Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!

Easter Vigil
April 25, 2011, 4:00 pm
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Sermon preached at All Saints, Clifton, 23rd April 2011

“This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave. What good would life have been for us, had Christ not come as our Redeemer?”  Thus, simply, the Exsultet states the fundamental fact on which our faith is based, and its significance.

If the atheists were right, there would be no more to human life than what we can see and experience. Observation and experience tell us that some human beings live relatively happy lives, but the majority are subject to pain and frustration- many to abject misery. A rational ethic may suggest that we do what we can to improve the lot of others, and build a better society; but even if we succeed in this (and it is bound to be a slow business), it will make no difference to the generations that have already lived and died. They are gone; and whether we succeed or fail in our enterprise- whether indeed we bother to try- we too will before long be gone. We shall not know what comes after our time, and whatever it is it cannot make any difference to us in the here and now. Time flows in one direction, and, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away. What good would life have been for us, had Christ not come as our Redeemer?

“This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.” The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ took place in time, at a precise moment and in a precise place within the history of the universe. There were witnesses, there were consequences. Yet these events are not just history; they are in a real sense timeless. They are eternal, because they appertain to God. It was not simply that a man, a particular man, died on Calvary and was alive again three days later. God died on the Cross, because the man who died was personally divine.

We have to get our heads round this fact: in Jesus of Nazareth, the infinite and Eternal God, Creator of the universe, became a part of the universe he had created, became a living being, a human being, within the world. Seeing human beings suffering pain and frustration and misery, he came to share that pain and frustration and misery. He shared it, he shared it to the extreme, and then he overcame it. He became not just the Creator of the world, but its Redeemer. That is to say, when the world (and in particular human beings) fell far short of the goal he had intended, he so to speak “re-booted” the program, restored it to its proper settings and even enhanced it. That is why the Church can sing paradoxically of a happy fault, a necessary sin, which gained for us so great a Redeemer.

“This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.” Every year we re-enact the events on which our faith is based; but make no mistake, we do this for our own benefit, because we are still immersed in time and constantly forget and need to be reminded. “Christ, risen from the dead, dieth no more: death hath no more dominion over him.” Christ is not like one of the old pagan gods of nature who was supposed to die and rise again every year. He died once and for all upon the Cross, nearly twenty centuries ago; he rose once and for all on the first Easter Day, and is alive now. Our liturgical observances are the way in which we enter into this mystery, day by day and year by year.

As we have just heard in the Gospel, the first witnesses to the Resurrection were precisely those women who had stood faithfully by the Cross. They came to the tomb and found it already empty. They were told that the Lord was risen, and given a mission. They set out to deliver their message, and only then they met the Lord himself and saw with their own eyes. In the same way, we cannot properly receive the Good News of the Living Lord unless we too have stood in spirit at the foot of the Cross, and joined with him in his death. When we were baptised, we sacramentally died and rose again with Christ. That too was once and for all and can never be repeated. But because we are human and constantly forget, and need to be reminded, let us now go to the font, the spring from which the waters of new life flow, and renew our commitment to follow Christ, even unto death.

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