The following is the text of the homily of Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades during the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception April 3.
This is a most sacred night, the most sacred night, in the history of humanity. It is the night in which our Lord Jesus Christ passed over from death to life. We are here in our cathedral to keep vigil, to remember Jesus’ Passover. We do so by listening to God’s word and celebrating His mysteries.
We listened to the Genesis account of God creating man, male and female, in His own image and likeness. We listened to the story of God saving His people from slavery in Egypt, enabling them to march on dry land through the midst of the sea. And we heard God’s invitation through the prophet Isaiah: “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!”
After the singing of the Gloria, with the joyful ringing of bells, a passage of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans was proclaimed. It contains a teaching that is particularly relevant for what is going to happen in the lives of four adults and one child at this Easter Vigil liturgy. St. Paul writes about Baptism, teaching us that in the sacrament of Baptism, we were baptized into Christ’s death, buried with Him, so that, “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” On this sacred night of Christ’s resurrection, Brandon, Raymond, Morgan, Jason, and Kurtis will receive this new life in Christ. They will from this day forward be called “Christians.” As God freed the children of Abraham from the slavery of Pharaoh bringing them through the waters of the Red Sea, God will free them, as He has freed all of us who have been baptized. Baptism brings the ultimate freedom, freedom from the slavery of sin and the power of death, through our being incorporated into Christ and His Body the Church, giving us the power and grace to make it to the promised land of heaven.
After Moses and the Israelites were delivered and saved at the Red Sea, what did they do? They sang! This is the first reference to singing in the Bible. Israel had been freed from slavery and became reborn as a people. We sang their song after the Exodus reading tonight: “I will sing to the Lord, for he is gloriously triumphant; horse and chariot he has cast into the sea.” This is our song too because, through God’s power, we have been drawn forth from the water, through Baptism, liberated from sin and reborn as children of God.
Because of this, we sang a new song. We sang the Alleluia, giving praise and thanks to the Lord for our redemption from sin and death, rejoicing that Christ is risen from the dead.
In the Gospel, we heard the first announcement of the Resurrection. A young man, clothed in a white robe, an angel, sitting in the empty tomb, said to the three women who had come to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body: “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” This amazing news would change the course of history. This good news continues to resound from generation to generation. It is an ancient proclamation, but it is always new: “He has been raised; he is not here.” This proclamation resonates once again during this Easter Vigil, the mother of all vigils, on this night in which we relive the extraordinary event of the Resurrection. It will be relived when Mother Church administers the great gift of divine life to the five catechumens, the elect, in Baptism. It will be relived when they, along with our brother Robert, who will be received into full communion in the Catholic Church, are anointed with the sacred chrism and sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit in the sacrament of Confirmation. And it will be relived when they fully participate, for the first time, in the Paschal banquet, the Holy Eucharist. They will be fed with the bread of heaven.
“He has been raised; He is not here,” the angel in the empty tomb said to the women. Where did He go? The angel told them: to Galilee. That’s where they and the other disciples will see Him. Galilee is where it all began, where the disciples first encountered Jesus and began to follow Him. Now they will see Him in a new way, with a risen and glorified Body. Saint Matthew tells us that the disciples went to Galilee and saw the Risen Jesus on a mountain. When they saw Him, they worshipped Him. And the Risen Jesus gave them the great commission: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
In Galilee three years earlier, Jesus had called them to be His disciples. Now, back in Galilee, the Risen Jesus makes them missionary disciples. This is a clear mandate for them and for us, His disciples today. It is a mandate, not just an option. We who have been baptized, who have been strengthened by the Holy Spirit in Confirmation and nourished by Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist, are also commanded to go forth, to live and share the Gospel, to make it known by the witness of our words and actions. What’s so beautiful is that we’re not alone in this. Jesus is alive and is with us. To us, He says, as He said to the disciples in Galilee: “I am with you always.” He is with us through His Spirit poured out upon us in Baptism and Confirmation and He is with us in the Holy Eucharist. He is with us through His Body, the Church. The Risen Christ is with us always, no matter what storms may arise in our life. He is with us in our sufferings and our joys. And He will be with us when we arrive at the door of death, reaching out His hand to us to carry us into His Father’s house.
My brothers and sisters, we don’t only celebrate Easter tonight and tomorrow and next week. Every Sunday we celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection. Sunday is our weekly Easter. Sunday is at the heart of our Christian life, as it was for the disciples after the Resurrection. Like them, we gather for the breaking of the bread and to celebrate the living presence of the Risen Lord in our midst. The Eucharist is the Easter banquet in which Christ becomes our nourishment. Receiving the Bread of life every Sunday, we receive the strength of the Risen Lord to live our faith throughout the week. We receive the grace to love one another as Jesus has loved us and to live as His missionary disciples in the world.
To you who are about to be baptized, confirmed, and to receive your first Eucharist, and to all of you who are already initiated in Christ’s Body, the Church, a blessed and happy Easter! May we go forth from here tonight as witnesses of Jesus’ Resurrection, witnesses of the joy of Easter, living as missionary disciples of our crucified and risen Lord!
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