Sunday 31 March 2024

Easter Message 2024 - Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh & Kilfenora

“No matter how dark the days we live in are or what dark places we wander into in life there is always hope. For the Christian, light not darkness, love not hate, goodness not badness, life not death will conquer in the end.” – Bishop Michael, The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night 2024

“The world is in a very dark place at the moment.”
Recently, I had a conversation with a young mother about the challenges she was having handing on the faith to her children. As we chatted she said to me “The world is in a very dark place at the moment.” I have always tended to shy away from such dark negative generalisations. However, for some reason, her words kept coming back to me: “The world is in a very dark place at the moment.” My mind went first to the people of Gaza. That blood soaked land, where the death and destruction caused by the war casts a dark shadow on our humanity. Then, I thought of Ukraine -two full years of war with no hope of an ending and even the possibility of the conflict spreading to other places with catastrophic consequence. The East is pitted against the West. While Islam, Judaism and Christianity are seen as foes not brothers and sisters with Abraham as our common Father. In a world where so many suffer want and go hungry – never has so much been spent on systematic warmaking, destruction and death. Thousands of migrants drown. Their dreams for a better life drowning with them. All this while, the dark shadow of climate change and its dire consequences creeps up on humanity. Here in Ireland, people struggle to make ends meet and find a place to live. Tensions rise as we try to welcome the stranger, while a culture of death becomes more and more accepted. On a personal level, many are battling with depression, addiction, poverty, family tensions, the loss of a loved one and poor health. At times the darkness is so dark and the prospects of light so far away that we can throw up our hands in despair and lose hope. The more, I think about it, perhaps the more I could be convinced that “the world is in a very dark place at the moment.” A Good Friday mood abounds in so so many places of our lives and of our world at this time.

The Journey of Holy Week 2024
Over the last few days as a people of faith we have been on a journey -the journey of recalling and reliving the last days of the life of Jesus. Against the backdrop of the Passover gathering with those closest to him in this world – we heard rumours of betrayal. Later, on the mount of Olives, after a profoundly personal spiritual struggle to do what was right – he is arrested. The crowds soon turn on him and he is condemned to the vile viciousness of execution by crucifixion. We looked on helpless, as the life of this young man who had touched so many with his simple message came to a violent and bloody end. We were told that a darkness covered the earth as he breathed his last. We saw, his lifeless, broken body taken from the cross, hastily prepared for burial and laid in the darkness of a borrowed tomb. We felt the pain of his Mother and his disciples. We turned our backs and faced towards home convinced that that that was the end – darkness had won the day.

The tomb is empty …
Then, like a bolt out of the blue -comes startling news that no one would have expected. There are no eyewitness accounts of the actual moment. However, the experiences of those in its direct aftermath have been retold over and over again. From early on the first day of the week – after the women, Peter and John had come to visit the tomb, incredible news began to filter out. The tomb was empty. The grave clothes had been rolled up. They had met and spoken with that same Jesus who had died and was buried. He was now transformed, really present and alive in their midst. For weeks afterwards, they struggled to understand what had happened and found it even difficult to express their experience in logical words.

God’s last word is not death and mindless destruction
For me the greatest proof that Jesus is risen, lies in the effect it had on those early apostles and disciples. They were ordinary people, like you and me, people who had experienced the trauma and loss of his death. However, instead of downhearted doubt they now exhibited exuberant hope. Fear that they might meet the same fate as Jesus had been transformed into an almost foolhardy urge to tell everyone what they had experienced, no matter what the consequences. In due course, all of the twelve apostles, bar one, were to die the deaths of Martyrs rather than deny what they had experienced. For the early Christians –the resurrection of Jesus had become his defining hour. It showed forth what they had failed to understand for so long. In Jesus and through Jesus, God himself had definitively entered this world of ours. God who created all that is – had definitively intervened on the side of light not darkness, hope not despair – on the side of life not death. When it seemed like all was over and darkness itself had reigned – the news of the Resurrection brought new hope, new light and new life. This was good news – good news that they and their first century world needed to hear. Surely, this is a message as valid for us today as it was back then. God’s last word is not death and mindless destruction. No matter how dark the days we live in are or what dark places we wander into in life there is always hope. For the Christian, light not darkness, love not hate, goodness not badness, life not death will conquer in the end.

Have hope
If there was a message that, I would like us to take from being here on this most sacred night of the Christian year - it is this. First of all and above all things - be confident – have hope. Goodness triumphed this Easter night those many years ago. No matter how dark things are light will always come, goodness will always triumph – the God of life will always prevail.

Be hope in action

Secondly, like those early disciples we can make our world a better place by sharing this message not just in our words but also in our deeds. Let us be hope in action. Let us try to light a light where there is darkness, to be good when there is bad, let us try to be hopeful when there is despair, let us never grow tired of talking about peace when there is war or of celebrating life in the face of death. Let us reach out rather than push away, give when we can give, help when we can help, be kind when we can be kind. Let us be twenty-first century beacons of Christian hope, human lighthouses pointing to a better way amid the many darknesses of this world of ours today.

“He is not here! He is risen! He has gone before you to Galilee!” (Mt. 28) Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

(Bishop Michael, Easter Vigil, 2024)