Sermon: Easter Vigil and Easter Day

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleleuia!

Goodness me, it seems so long since we have been able to cry that word: alleluia!

Our sermon series for this Triduum concludes with this burst of joy, the same burst that comes forth from the tomb, and proclaims the concluding victory of Christ over sin and death; as the Exsulstet that I have just proclaimed also speaks of that triumph, that bringing of light into the darkness in which we have to this point been entombed.

Rick Founds, the writer of this song manages to convey in a very few words, the scale of the story of Salvation History. Our Salvation does not begin with the Cross, but begins with the very creation of this earth – the God who creates is the God who saves. The Incarnation is the ultimate proof of the God which so loves us, that he is prepared to enter into this world to engage with us.

Edward Schillebeeckx, possibly one of the most significant theologians of the past fifty years and only recently gathered to God (and frankly, one of the hardest names to spell, I have ever come across!), wrote that:

“The Incarnation is not merely a Christmas event. To be man is a process of becoming man; Jesus’ manhood grew throughout his earthly life, finding its completion in the supreme moment of the incarnation, his death, resurrection and exaltation…

…By the fact that he became man, the Son of God is fundamentally already the Christ. But we must realize that it was only upon his rising from the dead that, because of the love and obedience of his life, the Father established him absolutely as the Christ”

E. Schillebeeckx: Christ, the Sacrament pp20-21

The proof of the Christ is in the resurrection. All that Christ had taught, had done, had established was vindicated by his resurrection, and through that resurrection, we are able to know definitively that His way is the truth.

All of Christ’s promises are true. Because of the truth of his resurrection.

No-one was present in that tomb, no-one was able to witness to the awesome power of God, even the Holy Shroud of Turin (which many of you will know, I believe to be genuine) was only a passive, silent witness to the actual event;  but the evidence of the resurrection stands as truth in itself:

  • The actual, proven death and entombment of Christ by those charged with his execution – knowing that the penalty for failing to crucify someone was to be crucified yourself; the blood and water from Christ’s side which can only occur in death.
  • The appearance on the first day of the week to women, whose testimony could not have been relied upon in a court of law at the time(and I am sorry about that, but that’s what a patriarchal society was like) – if you were going to fake it, you would have used reliable witnesses: another example that God’s ways are not our ways.
  • And for me, the clincher: the Martyrdom of the Apostles. If the Apostles had stolen the body and then claimed the resurrection, then surely when faced with their own Martyrdom, at the first sign of the sword or the nails they would have come clean about the deceit. No lie is worth dying for. That the first witnesses all went to their own deaths proclaiming we have seen the risen Lord surely proves the truth of the event.

The reality of this event reverberates around the world, and transforms it. The rising of the first fruits in Christ changes you and changes me, and shows us that sin and death are no longer our Masters, but that we have been won, paid for, redeemed by Christ; and that this was the ultimate outplaying of the whole Incarnation.

“From heaven to earth, from the earth to cross, the cross to the grave, the grave to the sky”

No, there is nowhere that God’s love cannot reach, as the Psalmist notes in Psalm 139 (Ps 139:8), and for that on this morning, and every morning we are called to praise him for his marvellous works, his glorious resurrection and proclaim in the words of our song for this morning:

“Lord, I lift your name on high…”