Easter Vigil 1999
Loyola House of Studies
A parishioner once commented that their priest’s homily was like the peace and mercy and of God. Like the peace of God, it surpasses understanding. Like the mercy of God, it endures forever. J If this evening’s Easter homily endures beyond your endurance, please be merciful.
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If we were to distill what it is about Easter that is worth celebrating, some of us perhaps will say that Easter’s joy is closely tied up with the possibility given us that there is life after all after death. While this may be true and consoling, I believe the real worth, the real joy of Easter goes beyond this assurance of our lifespan, and will in truth be found in three lasting gifts.
The three gifts of Easter are these: a new creation, a new body, and lastly, new breath.
The play “Shadowlands” begins with the famous writer, and Oxford don and bachelor, C.S. Lewis, taking upon himself the difficult task of explaining away the tragedy of 23 children killed in a motor accident. In addressing the question of suffering and the benevolence of God, he delivers this lecture with the erudition and eloquence he is known for:
Now where was He? Why didn’t He stop it? What possible point can there be to such a tragedy? Isn’t God supposed to be good? Isn’t God supposed to love us?
Now I’m going to say something which may come as a bit of a shock. I think that God doesn’t necessarily want us to be happy. He wants us to be lovable. Worthy of love. Able to be loved by him. We don’t start off being all that lovable, if we’re honest. What makes people hard to love? Isn’t it what is commonly called selfishness? Selfish people are hard to love because so little love comes out of them?
God creates us to be free, free to be selfish, but He adds a mechanism that will penetrate our selfishness and wake us up to the presence of others in the world, and that mechanism is called suffering. To put it another way, pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world. Why must it be pain? Why can’t he wake us more gently, with violins and laughter? Because the dream from which we must be awakened is the dream that all is well.
We’re like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect. The suffering in the world is not the failure of God’s love for us; it is that love in action.
For believe me, this world that seems to us so substantial is no more than the shadowlands. Real life has not begun yet. [End of lecture]
Pace, Lewis, from the moment Easter dawned on this earth, real life has indeed begun. The gift of Easter, you see, is the gift of a new creation, a redeemed world. And the shadows we see in our world are only the shadows cast by the fire of this Easter love.
Of course, there are those of us who will counsel caution in making such sweeping, seemingly sentimental statements about the newness and excitement of an Easter world. Are we still thinking about planet earth here? Any statement about the new creation must be backed up with good solid evidence, must be tempered with a wide-eyed view of what “truly” is “out there.” Because as many would like to think, the world, if at all, is far from new. How can we talk of a redeemed order when, as we speak, Russian warships are streaming towards the Mediterranean to shadow NATO ships bombing the peace out of Kosovo. How could we as an Easter people claim to inherit a new world being born from the empty tomb when North Korea is facing its fourth year of famine for its children, when Madurese people are driven out of their land by a calculated ethnic campaign in Kalimantan, when corruption and bribery in the highest offices of the only Christian nation in East Asia are more the rule than the exception? How can we speak of a new creation, of us being a risen people bought back by the blood of the Lamb when we live in a world made volatile by our selfishness and indifference?
Indeed, it is the shadows, the obscurity of it all, the darknesses that blur the landscape which make it so difficult for us to believe and relish what has been given us, the Easter gift of a new creation, a new world.
And yet what Easter proclaims is far from a cozily sentimental, delightful extra-terrestrial world. The light of the Risen Christ, who is himself the new creation, the first fruit of Easter, is the light that shines in the darkness. And darkness could not, has not, will never overcome this new creation, this new person, this new world that is being inaugurated in his flesh and blood. True, we are brought low on every side by the affliction of the world. But our Christ has found a new way out of the confusion of sin and death. It is the only way out; it is the way of the cross, upon which is taken up the fallenness of our world. The way of the cross is the Easter way of suffering love. It is this love that creates the new creation.
And so it is, that with eyes smarting from the crucifixion of our commitments, we can proclaim with the poet that on Easter morn, “the world is [now] charged with the grandeur of God.” Nothing triumphalistic here. Only this: that Easter has placed the whole of creation at the juncture of never and forever, between mortality and eternity. And so at this crossroads, the atmosphere can never be the same again. It has become so electric, so intense that at times, it will flame out like foil that is shaken (inalog na palara).
Easter proclaims that once and for all, a path to the paradise we once lost is being made right here in the wilderness of our world. Reality itself is now transfigured, not merely reinterpreted. Reality is no longer refracted through the old and moldy lens of the old law, the old dispensation. Even suffering, even every disfiguration we can think of is now seen under the new light of a new covenant, a new commitment written in our hearts, kept in the compassionate heart of God. Bread is no longer simply bread. Fire is more than fire. And water more than itself. And from now on, no tear, no sorrow, no cross need ever be wasted again. Because all are taken up in the heart of a compassionate, forgiving Father. Even this earth that was drenched in the blood of His beloved Son is no longer the same. The flaming sword that guards the entrance to Eden has been supplanted with a cross on which is crucified a flaming Heart.
The first gift of the resurrection then is a new creation that shines steadfastly in the darkness, steadily growing as a mustard seed in the heart of our earth.
The second gift is a new body. This alone I believe is enough cause for us to break out in celebration.
Easter you see enables us, empowers us to see and believe new beauty in places and in faces where it was difficult before Christ rose in our hearts. The prince in Cinderella asks her, “Do I love you because you’re beautiful? Or are you beautiful because I love you?” You only have to look twice no less, with respect (re-spicere), to see the beauty of your own self, of your neighbor, and yes even of the one who (knowingly or not) crucifies you. And on the night he washed our feet, Christ ordains us friends: no longer shall I call you servants, I call you friends. And to those who do the will of his Father, they have now become his brother and sister and mother. In Christ, our faces begin to mirror the beauty of the Father. In Christ we are created anew, redeemed in the image and face and likeness of love.
Hesus na aking kapatid. Sa bukid ka nagtatanim, o sa palengke rin naman, Ikaw ay naghahanap-buhay. And the fact that whatever we do to the least of these we do unto him can now be no more a judgment warning than a tender invitation leading us to where He can be found. So that whenever a bruised woman comes to us or a sampaguita child begs from the windows that keep them from us, we can no longer be still. We are changed by the Easter mystery. She is our daughter, our sister. When we see our skies and waterways battered black and brown from the garbage of our greed and indifference, we are changed. The wind and the sea are his handiwork, our paradise. When we are witnesses to fractured loves and broken communities, when we are faced with our own lethal addictions, we know inside that we can never keep still. We have been given new eyes. We have been given new senses. We see (however dimly) the face of Christ himself, imploring us to offer what has been given us. And if today we should hear his voice, and if today — no, if only for this brief eucharistic moment, our hearts should not harden, then we shall hear Him most clearly in those who are in need, in those who have no voice, in those who beg from our plenitude of time or wealth or talent.
Christ-for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
The second Easter gift is a new body that bears the marks of Calvary.
The third gift of Easter is new breath. Peter and the apostles are my testament to this new breath. From a pathetic band of cowering men who abandoned their master and who subsequently holed themselves up in a locked room for fear of pain, Easter sends them transformed, transfigured anew, as a community imbued with a new courage and strength, proclaiming to the ends of the earth, that indeed He is risen.
Easter you see calls us while it empowers us to give and to offer and to make an oblation of our very lives. It empowers us to forgive, to be forgiving as we have been forgiven. Easter breath, Easter wind strengthens weary hearts, enabling it to a love that flows upon love, to dispense in his name “grace upon grace.” Every human love now shares in the heart of Christ. Indeed, every human love is possible only because it participates in that love. And so with love spilling from our hearts, Easter sends us, with new breath, into the “alleys of poverty” or the corridors of wealth and power, to be for this new creation the hope we must become to each other.
When C.S. Lewis suffers the loss of his beloved Joy Gresham, who is stricken with bone cancer, he speaks at the close of the play from his heart. Here, bereft of all eloquence, he tells the audience:
We are like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of His chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect.
No shadows here. Only darkness, and silence, and the pain that cries like a child.
It ends, like all affairs of the heart, with exhaustion. Only so much pain is possible. Then, rest.
So it comes about that, when I am quiet, when I am quiet, she returns to me. There she is, in my mind, in my memory, coming towards me, and I love her again as I did before, even though I know I will lose her again, and be hurt again.
So you can say if you like that Jack Lewis has no answer to the question after all, except this: I have been given the choice twice in my life. The boy chose safety. The man chooses suffering.
My friends, the third gift of Easter is the breath that empowers us to choose suffering. This breath is the Spirit of the Risen Christ that draws us to embrace the cross of suffering, compassionate, forgiving love. It is after all the only love that saves.
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May the peace of Christ which surpasses all understanding and the mercy of God which endures forever transform us, transfigure our lives from this night of our deliverance, this night of our Passover, unto forever. Amen.