Sunday 11 April; Easter Season
As the readings for the Easter “Vigil” and the “Morning” Masses are quite different, Fr Martin has given us two homilies – to help us see and understand the wider picture of the Easter message. And as everyone has been so busy with Easter celebrations, we have decided to keep the two “Easter Homolies” for another week or two!
Many thanks, Fr Martin – and a very Happy Easter to you!
THE EASTER VIGIL MASS
Genesis 22; Exodus 14 – 15; Isaiah 55; Romans 6: 3-11; St Mark 16: 1-7
In his version of the Resurrection Gospel, St Mark gives pride of place to the witness of three women who were disciples of Jesus, following him in his ministry from Galilee to Judea: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome precede the Apostles in the life of faith and are the first to visit the empty tomb, at sunrise on the first Easter Morning. In St Mark’s Gospel, there is no earthquake or dazzling light: the angelic vision is presented almost as if it were an everyday occurrence, with the women conversing quite sensibly about the weight of the stone that has mysteriously been moved .. and the question of what to do next.
Nevertheless, their experience inside the tomb is so overwhelming that the Gospel writer himself breaks off immediately after recounting it, leaving someone else to finish writing his book; it is worth reading the whole of St Mark, chapter 16, to gain a sense of how the Resurrection was witnessed in different ways by different followers of Jesus – in a narrative that also gives account of the fear and disbelief that accompanied the initial announcement.
As baptised Christians, we ourselves probably have some knowledge of the fear and disbelief that sometimes accompany our faith, to a greater or lesser degree. We can be afraid that our own words about Jesus might be disbelieved – and in some parts of the world, there may be fear of persecution as a result of uttering them. We also have our own experience of unbelief. Our first celebration of Easter, in the darkness of Saturday evening, even as the readings of the Easter Vigil prepare us for the coming of Jesus in the light of God’s Providence, invites us to return to the dangerous waters of our Baptism – our existential Initiation into Life and death – to receive the light of Christ, to dispel all those shadows of our experience while nevertheless fully acknowledging all of their reality.
The Easter Vigil is always a baptismal celebration, a mystery of Life and death, in which the risen Jesus enlightens all human experience with Life beyond death, good news that precedes all the ages of human history when we listen to it in the light of Our Lord’s Resurrection. The Baptismal Liturgy is a bit shorter than usual this year, and I think we’ll find that this highlights the Renewal our Baptismal Promises all the more effectively: as if for a wedding, we’re going to be invited to respond as usual with two words – ‘I DO’ – to a series of questions about our faith which should be familiar to many of us. Firstly, we shall bless the Baptismal Water; and then I invite you to join in all together for the Renewal of Baptismal Promises.
THE EASTER MORNING MASSES
Acts 10: 34, 37-43 Colossians 3: 1-4 St John 20: 1-9
The resurrection narratives, in each of the four Gospels, consist of a series of tableaux beginning with the empty tomb (accompanied, in Matthew, Mark and Luke, with the angelic visions of the first witnesses) before continuing with different apparitions of the risen Lord to his first apostles. St John’s account, the opening of which we have just heard, forgets some of the excitement of the initial discovery in order to show us the slow dawning of the truth of the resurrection upon those who witnessed it .. and those who heard about it later.
St John, identified with ‘the other disciple’ who ‘saw and believed’, appears in third place, behind St Mary Magdalene and St Peter. The writer hasn’t yet told us that he was ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’. But from the very beginning of his Gospel, we see Jesus with his eyes – the eyes of the Apostle who received the great gift of the love of Jesus in such a unique way (as in reality they all did), to the extent that his witness never fails to reveal the real possibility of deep communion with Jesus, in his incarnation, his death, his resurrection and his earthly and heavenly Life.
In St John’s Gospel, the writer is preceded at the tomb by Mary [Magdalene], who gets there first of all, and then by the bold St Peter who rushes in ahead of him. The witness of Mary is often experienced as the most moving, and the most convincing. Her fearfulness is always accompanied by the love of which the evangelist speaks so tellingly. The others, whether they ‘believe’ or not, and whatever they are enabled to ‘see’ in the new life of Jesus, are like weathervanes on a blustery morning, in spite of the peacefulness of the scene at the tomb in which the truth of the resurrection is first revealed.
The power of the Spirit in which they would come to preach the Resurrection is conveyed in this morning’s first two readings. St Peter, with some justification, presents himself as an eyewitness, with the authority of one who accompanied the Lord through much of his ministry and so had the unique power of internalising his teaching for all the world to hear. St Paul, who received a blinding revelation of the resurrection of Jesus some time after the event, speaks with the different authority of a man who persecuted the followers of Jesus before his definitive conversion and gifted insight – of such inspiration and depth! – into the mystery of the death and resurrection of his Lord and Saviour.
Whoever we listen to, the scene at the tomb as recounted by St John is usually convincing enough on its own – focussing, as I think it does, upon the experience of St Mary Magdalene, the ‘Apostle to the Apostles’. In the Gospel of Easter Tuesday, we are given the words she exchanges with the risen Jesus Himself in her leading witness which so many others are, and were, slow to believe. But it is her silence from the beginning, the deep sense of her communion with Jesus, which tends to convince us above all.
Our Communion, too, is always an Easter experience and I sometimes regret that it is usually preceded by so many words! Nevertheless, our faith is something that merits a little explanation, as we always discover in the words of the Creed which we now say, halfway through our celebration of Mass.
(We say the Nicene Creed together)
Fr Martin Gowman
Parish Priest; St Benet’s Beccles
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