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The Easter Vigil homily

April 15, 2017

 

Matthew 28:1-10

Do you believe in the Resurrection? I mean, do you REALLY believe? The fact you are here at the Easter vigil tonight is our public declaration that we really do believe. Our faith may sometimes falter, it can go up and down. But tonight is the big one. We’re here to reaffirm our faith. That we believe the witnesses; that we trust them when they tell us they saw Jesus die and then they saw Him alive again.

For us, tonight is the Christian highlight of the year. But not everyone shares our faith. For a lot of people, Easter is just another holiday. Such people can be cynical, and they think us foolish. Let’s just see what they might say about the Christian stories about Easter.

They might have a point. Perhaps all those witnesses in the Bible got together to string together a good story. But why they would do that and risk death I don’t know, but let’s consider it. Well, all four gospels are all the same in this respect – all of them include all the evidence, warts and all about the Resurrection. No-one, and I mean no-one, in the first Century, would choose women to be the main witnesses. Women were seen in those times as unreliable. If you wanted to set up a new religion, you would not start by basing it all on people who would not be very convincing. The fact is, the gospels recorded these events of the first Easter very precisely, as they actually happened. And that sometimes means there are slightly different versions of the same event according to different people who were there. Now anyone who has ever investigated anything, who has ever gone to court and heard people describing what they saw, they will know that slight differences are to be expected; in fact it gives the case greater credibility, not less. Indeed, if all the witnesses to something say exactly the same thing, something fishy is going on.

And talking of eye witnesses, who in their right mind would choose St Peter to be in charge of organizing the new Church of Jesus Christ? Peter – the man who we heard bravely boasting only last Thursday to Jesus that he would lay down his life for Jesus – but when things got threatening, he promptly denied Jesus three times. Who would trust anything he said? Yet ALL the frightened disciples who ran away last Thursday fearing for their lives are, from the moment of the Resurrection, completely transformed. They have definitely seen Jesus again, Jesus risen from the dead. From that moment they courageously preach the Good News that Jesus has risen. They are fearless, And in the end, Peter does indeed become a martyr for Jesus Christ.

But were all these intimate friends of Jesus mistaken? Was it really Jesus who had been crucified? To answer this you need to know the actual circumstances of a Roman crucifixion. Unlike the traditional crosses that have become a symbol of Christianity, the Romans crucified people on a stake with a cross bar that left the victim just slightly off the ground. The victim was only slightly higher than anyone standing by them, and could speak to them as they slowly died. We know Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was standing by Him; and Mary Magdalene; and his favourite disciple, John. They knew Jesus. It was Jesus on the cross.

But some might say Jesus passed out and then revived. That he never died. There’s one problem with this theory. We know it was Jesus who suffered dreadful beatings and torture before being crucified. Crucified. The pain of crucifixion is so intense that they had to invent a new word to describe the horror. ‘Excruciating’ – the pain of the cross. You don’t recover from that sort of horrific beating and torture after two or three days. Apart from the horrendous loss of blood, dehydration, the effects of shock on the human body, and the mental damage, without modern medicines, infection sets in very rapidly. In those days, Jesus fate was sealed as soon as they drove those nails through His hands and feet. And just to make sure, after He is dead, they cut Him open with a lance to make it clear to everyone that He is dead.

But the Jesus they see on the first Easter is moving around, talking normally, just as if all these horrors had never happened to Him. He bore the scars of His ordeal, but his recovery is amazing. This is a truly miraculous event. We believe Jesus rose from the dead.

Holy Mother Church has eight readings listed for tonight’s celebration. They range from the story of the Creation, to Abraham our Father in Faith offering to sacrifice Isaac his son, the escape of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and several prophesies of salvation. And the one reading that is always included is the story from Exodus of Moses leading the people of Israel through the Red Sea.

All this is because tonight, with Christ’s Resurrection, we are celebrating a new beginning for humanity, a new creation. Something we now know is the biggest thing to have happened in human history. God became a man, a man called Jesus, a name which itself means “God saves’; and a man who has fulfilled all the prophesies about how He would come into this world and what He would do in this world, and how He would die and then rise again. And these prophecies go back some 4,000 years before He was born. And today we celebrate the final piece of the jigsaw, the fact that Jesus is risen from the dead! Exactly as prophesied.

And tonight’s celebration is all about how we, the people of God’s church in Hall Green, have been saved through our belief in Jesus Christ, that he has saved us from death by conquering death. And the way we rejoice tonight is by proclaiming our belief and faith in the Risen Lord by reminding ourselves that we are baptised Christians. The Sacrament of Baptism was foreshadowed in Jewish history by the parting of the Red Sea, escaping certain death through water. That’s why that reading is always part of this Easter Vigil celebration. And that is why shortly we will all renew our baptismal promises. And tonight we will be joined by a new member of our Christian community: in a few moments Qasim is going to be baptised in front of us, to publicly demonstrate his faith in Jesus Christ. As we rejoice in our own salvation, as we marvel at the wonder of the Resurrection and what it has meant for humanity, please also say a prayer for Qasim.

Christ is Risen. Let us rejoice!

 

 

 

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