EASTER VIGIL, HOLY TRINITY CHURCH, MAITAMA, ABUJA, 11.04.2020
Be still and know that I am the Lord (Ps 46:10).
During this Easter Vigil, we gather in faith to await the imminent triumphant resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered and died for us. As Christians, we acknowledge Christ as Lord of lords and King of kings. We adore Him and worship Him. We are forbidden from worshipping human beings, wealth, power and knowledge. If we persistently trust in Jesus, we shall overcome all circumstances even if they are rough, tough and very challenging. In Latin it is said, Dum spiro spero, meaning that once there is life, there is hope. As long as you breathe, there is hope for you. You should have hope always even in the darkest of times. With Christ, your future will be brightened. Don’t easily give in to pessimism or despair.
On the road to Calvary Jesus carrying His cross, fell a number of times but He rose up and kept going until He achieved his mission. You have a mission in life, perhaps not obvious to you but well known and defined by God. In your life there will be moments of weakness, failures, temptations, betrayals etc. Do not give up. That is the message of the resurrection. Be still and know that there is God who can do infinitely more than we can imagine. Ask Him in faith and trust and you shall receive.
We human beings don’t know what we have until we lose it. We live with family members or neighbours and don’t realize their worth until death takes them away from us. Before now, we used to go and return from places of worship to perform our spiritual activities without thinking much about safety or the spread of any disease. Now it is not so. We are forced to stay at home in order to limit the spread of the deadly cooronavirus.
To God be the glory that even in the midst of bad and difficult times the world seems somehow to be speaking the desired language of a common humanity, the language of love and genuine concern about our existence on this planet called earth. We seem to be gradually developing the notion of universal brotherhood, solidarity of people across race, nations and colours. Religiously, we seem to be in solidarity with one another rather than emphasizing our differences and engaging in confrontation and violence instead of focusing on the beautiful religious and social values we have and should share peacefully with one another. In the Church we are developing the sense of a domestic church and an improved personal piety.
While public liturgical assemblies are highly recommended and sometimes obligatory, learning to pray at home individually and as a family is of utmost importance. This can solve a lot of family problems, resolve family issues, save us from broken marriages, bring God to the heart of all family decisions and plans and not waiting until you get to the place of common worship. Individually, we are learning what it means to internalize our practice of religion and to seek to put others and their interests first instead of our self-centred, discriminatory and narcissistic tendencies.
Perhaps we often take things for granted; our ethnic and religious diversity should be a blessing rather than a cause for division and hostility. We breathe, eat, drink, walk on our feet effortlessly and we forget that there is a power beyond us which controls the affairs of men and women. This challenging time is an invitation to pause and be grateful; to be more humble in seeing all things, people and knowledge as gifts. What do you have that you have not received? But if you have received it, why do you glory, as if you had not received it? (1 Cor 4:7).
For over two thousand years now, mankind has never known a night as powerful as tonight. Tonight represents that great night when the power of death was conquered, the night that reconciled heaven and earth, the night when humanity was reunited with divinity, the night of complete hope and total restoration. The Church is glad for the joyful and glorious triumph of Christ over death. This is why we are invited to ponder over our history of salvation in the scripture readings tonight.
In all our readings, starting with the book of Genesis, we recall the goodwill God manifested for man which He revealed in creation. We remember His covenant with Abraham. We recall His mighty deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt and His blessings and counsels through the prophets. Tonight, we see the restoration God is making. He is making all things new for those who love Him. He is restoring us from death to life, from sickness to health, from poverty to riches and most importantly, from sin to righteousness. This is the night of liberation, when God liberated us from the shackles of sin, of condemnation and from hopelessness.
Dear friends in Christ, like the Israelites, our dear country and indeed the world at large seems to be passing through a very hard, trying and difficult moment in her history: The worsening economic crisis, the ever-growing threats of terrorism and violence, the lack of respect for the sacredness of life, failed marriages and bastardizing God’s original plan and design of marriage, broken families, immoral life styles, false teachings, serious mental health issues as a result of the abuse of drugs especially by our young people, religious fundamentalism and intolerance, increasing hunger and poverty and now, the COVID-19 pandemic – these are all signs that our world is not well. The remedy is to be still and to know the Lord is God and to return to Him in humility. All our frantic efforts to put things right will yield little fruit if we do not give God first place in the affairs of the world. The psalmist says, unless the Lord builds the house in vain does the labourer labour.
The Lord’s resurrection which we have started to celebrate this night offers us the hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that one day all will be restored. Through Christ, in Him and with Him, we are assured of victory. In Christ, we shall conquer visible or invisible powers, principalities, spirits and dominions.
Consequently, in the gospel reading, we see the power of resurrection subdue the power of nature, the power of captivity, the power of hindrance, the power of limitation, the power of failure, the power of disappointment and the power of death. Christ rose victoriously from death as he said he would.
During his passion, he could have mobilized heavenly and earthly forces to violently fight for him but he did not resist when he was led to the cross. He promoted non-violence and forgiveness when he told one of his followers who cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant to put back his sword and Jesus went on to perform a plastic restorative healing by grafting back the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus was clearly against violence, pride and looking down on fellow human beings. He used the power of humility and meekness, and he won. He insisted on the truth, for he is himself the Truth, and He won. He fought against death, He died but rose again and He won.
If Christ had not risen from the dead, then our hope as Christians would have been shattered. For this, we must remain steadfast in prayer and unwavering in hope. Hope is that Christian virtue and basic element that keeps us moving. Hope is an indispensable ingredient in our lives as followers of Christ. We all hope for so many things. We hope our prayers are answered; we hope our salaries are paid; we hope we have our health restored; we hope our relationships last longer; we hope for financial and business breakthrough; we hope we shall bear children who bring honour to the family; we hope our world becomes a better place, safe, peaceful and happy.
What about God? God also hopes that, we die to hatred and rise to love; God hopes that we die to pride and rise to humility; God hopes that we die to rebellion and rise to obedience; God hopes that we die to lies and rise to truthfulness, God hopes that we die to impurity and rise to chastity; God hopes that we die to selfishness and rise to charity; God hopes that we die to sin and rise to righteousness. Need I say more? God hopes that we be our brothers and sisters’ keeper in a genuine, sincere and authentic manner.
Dear friends, “This is the night…when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life….”
“This is the night…when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave….”
This is the foundation of our Christian faith; if Christ had not risen from the dead, our faith would have been futile and humanity would still be held bound to the shackles of sin (cf. 1 Cor 15:17).
Brothers and sisters, no one encounters the resurrected Jesus without bearing testimony to what he or she has seen and heard. The glory of the resurrection we celebrate today is not merely a celebration of some past memorable event that has led the world to take a new turn. It is a call to mission.
We are called to bring the Good News of salvation without fear to others by our words and actions. The resurrection is a call to evangelization. The message of Jesus is not a message until it is preached or shared. It was Pope Paul VI who remarked that modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers it is because they are witnesses. As people of the resurrection filled with new life and joy, we are to witness to the resurrection of Christ in our lives and kindle the light of Christ in the lives of others.
Tonight, we shall renew our Baptismal promises. As we do so, let us vehemently reject Satan and all his/her antics (I am not sure what the gender of Satan is). We ask the Lord to renew His grace and joy within us to truly radiate His love and mercy to others and bring them back to their worth, dignity and nobility as a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light (cf. 1 Pet 2:9).
May the grace of the resurrection of Christ light up our lives, free us from all harm and evil and liberate our world darkened by hatred, social injustice and disrespect for the sanctity of human life. Amen.