|Saint Patrick Lighting the Paschal Fire|
Even these three days, the Sacred Triduum, the Holy Three Days, have passed so quickly. Our slight impatience at the long liturgy of this night overshadows the speedy passing of time. Don’t we all say it, all the time: ‘How quickly time flies?’
So, I invite you once again to savour these moments. They will be gone quickly enough. Do not wish them away. ‘Ponder’, as the psalmist says, ‘and be still.’
SymbolsOnce again, as over the past few days, the use of symbols tonight is particularly rich. I want to begin by pondering a little on what these symbols might mean for us, particularly the symbols of light – the paschal fire and our candles lighting.
The fire symbolizes God. It is large, awesome and overpowering. In the darkness of our lives, it is an almost frightening sight, this fire of God. Just think of a bush-fire; who of us would run towards that which would mean certain death? Remember that it was by a great Paschal fire on the hill of Tara that St Patrick communicated God’s saving presence in this land. The fire is both death and life. It is both warmth and comfort, injury and sorrow. It commands our presence and draws us in.
The lighted lamps, the candles we carry: biblically, they symbolize the Word of God in our hands and written on our hearts. The paschal candle is at once Christ, at once God, for us. It is from him that we draw light and life. “Your word is a lamp for my steps and a light for my path” the psalmist says.
We look for the Lord to return, and tonight he does indeed return. In the Exsultet, our Easter Proclamation, we sang out our joy at the coming of the Light of Christ: He is Risen!
This night we stay awake, keeping vigil, like the wise virgins with lamps lit and oil enough for the journey. Indeed tonight is the night when we replenish our stores of oil . The demanding, yet rich, Liturgy of the Word reminds us of our deepest origins: in God’s creation, in the Covenants that God made with our ancestors Noah, Abraham, Moses. And, finally we recall God’s promise to be near to all the nations, which becomes a reality in Jesus.
The Gospel passage that we have just heard from Matthew is full of action. Even the first line “After the sabbath”. After the day of rest comes the day of action! “And towards dawn on the first day of the week” gathered as we literally are, at that time, just before dawn.
A wondrous happening: “A violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it. His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow.” These are a form of word painting – the author is instructing our imagination, drawing us in. And, what happened to the big, burly guards? “so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men.” This is a life and death story. Those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, listen to this story. See those who are dead. Observe those who are full of life!
The angelic words: “There is no need for you to be afraid.” Be not afraid. I go before you always. And more angelic words: “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would.” The fullness of life is announced: He is Risen! And then finally an instruction from God’s messenger, God’s angelos: “Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.’ Now I have told you.” Those gospel words, those following words: Come and See; Go and Tell. These are two poles of our existence as Christians.
Our Gospel this evening can be mastered in four action phrases:
1. “Do not be Afraid”
The profound attitude of the disciple in the Church and in the World.
2. “He has Risen”
The inspiration behind our every thought, word and deed – the resurrection; new life!
3. “Come and See”
The first action that we do as a disciple – it is the most profound invitation that peppers the gospel story and also the Christian life. It is the invitation to come and see Christ himself. It is to experience him who is the Joy of the Gospel.
4. “Go and Tell”
This final action of the disciple, the fundamental work of every Christian, is the mission handed to us by Christ. But it also burns deeply in our hearts; we cannot but share the Good News! Pope Francis says of this:
"The Gospel offers us the chance to live life on a higher plane, but with no less intensity: ‘Life grows by being given away, and it weakens in isolation and comfort. Indeed, those who enjoy life most are those who leave security on the shore and become excited by the mission of communicating life to others.’ (note 4) When the Church summons Christians to take up the task of evangelisation, she is simply pointing to the source of authentic personal fulfilment. For ‘here we discover a profound law of reality: that life is attained and matures in the measure that it is offered up in order to give life to others. This is most certainly what mission means’. (note 5) Consquently, an evangeliser must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral! Let us recover and deepen our enthusiasm, that ‘delightful and comforting joy of evangelising, even when it is in tears that we must sow . . . And may the world of our time, which is searching, sometimes with anguish, sometimes with hope, be enabled to receive the good news not from evangelisers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives flow with fervour, who have first received the joy of Christ’. (note 6)"
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 10
And so, my friends, having been reminded of our deepest origins in God, who sent his Son Jesus to gather us as one, we now move to renew our baptismal promises, conscious as we are now of the mission that was entrusted to us, and is now renewed in us – that of sharing in Christ’s Mission of Joy to the world!
Before sending us out but having already commissioned us, Jesus gathers us around his table; for the intimate love-meal, the memorial and making present of his passion, death, and resurrection, which is our joy!