Easter Vigil - Saturday, April 15th, 2017
Genesis 1:1–2:2; Genesis 22:1-18;
Isaiah 54:5-14; Isaiah 55:1-11;
Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4;
Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28;
The tragic story of Good Friday does not end with the death of Jesus. There is a sequel. God raises Jesus from the dead and thereby writes another chapter in the history of salvation. There will be a tomorrow because the grave is not the end. The announcement, which changed the sadness of these pious women into joy, re-echoes with unchanging eloquence throughout the Church in the celebration of this Easter Vigil.
Tomb in Jerusalem
In the midst of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is the tomb of Jesus, a shrine to the risen Christ. He is not there. He is among us. Having lived in Jerusalem for nearly four years, I can assure you that all around that tomb are the remnants of over 2,000 years of dreadfully human discord, chaos and corruption that continues to this very day. Nevertheless, it is the most important shrine and holy place for Christians.
The resurrection of Jesus is the sign that God is ultimately going to win. At Calvary, and elsewhere throughout the Church, corruption seems so rampant. On this night when the Lord broke the bonds of death, we know deep within that God is ultimately victorious. I know this within my flesh and bones, in my heart of hearts, because 70 feet away from Calvary there is a tomb, which is now empty.
Women and Easter
There are some profound lessons to learn from the women who ran to the tomb that first Easter morning. They represented countless, nameless, yet devoted women who were part of the crowds that Jesus addressed and in the homes he frequented.
They were the courageous ones who reached out fearlessly to touch the fringe of his cloak. They shouted after him; they entered his hosts’ houses uninvited, they poured most expensive, perfumed nard over his feet to the consternation of the critics. They knew the promise made to them, they welcomed him, they knew from Jesus’ own treatment of them the strength of their own testimony to him, and they were unafraid to show him great love.
In the end, they stood beneath his dying body, while the men were hiding for fear of the authorities. It was the women who ground spices for his burial and they calculated how to roll back the stone from his tomb. They attended firmly to the business of his living and dying. They were rewarded for their fidelity by being the first recipients of the Good News of the Resurrection.
Women of the Church
Whenever I read the Easter Gospels, I cannot help but think of the lives of countless women religious who greatly influenced my life from my childhood, and encouraged me to be a Christian and a priest. I remember with gratitude the Religious of the Sacred Heart and the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester, New York, my first teachers.
I recall with deep emotion the Sisters of the Holy Family of Spoleto and the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary with whom I had the privilege of working in my first years of pastoral ministry in Canada. The Sisters of Sion, the Salvatorian Sisters of Emmaus el-Quebeibeh and Nazareth and the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition showed me how to love and imitate the Lord in his own homeland during my graduate studies.
Later on the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto and Hamilton and the Sisters of Mercy of Ireland shared with me very fruitful years of ministry at the Newman Center of Toronto and most especially during World Youth Day 2002. The diminishment of many of these religious congregations in the Church is cause for sadness, yet also of profound gratitude. I regret that several generations of young people will never have the grace of getting to know women religious as I knew them: as teachers, pastoral workers, colleagues and friends.
Though their “charisms” will live on through lay-led institutions in many instances, nothing can ever replace their presence in the life of the Church and in our own personal stories. Their lives were alabaster jars of nard poured out in active service, in decisive, courageous, prophetic works, and in watchful presence at the end. Their action on Jesus’ behalf was hopeful, positive, courageous, and unambiguous. Their active faith in him and their decisive following of him are, finally, the unchanging beauty and eloquence of the Church’s vocation. When I think of that first Easter, in an eerie, garden-like setting outside the walls of Jerusalem, I cannot help but remember the faithful women in my life who have carried the message of the Resurrection to the ends of the earth.
“This is the day that the Lord has made: let us rejoice in it and be glad. Alleluia!”