Sunday, April 24, 2011

One world within another

Saint Meinrad Archabbot Justin DuVall's homily
from the Easter Vigil (very) early Sunday morning:

Genesis 1.1-2.2
Romans 6.3-11
Matthew 28.1-10

All the joy of the mystery we celebrate this night lies in the words of the angel to the women: “He is not here. He is risen.” That is Easter, the Paschal event that gladdens our hearts. But during those hours of Sabbath rest that first stood between the sadness of the cross and the joy of Easter, when our Lord Jesus Christ passed over from death to life, another mystery unfolded.

In the Apostles’ Creed we say about Christ’s journey that he “descended into hell.” Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which shed light on the mystery. The “harrowing of hell,” as the tradition names it, belongs to the mystery of the resurrection because it tells us that the healing Christ won for us reached back to the roots of it all, to the beginnings of the whole of creation. Redemption touches not just future generations, but every generation from Adam to the last.

The resurrection effects a new creation, even before this one is quite finished, and like the women at the tomb, those of us who encounter the Risen Christ begin the new life of that creation even while we live in this present world.

During this night of Vigil we have listened to the story of God’s people, beginning with the creation of the world. Our celebration of the paschal mystery takes us back to the first act of God, when he made everything that has come to be. All of this before that “happy fault” that led to the second creation in Christ.

If the contemporary mind has trouble with belief in the resurrection, it likely follows from trouble believing in the doctrine of creation. These days we hear a lot about respect for “nature,” and an endless line of celebrities eagerly jump on the ecology bandwagon. But the Church has a more developed approach. What a Christian believer should see when he looks around at the world is not merely one reality, either creation or nature; the Christian believer should look with both eyes, seeing, as it were, one world within another; not only nature, but also creation, “radiant with the beauty of God in every part” (David Bentley Hart).

Everything in this world, even if glimpsed through the veil of death, bears the image of God’s handiwork, because nature is the sacrament of creation. For this reason, the things of nature find a rightful place in our celebration of the Paschal mystery tonight. Fire, water, flowers—and the things made by human hands which share in God’s creative work: candles, cloth, bread & wine—all of these things recall for us the marvelous works of God who delighted in his creation.

When we carried our candles in the darkness of this church earlier, they twinkled with the promise made to Abraham that his descendants would be “as countless as the stars of the sky.” Nature’s wax burned with the Word of creation’s God. And yet, we know too well how the beauty of God’s handiwork was spoiled—not destroyed—but in need of deep repair. God, who at the beginning of days looked on his creation and saw that it was very good, would not let it perish in chains. With faith in the God of creation, we have gathered in vigil and heard once again the beginning of our story.

But the story of creation and all the other readings of this Vigil Night are not merely records of the past; they are the prophecies of the future which the living Christ fulfills now in our hearing. The Gospel of the resurrection proclaims God’s handiwork of a new creation. At the resurrection, a great earthquake shook more than just the ground; it shook the authority of the guards at the tomb, and it shook the sorrows of the women who came to the tomb.

We’re quite familiar with the natural destructive power of an earthquake from the recent photos of the devastation from Japan. It was a natural disaster. And in the gospel nature is again the symbol of a new creation. But there the earth erupted in a rolling belch to let out what it could not digest because more than nature was involved. The God who created the earth was again at work to create something even more wonderful than the first creation.

When those women arrived at Jesus’ tomb, carrying their dashed hopes and their modest expectation, nothing could have prepared them for what they found, and what they did not find. Death—and the familiar stink of its decay—had vacated the tomb, leaving it as empty as their own hearts. Instead of the natural silence of death, they heard the shocking words of an angel saying that Jesus “is not here, but he has been raised, just as he said.”

That straightforward announcement reversed everything they knew about how life and death are supposed to work in this world. If Jesus had been raised, then the power of God can repair anything, even the final corruption of death; and if death is no longer the end of it all, then everything is made new. The Kingdom of God does not simply follow the contours of nature or obey its logic; rather, to all who believe the power of God’s creation, it is opened by way of a natural absurdity: an empty tomb (Hart). Out of that tomb the life of the new creation spills forth.

If this long night of our Paschal Vigil is to be more than a pageantry of fire and water, song and incense; more than a once a year variation of our usual routine; if the Church, for having celebrated this night of resurrection, is to speak to the heart of the world with conviction of the new life it shares from the empty tomb; then we must allow ourselves to be plunged into the mystery of Christ’s resurrection, and to shudder with the exhilaration of coming up from the deep, gasping for air.

This is the joy of Easter: in the resurrection love has been shown to be stronger than death and destruction, and we are free. Love made Christ descend into hell, and love is also the power by which he ascends, the same power by which he re-creates our human nature (Pope Benedict XVI). Now, as those who belong to the new creation, we share in this new life.

St. Paul says, “We have been buried with Christ through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” The life of Christ in us is real, as real as the face of death, but overcoming death in all its hold over us. This victory is the heart of our celebration of the Paschal mystery today, and the power for our living every day beyond today.

That dreadful hour, when Jesus was all alone and for all appearances dead and gone, had swallowed him up, but it could not hold him. So also, we may face threats of sin and defeat throughout our lives, but in the end they cannot hold us. Christ’s victory over death assures our new life, if we hold fast to him. Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only in this way is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope (Benedict XVI).

The more deeply we plunge ourselves into the life of grace, despite the real shortcomings that we will inevitably find in life, the more deeply we discover the power of Christ’s resurrection at work re-creating the world, defeating the forces of death, and making the glory of God shine as brilliantly as the sun.

Our long night of vigil has all but given way to the approaching dawn of Easter. Today is the Day of Resurrection, so let us rejoice in this first day of the new creation, and let us embrace one another in the peace of Christ. Let this day be our joy. Healed of our ancient mortal wound, let us also speak of peace to any who hate us, and in the Resurrection let us forgive everything—for Christ is risen—he is truly risen—and in him we are born to new life!

No comments: