The following is the homily I preached at my first Paschal Vigil as a presbyter at St Theresa's Catholic Parish. The vigil of the Lord's Resurrection was was truly a celebration in every sense of the word. Eight people were received into Holy Catholicity that night.
During my last year in California, I used to take the train from San Francisco to Berkeley for grad school, getting off at Shattuck Street and walking up University Avenue and then taking Oxford Street, which runs in front of UC Berkeley. I used to make the point of walking on the north side of the street because the south side was lined by tall buildings and the shadow on the sidewalk there made it always chilly. Walking on the north side meant walking in the sun, walking to school, walking to what was, for me, a new life.
Only two years prior, things weren’t so good. I recall thinking, at the time, that no amount of sunshine, coffee, or books could shake off that grief I was going through. It was a long, personal Good Friday. But once I began my new life and walked on that sunny sidewalk in Berkeley, I discovered—for the first time—the meaning of Easter. The sun, it seemed, shone for the first time in my life.
There was no greater tragedy than our silencing the life of the “Firstborn of all creation”, who came for no other reason than to tell us how much we are loved by God. Disturbed by the prospect that we—cosmic dust that we are—are actually the crowning achievement of the Big Bang, we tried to disarm Jesus whose proclamation of God’s love disarmed us. “With everlasting love I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer.”
Tonight, however, the deepest and darkest corners of the human condition was overcome by a violent love when God broke the chains of sorrow and, in a burst of divine energy, not only raised Jesus to new life but also put all shadows to flight. ‘Easter’ means just this: that in Jesus, death is overcome by Life and Life overcomes the world. The Byzantines will sing tonight, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and to those in the tombs, bestowing Life!”
In all the Scriptures we read tonight, God’s people have been ‘on their way out’ of the tomb—from the tomb of nothingness to creation, from the tomb of slavery to liberation, from the tomb of sorrow to joy, and the tomb of the font to a life of grace. Each of us here, tonight, has our own tombs, too. As the Lord Jesus said to Lazarus, “Come out!” He invites us, also, to emerge from whatever tomb that holds us hostage and to receive His Light. God created light on the first day; we have just passed the vernal equinox; the moon is full; and Christ our Light has risen from the dead. Easter illumines not only the Church, but the whole universe, beginning with our hearts, and from the largest nebulae, stars, and planets, down to the last particles and quarks of an atom. If only we could hear, if only we could see the universe’s celebration of Christ risen, we would not want to leave tonight.My friends, Christ is risen. “We are an Easter people, and alleluia is our song!” Let us continue our celebration.