right thing for their friend and Master. Actually, they provide a picture of so many in the Church today. They do not know what to think. They are terrified. They think it’s all over. They are disciples without a sense of direction. But then they hear the good news. This is not the first time they heard of this. They remembered what Jesus had told them.
And then they are changed women. They are emboldened. They become missionaries, even though the other disciples of Jesus are not having a word of it.
We too can become changed people. And so we need to unleash this power of our risen Lord into the Church tonight. Through baptism, and the renewal of baptismal promises, I invite us all to be open to the dying and rising of Jesus. As you witness new Catholics receive the Sacrament of Confirmation, open your lives to the coming of the Holy Spirit in a new way. In this Easter Eucharist, may each of us prepare to encounter the risen Lord. For he has risen, he has risen indeed!