Bishop Paul’s Homily for the Easter Vigil

‘It is accomplished.’ The last words of our Lord before His death on the Cross. Not, ‘It is ruined, it’s all gone terribly wrong, I have failed, this has messed up my plans’. ‘It is accomplished.’ His death is not seen as an end, a termination, not even a ‘thank God that’s over’, but a completion, a final piece set in place, a final act of Faith, of trust that even this can serve a good purpose, even this, together with all that has gone before, in spite of how it might seem to us. We must adjust our approach because here we are in the realms of Faith, of Divine Mystery, of life and eternal life.

Remember how He had told His disciples to collect the scraps of food left after the miracle of feeding the 5000. The scraps we so easily discard when we are satisfied, but Jesus wisely keeps for the leaner times that will come. Remember how he had noticed the tiny almost worthless coin placed in the collection box by the poor widow. Here is an alternative value system to the one we normally live by. Remember how He had asked for faith the size of a mustard seed; and here’s us thinking nothing less than ‘bucket-fulls’ will do. In His Passion, recall how He responded to the good thief’s pitiful request, ‘Jesus, remember me . . . ‘ ‘Truly I tell you, this very day you will be with me in Paradise’. It’s fair to say that the Good thief’s last criminal act was to steal that place in heaven! And, at the Last Supper, and now in every Mass, He holds out before us such a mundane morsel and says, ‘This is my Body, given up for you’.

Something new is happening here. Small gestures, minute glimpses of another scale against which life is valued and by which life can be lived, another goal for life to aim for.

The Exultet – DO use that hymn as a meditation throughout Eastertide! ‘O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, that gained for us so great a Redeemer!’ and again, ‘Night truly blessed, when heaven is wedded to earth and we are reconciled to God’.  On two occasions have I sensed that not as just a wish but as a fact. The first was over 40 years ago watching a great Vigil bonfire, I looked up as sparks from the blaze raced heavenwards from the flames, to mingle with the stars. In a more recent Holy Week, I was on a sick call to a dear old dying parishioner in the African bush. We drove so far but then had to walk. No electricity for miles. Just before his village the path dropped down to cross a small stream. It was well after sunset but there was enough light to show the path. Looking down at the dark water searching for a way to cross, the stars of the great African night were reflected so clearly, and moving across the water surface were hundreds of fire-flies. Heaven wedded to earth as this good man’s soul prepared to return to God. Unforgettable.

Where are our lives in all this? Where and how do we fit in, with our human baggage and our unique personalities? As Catholics, people of great and little Faith, what is being asked of us in the complexities of these days? We know when we go from this Mass the world will still be stricken with crises ranging from the global to the individual, arising out of long histories and stretching into anxious futures. I do not need to go into details, each of you can give me a list. So, what is asked of us, what is asked of you and me?

Two key points Jesus asks of His disciple. Listen to Him and receive from Him. To do that with the little scraps of sin-soiled and dented Faith we possess will be enough. It will bring us to the empty tomb, where the Risen Jesus will turn our mourning to joy, our fear to confidence, our despair to belief, our weariness to enthusiasm. Here we are, looking for so many massive miracles; He looks for scraps and pin-points of Faith and Love – above all, Love

On Thursday evening, whilst we watched for an hour before the Blessed Sacrament after Mass, a number of parishioners were sanitizing the benches. During the Liturgies there were others stewarding, loitering to help people know what to do. Others had worked to prepare the music and singing. Surely that is a form of washing the disciples’ feet. I express my gratitude for each of you coming this evening, daring to come! At present attendance at Mass is not obligatory. Many still lack confidence to come. You, here this evening, are doing your bit to give them encouragement. Thank-you. That too is a form of washing the feet of others, showing the way back. I express my gratitude to all who are watching online. Many of you may not be able to come back yet. Some are sick and housebound. Some are shielding. What I ask is that as the pandemic’s effect eases – please God – you will be able to return to Mass. Do not be tempted to continue online for ever. I can assure you that our parishes are managing compliance well, and are safe places to be.

I pray we will grow in confidence. In so many ways, probably many you don’t even appreciate what is happening, letting yourselves be used by the Risen Lord, growing in confidence yourselves, influencing in hidden ways those you mingle with when you go from here. Sparks amongst the stars, reflections of stars mixed in with the dancing fire-flies! Well done! At the moment when we were thinking it could not get any worse, Jesus said, ‘It is accomplished’.

The days that lie ahead are the days of the Risen Lord. Let’s not forget that. They are days of growing confidence, of return and discovery. There is much to do but first we must listen and receive, believe and trust. These are the days and circumstances in which He has called us to live our Faith. I wish to offer each of you a simple invitation to perhaps consider how you could be more active in this parish, where volunteers are needed for all sorts of this, from singing to reading to cleaning to doing all sorts. Do feel welcome to approach any of the clergy, introduce yourself and see where you could help. We give a little, but gain so much more.

As the Church across this Diocese and throughout the world celebrates the night of the Lord’s Resurrection from the dead, may the Risen Lord be close to you now, and may He send us as heralds of the Good News to all who still live in darkness, loneliness and fear