Paschal Vigil by Abbot Stan Gumula

Homily of 31st Mach 2018

Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 2; Genesis 22: 1 – 18; Exodus 14: 15 – 15: 1; Ezekiel 36: 16 – 28; Romans 6: 3 – 11; Mark 16: 1 – 7

Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.

These are the last words we heard in this long night of readings.  And these are the first words I speak to you tonight.  After all we have been through this past week: after the Hosannas of Palm Sunday, the joyous feast of the Last Supper on Thursday, the walking with Jesus on the way of the cross and his cruel death on Friday, the fire and the jubilant praise of Christ our Light, we are left here at an empty tomb with the simple instructions: Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.

It has struck me once again, my brothers and sisters, that in all the Gospel stories about the appearances of the Risen Lord Jesus, there are none in which Jesus comes with great fanfare and external hoopla.  It is never Jesus as King in all his majesty, as he does in the Transfiguration or in knocking St. Paul from his horse.  Rather, it is always Jesus, the human son of the carpenter, just as the disciples knew him.  And the message the women are given in this Gospel of Mark is not to proclaim the great miracle of Resurrection, of New Life, of ecstatic joy.  There is a place for that and the image of Christ which has dominated Christian art, especially in the Eastern Churches, is that of Christ, the Pantocrator, the Lord and King of heaven and earth.  St. Paul especially proclaims such a Christ.  But the Gospel accounts do not give us this image in the resurrection stories.  They focus not on Jesus in glory, not on Jesus as removed from suffering and death and above us and our world, but on Jesus who is close to us.  Jesus talks with his disciples, Jesus eats with them, Jesus allows them to touch the marks of his wounds, Jesus calls them by name.  The Gospels focus on the simple presence of Jesus.  But this presence of the risen Jesus changes everything.  St. Aelred put it so succinctly: My friend Jesus lives.  It is enough for me.  My friend Jesus lives.  It is enough for me.  The young man in the tomb tells the women the message they are to proclaim to the disciples is to return to their homes, to Galilee: their place of origin, and to their daily tasks and relationships.  There they will see Jesus, there they will encounter him once again.

My brothers and sisters, this is the message which I, in turn, proclaim to you.  You do not have to go up to heaven to bring Christ down.  You do not have to travel to the depths of the earth to bring Christ up.  He is here.  His presence is real.  He is among us.  When we proclaim our faith in the resurrection we are not proclaiming our ‘head’ adhesion to some miraculous event of 2000 years ago.  What we are proclaiming is our ‘heart’ faith in the living and vivifying presence of Jesus in all the events of our daily lives, our Galilees, whether our personal lives, the lives of our family or community, or that of our country or our world.  It is here where we find him.

I cannot emphasize this enough.  In the light of tonight’s Gospel message, it seems to me very important for us to use this special kairos moment to ask ourselves: Where have we experienced the living presence of Jesus?  Not where the great spiritual masters and Christian authors experienced it, but where in your life have you known Jesus?  Where in your life have you encountered Jesus?  Don’t be afraid to ask these questions.  We have all experienced Jesus or we would not be here tonight.  The empty tomb and the message given to the women point us inward, point us to take stock of our experience of Jesus.  Make your own this experience anew.  Trust in it.  Treasure it.  You will not be deceived.

As a preacher I cannot articulate your experience.  Only you and God, the hidden ground of your being, can do that.  But I can say: I have had such experiences, as pedestrian as they might appear.  And so have you.  Tonight’s message to and from the women tells us where to look for this experience, where to see Jesus, where to find Jesus.  Right here.  Right now.  In our midst.  And most especially in our daily, humdrum Galilees: our lives of work and prayer and play.  Turn to this Jesus often.  In joy and sorrow, in the good times and the bad.  Trust that Jesus’ presence in your life is real, is life-giving, is comfort and strength.  In the very pedestrian ways Jesus was present to his disciples after his resurrection.

Then we will be able to spread the Easter message: the love of God is real because Jesus is real.  And that nothing, absolutely nothing, brings us into contact with Jesus better than our quiet faith which works in love in the Galilee of our daily lives.  Our love for one another shows Jesus’ presence better than any words, however eloquent, that I or others may say.  Trust in this love.  Treasure this love.

The Paschal Vigil proclaims mightily: Death has not conquered.  An empty tomb says death no longer has the final word.  An empty tomb proclaims that the Living One is found in the midst of our daily lives.  Let us recall where we have met him there, let us encounter the King of Glory anew in the mercy received in the humble Jesus.  May we too say from the heart: My friend Jesus lives.  It is enough for me.

And let the Church proclaim:  Amen!