A few years ago a priest friend of mine was working in Rome. At one stage he had a few minutes talking to Cardinal Ratzinger (Later Pope Benedict XVI). Ratzinger asked him how things were in the Church in Ireland. My friend Fr. John said, ‘Things are terrible. The bishops are useless. All the young people have stopped going to mass. It’s all over!’ Ratzinger said to him, ‘Father, that is not the talk of a Christian. Where is your faith in the risen Christ?’ This completely took him aback and he knew that the cardinal was quite right. When he related this story to me I could hear the power of that question in me as well: ‘Where is your faith in the risen Christ?’ If what we celebrate today is really true, that Jesus rose from the dead and conquered the power of sin and death, then what could we possibly fear? Even if our Church and our world seems to be in a mess—which it often does!—the power of Christ is greater than all of this and it is Christ who is among us and it is Christ who is guiding the Church, even if that is not always clear to us. The key thing is that we remain focused on Jesus who is Lord, and not on the mess in the world, or on the human side of the Church. Jesus, the Son of God, is the head of the Church. The only reason the Church still exists is because this is so.
For the Easter Vigil we have several readings which recall the history of salvation. We begin with one of the accounts of creation. The two key points in this account are that it was God who created and what God created was good. God’s creation is fundamentally good. The fact that the human being was created last, is a biblical way of saying that this was the high-point of God’s creation. We are God’s masterpiece, the greatest thing God created. But then somewhere back along the way we rebelled and lost the harmony that was there. Throughout history even though we continually strayed away from God, the Lord continually brought us back to himself. He continued to show us that the path which leads us to fulfillment and happiness is the path that is leading towards him.
When God rescues the people of Israel and leads them out of Egypt and leads them across the Red Sea, they cannot go to the left or to the right. They can only go straight on towards God, or back to the ones who enslaved them.
In the reading from Isaiah (55:1-11) we hear the words,
‘Listen, listen to me and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy. Pay attention, come to me; listen and your soul will live. With you I will make and everlasting covenant.’
In the reading from Baruch (3:9-15, 32-4:4) we hear the words:
‘Listen, Israel to commands that bring life: hear and learn what knowledge means.’ ‘Israel, blessed are we: what pleases God has been revealed to us.’
What pleases God is that we continue to walk in his way because that is the only way that will lead us to fulfillment. It is so simple and yet we so easily miss it.
In the New Testament reading from Romans (6:3-11) which we read after the Gloria, we are reminded that we now have a new life with God, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Since we are joined to Jesus through our baptism we now enjoy the new life He has won for us. What is his is also ours, if we accept it. How could something so enormous be given to us? Simply because it is the generosity of God. In blessing the Easter water and renewing our own vows of baptism we remind ourselves that we totally belong to God. What God has done through the death and resurrection of Jesus is extraordinary, but what is even more extraordinary is that He has done all of this for us, so that we may have life in its fullness. It is ours if we accept it.
So now going back to what Cardinal Ratzinger said to my friend: ‘Father, where is your faith in the risen Christ?’ I think God is saying the same thing to us today as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead. Jesus is Lord and He is among us. He is the one we focus on. It is only in him we will find the fullness of life and if we remain focused on him then there is nothing for us to be afraid of.