Ampleforth Abbey

14 December 2017

Homily for the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

[Readings 1. Genesis 1.1-2.2; 2. Genesis 22.1-18; 3. Exodus 14.15-15.1; 4. Isaiah 54.5-14; 6. Baruch 3.9-15, 32-4.4; 8. Romans 6.3-11; 9. Luke 24.1-12]

Dear Brothers and Sisters, all over the world men and women like you and me are gathered on this night in prayerful vigil. After his crucifixion Jesus was laid in the tomb just as the Sabbath was beginning and his followers also kept prayerful vigil – but our vigil is very different to theirs for we know what happened as dawn was breaking on the third day after his crucifixion. Our vigil, then, is not undertaken in imitation of the Apostles, Mary and Holy Women. Our vigil has more in common with the vigil undertaken by monastic men and women through the centuries as they waited in expectation of the second coming of the Lord; for on this night, at the heart of this vigil, is an invitation to each one of us which comes from Christ the Lord: an invitation to meet with him and live in his presence. Tonight Christ is among us asking each one of us whether we reject Satan and his wiles and empty promises. We are being asked by the Lord to make a choice – to walk in His light, in His way, the path that leads to light and life or to follow the path which leads, ultimately, to darkness and to death. There is a simple binary choice – but it is not a choice to be made lightly or halfheartedly and so Holy Mother Church invites us into the silence of the night when it is possible to reflect on all that has happened in the world since the moment of creation aeons ago and so make our own considered choice.

Our Liturgy tonight has presented us with the strong symbol of Christ as light, light which drives darkness away, light which enables us to see clearly. It is in the light of Christ, the light of the Risen Christ, that we have listened to the pages of salvation history presented to us from the books of Genesis and Exodus, and in the words of the prophets Isaiah and Baruch. In these pages of sacred scripture we have listened to the unfolding self-revelation of God to mankind. We have heard how again and again the Creator of all that exists called a people to Himself in order that He might be known in the world He had made, known as a God of love who desires only to rescue His creation from the power evil in order that it might reach its proper end. By inference we have also heard of the repeated backsliding of the Chosen People – and yet God never gave up on the people He had chosen as his own and in the fullness of time He sent his beloved Son to call all peoples into a new relationship with Him, a relationship of light and life, a relationship in which we are adopted into the Body of the Son in order that we might enjoy the fullness of life and the inheritance which is bestowed onto those who are children and therefore heirs of the promise.

But God never forces our hand. He invites us – and this invitation is at the heart of this Easter liturgy. Today all over the world the unbaptised are invited to the font, the womb, of new life. Today all over the world those who have been baptised are called to renew the promises they made or which were made on their behalf: We are called to renew these promises so that we may receive the outpouring of God’s love and so that nourished by this grace, this love, we may make Him visible in our troubled world.

The events of the last several weeks have made it so very clear that the message of the God who is love is much needed in our world. Around us we see gods of greed and violence which are destroying individual lives and threatening the stability of nations. How are we to respond to this threat? It is tempting to meet violence with violence – but in the end, although we must counter terrorism and violence effectively, in the end we must stretch out our hands in love. Only love can conquer hatred. Only love can build up rather than destroy.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us consider now whether we are prepared to respond to this invitation from the Lord God and if we are prepared to enter into God’s life let us renew our baptismal promises and open ourselves so that we may be nourished by His Word and His Sacraments.