Sunday 31 March 2024

Easter Message 2024 - Diocese of Elphin

At the beginning of our liturgy this evening, we celebrated a simple but beautiful ritual, which is as old as the Church herself; the lighting of the Easter Fire.  It recalls the biblical account of creation to which we listened in our first reading.  God spoke His word into the emptiness; into the vastness of space: “Let there be light”.  Beginning with that creative flash, a whole universe was created and a process of evolution began which is simply amazing in its potential.
We read in that passage from the Book of Genesis that, at the very climax of His creative work, God made man and woman in His own image; made them for one another and ultimately for relationship with Him.  As Scripture tells us, a few chapters later, man and woman struggled to come to terms with the freedom which was part of their nature, and this caused problems for their relationships, both with God and with one another.  Sin enters in; the light fades, and the image of God is no longer so clearly visible in humanity.  It is only when we understand this, that we can make sense of Holy Week and Easter.  The Easter Vigil is a celebration of the triumph of life and liberty, over the darkness of sin and death.
The Exsultet, which I sang a few moments ago, is an ancient Easter hymn of praise to God, who is constantly at work, throughout history, shining His light into the darkness and forming a Holy people, in His own image.  We are reminded of the night when God “freed the people of Israel from their slavery and led them dry-shod through the sea”.  That night, known as the Passover, marks the beginning of a remarkable journey through the wilderness of Sinai, a time of encounter, during which God formed the Hebrews in a holy people who would witness to him among the pagans.
Time and time again, the people broke the covenant God made with Moses.  They rejected the teaching of the prophets, but God never lost sight of them and always seemed able to see His image in them, however much it was hidden.  The annual celebration of the Passover, in the Jewish tradition, is a constant reminder of the wonderful mercy of God, not only at the time of the Exodus, but throughout history.
Like many people of faith, Jesus travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover and it was there that He celebrated the last Supper with His disciples.  This gift of Himself, offered Sacramentally in the Eucharist, was offered again in His death on the Cross. 

The people of Jesus are not just set free from the Egyptians or the Romans, or from any oppressive regime you may care to mention; we are set free from the power of sin and death.  As we proclaimed in the Exsultet earlier: “This is the night, when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement are restored to grace and grow together in holiness”.  Once again, the same Easter proclamation invites us to rejoice: “Oh happy fault; O necessary sin of Adam, that brought for us so great a Saviour”.  Jesus truly is “the sacrifice that takes our sins away” (1 Jn. 2).  
I can almost hear you saying “but there is still sin.  The world is full of injustice, infidelity, the brutality of war”.  Yes, that is true.  Becoming who we are called to be does not just depend on God.  It depends on our cooperation with His grace.  It is not just the work of a moment, but a process of recreation and evolution in which the Spirit of God is always at work.
But, have confidence, there is one man, in whom the image of God is perfectly realised.  Jesus, who is the Word made Flesh, is the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15).  He is the eternal light, in who there is no darkness. 

And there is one woman, Mary, in whom the image of God remained unstained by sin, through the grace of God.  And there are countless other men, women and children who, inspired by Jesus and filled with His Spirit, have lived good and holy lives, even in the darkest of times. 
The Resurrection of Jesus is the moment when human nature is raised up, once and for all, to become the image of God.  Saint Paul tells us in the New Testament reading: “When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life”. 

His Resurrection carries the promise of ours.  That is why the celebration of Baptism is always associated with Easter and why the Paschal Candle is always lit for a Baptism and for a Christian funeral.  That is also why we are so happy to welcome Veena who, on this Holy Night, will be created anew in the image of God, though the Sacrament of Baptism.

I want to say a little about the relationship between faith and culture.  We are told that Saint Patrick lit the Easter fire at Slane, Co Meath, and that he converted many people to Christianity.  His name is associated with the origins of our own Diocese, with the baptism of Asicus and Eithne and Fidelma and then, of course, the Irish people went on to evangelise first Europe and then the world.

Many of us, in recent years, have come to feel that our culture is changing rapidly and that our faith is being undermined.  There may be an element of truth in that, but I don’t think it is the most helpful way to look at things.  It is, at most, only a part of the truth.

Another way of looking at it is that, perhaps our faith is not as strongly rooted as we thought it was, now that some of the institutional supports have been taken away.  This is not a cause for panic; but it is certainly a time for looking again at who we are and what motivates us.  Our faith does not, in the final analysis, depend on public policy, nor is it determined by social media.  It depends on Jesus Christ who has risen from the dead and who lives forever.  It also finds essential nourishment in the community of the Church because it is together that we are the Body of Christ.  It is through our prayers, our sacramental life and through the witness of our Christian living, that we encourage and strengthen one another.  Our mission then, empowered by the Spirit of Jesus, is to live in the modern world with faith in Jesus, in such a way that our culture and, along with it our institutions and our public policy, are enriched by faith.