(Easter Vigil, Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley: Saturday 6:30pm; Easter Sunday, Saint John Fisher Church, Tarragindi: Sunday 9:00am)
19/20 April 2014
There’s a beautiful reading in the Liturgy of Holy Saturday. It’s from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday. It speaks of what we call “the harrowing of hell” or as we profess in the creed, when Christ “descended into hell.” This, of course, is not the hell of the damned, but rather what is in other places called “the underwold.” Christ descended into hell to bring forth all those whom he had created but who lived before his saving death and resurrection. Christ goes to hell to call forth Adam and Eve, all the patriarchs and prophets, all God’s holy people who had lived through the ages before him, and who slept in the sleep of death – and he calls them to come and share in his resurrection. He goes to the underworld to call the dead to heaven.
Christ goes down into the underworld and searches for our ancestors, like a shepherd searching for a lost sheep. On finding them he takes them by the hand and says “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
Christ orders those held in the bondage of death to arise, because he says, “I did not create you to he held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.”
The image of Christ setting free all those who were held in the sleep of death says something of what Christ wants to do for us. It speaks of what Easter does for us.
We are like our ancestors, bound by death, to the extent that we are bound by our sins. Our sins rob us of freedom. If we are made in the image of God, then they tarnish that image. If we are one with Christ, then our sins damage that unity, that communion with Christ, because he had no sin in him. And to the extent that sin has overtaken us, we are separated from Christ – unlike him.
Just as the enemy led our forebears out of the paradise they once enjoyed, so too the enemy leads us away from innocence. We also suffer the effects of evil around us in its various forms … we suffer because things are not at rights with God.
In the Easter mystery, Christ comes to us. He comes and searches us out. He goes down to the depths of our misery and suffering to transform it.
There is no sin from which Christ can’t restore us. There is nothing which ultimately can separate us from his love – his love is greater. Even death itself, which seems to be the final victor – even death is conquered by Christ in his resurrection.
It is our Easter faith that the light of Christ has come into the world – a light that the darkness can never overcome. This light has been given to us in the faith we received at baptism, and on this feast of Easter we will solemnly renew our baptismal promises … to allow God to enliven that gift of faith that is within us.
As we come to this Easter Mass, perhaps there might be some part of our lives that is in particular need of Christ to transform. Perhaps there is some particular area of darkness, suffering or even sin. We might even be conscious of this need in someone close to us – someone who is dear to us, for whom we are praying. On this night/day, let’s ask Christ to reveal to us the healing power of his resurrection. That he, who descended to the underworld to bring forth the dead into the light of his kingdom, may similarly bring new life to us, and may shed his redeeming light into any darkness we know and experience.
Let’s also be reminded this day/night, that the relationship that Christ the Son had with his Father in the Spirit of love, was one that reached out to embrace and draw into itself all of creation. And so all the gifts and graces of faith that we receive are meant to be shared.
May our celebration of the Easter mysteries therefore remind us that we are called to live as an Easter people … people who bring the light of Christ to any darkness we see around us; a people who go out to draw others into the embrace of God; so that all people may know the reconciliation that Christ has gained for us.