Easter Vigil, 19.4.14

Easter Joy is for all, says Archbishop of Birmingham

Yesterday’s Walk of Witness through the streets of Birmingham City Centre is not “a protest against commercial activities”, but rather a demonstration of the Christian belief that “our Lord gave His life on the cross for the salvation of all people, for the common good, and that our Easter joy is also meant for them,” said the Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Reverend Bernard Longley.

Yesterday, the Anglican Bishop of Birmingham, Bishop David Urquhart and Archbishop Longley walked behind the cross in the city to witness to this joy.

On Saturday evening at St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham ten people will be baptised and confirmed. The Archbishop said that their new life in Christ is a fruitful sign “of the presence of the risen Christ here among us and in that part of the world which your conversion is now transforming.”

He highlighted that just like the first witnesses of the resurrection our mission is in the midst of the world “among the people and places where the Lord wants us and where the Church’s mission belongs.”

And that “Easter brings new life: not the destruction of our old lives, but their transformation from within as the light of Christ penetrates and reveals the beauty and holiness that have been too long hidden in the dark.” 

Archbishop Longley Homily 

EASTER VIGIL 2014

ST CHAD’S CATHEDRAL, BIRMINGHAM

Filled with awe the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.

Tonight we are keeping Vigil.  We have gathered once again, following our solemn commemoration yesterday of the Lord’s passion and death, to stand watchful, now looking for the coming of the risen Lord.  As we listened to the sequence of scripture readings we recalled God’s loving purpose for the world in the act of creating us and revealing Himself to us.  In the joyful outpouring of the Exultet we have greeted the risen Christ as the light of the world and solemnly proclaimed His resurrection.  Now we wait again for a moment to greet Christ’s coming in the lives of those who are about to be baptised or confirmed tonight.

But keeping vigil is more than all these activities – it describes who we have become in the risen Christ as the foundation for all that we do.  It reflects a disposition of watchfulness which should characterise our lives not just tonight but at all times.  We need to be alert and ready to welcome the Lord whenever He approaches and in ways which we discover from prayerfully reflecting on the themes of His teaching.

We are called to be watchful for the coming of the Bridegroom, like the wise virgins of the parable, ready to reflect His light in the circumstances of our lives.  It is our calling to be alert like the servants who are prepared for their Master’s return at any time of day or night, astonished that when He does come He immediately sets about serving our needs – the Master who washed His disciples’ feet.

This Easter watchfulness also carries within it something of the longing of the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son.  It is a yearning that expresses undimmed hope and undying love as his father goes out onto the road that will lead his son home, waiting day by day and scanning the horizon for the first sign of his return.

Such is the longing that the risen Christ feels for us and that he inspires us to feel for others.  Our alertness must help us to recognise Christ’s presence in the world and that obliges us to enter the world, not to retreat from it.  This is the world that God’s loves, despite the rejection that led to the Cross.  Now the Cross of Christ is a symbol of God’s unconditional love and the source of healing and wholeness.  The resurrection itself is not other-worldly but it happened in the course of our human history, in the world do as to transform the world.

For this reason I am grateful to all those who took part in yesterday’s Walk of Witness through the streets of Birmingham with myself and Bishop David Urquhart.  Walking behind the cross we were not protesting about the commercial and other activities of the people we encountered in the city.  We were demonstrating our belief that our Lord gave His life on the cross for the salvation of all people, for the common good, and that our Easter joy is also meant for them.

In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium – The Joy of the Gospel Pope Francis reminds us that God chooses the most difficult and unpromising of settings to reveal His love and His truth to us.  He says:

In some places a spiritual “desertification” has evidently come about, as the result of attempts by some societies to build without God or to eliminate their Christian roots.  In those places “the Christian world is becoming sterile, and it is depleting itself like an overexploited ground, which transforms into a desert”.

Yet “it is starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us men and women.  In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs, often expressed implicitly or negatively, of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life.  And in the desert people of faith are needed who, by the example of their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive”.  In these situations we are called to be living sources of water from which others can drink. At times, this becomes a heavy cross, but it was from the cross, from his pierced side, that our Lord gave himself to us as a source of living water. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of hope!

In St Matthew’s Gospel we see the resurrection through the eyes of those women whose presence had comforted the crucified Christ at the foot of his cross.  This Gospel speaks of the awe and great joy of the women who came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.  We share the awe and joy of those first witnesses and we receive the same instruction from our Lord:  go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.  Like the apostles, we are only going to find the risen Lord back at home – in the midst of the world – among the people and places where the Lord wants us and where the Church’s mission belongs.

Easter brings new life: not the destruction of our old lives, but their transformation from within as the light of Christ penetrates and reveals the beauty and holiness that have been too long hidden in the dark.  It means the forgiveness of our sins: not that they never happened, but that they echo the felix culpa of Adam, being the cause of our healing and joy, rather than a source of sadness and regret.  The resurrection shows us that in the midst of sin and suffering God draws us towards His peace and healing in Christ. 

For our ten friends who are now waiting to be baptised and confirmed – you are joining us as Easter witnesses to the dying and rising of Jesus Christ.  Your new life in Christ and your fresh witness to His resurrection are fruitful signs to us of the presence of the risen Christ here among us and in that part of the world which your conversion is now transforming.  Thank you for reminding us that from the cross, from his pierced side our Lord continues to give himself to us and to a waiting world as a source of living water.

© Copyright St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham 2010 - 2014