Sermon for the Solemn Vigil of Easter
Saturday, April 19, 2014
Tonight we celebrate the most significant event in the history of mankind – the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. And I am sure all of us here tonight believe this to be true. However, outside the walls of the Catholic Church, the world would have us believe something else. The world tells us, “Resurrection from the dead – that is sheer nonsense. That is just a story made-up by people 2,000 years ago to try to bring hope and meaning to our earthly existence. It didn’t really happen. Where is your proof?”
To this question I respond that the proof of the Resurrection is the existence of the Catholic Church. What I mean is this – the Catholic Church, and therefore no other form of Christianity, would have ever existed if Christ did not truly rise from the dead. After all, the Church was founded not just on the teachings of Christ and miracles of Christ but on the witness of the Apostles. Think about this – why would those men give their lives for Christ unless He truly was who He said He was? Jesus did not keep it a secret that He was the Son of God. He spoke openly about it and that was why He was crucified. But if He had remained dead and stayed in the tomb then what possible reason would there be for the Apostles to go around telling people that He had risen from the dead? They wouldn’t have. Instead, they would have gone back to their former lives wondering why they had followed a crazy-man around for the last three years of their lives. And, more importantly, they would have gone back to the practice of their Jewish faith.
But, they did not do that. Instead, their teaching and witness became the very foundation of the Catholic Faith. All of them, except St. John the beloved disciple, gave themselves as martyrs – a word which means witness – of the Truth of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. And through this witness countless others throughout the ages have also given their lives in witness to the Truth of the Resurrection of Christ from the dead.
But what about ourselves? What is it that we believe? In our first set of readings tonight we heard the recounting of salvation history – of everything leading up to the advent of Jesus Christ. We later heard from St. Paul – that we have been buried with Christ through our baptisms and will, therefore, rise again with Christ. And finally we heard an account of the Resurrection of Christ from the Apostle St. Matthew. Then, to all these Truths, we have reaffirmed our belief through the renewal of our Baptismal Vows.
In those vows, those solemn promises we just made, we reaffirmed our renunciation of evil and all the works of the devil and renewed our commitment to the risen Jesus Christ. Three times we uttered the words ‘I believe’ in regards to Father, Son, Holy Spirit and the Catholic Church. Next, five times we promised to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with the words ‘I will, with God’s help.’ Lastly, we reiterated our commitment to all these promises by saying together ‘Amen,’ which signifies that we are truly in agreement with everything we promised.
But too often today people do not understand the seriousness of a promise, much less a promise made to God. People today routinely promise things to get what they want: for example, in business deals, in politics and in marriage. And then when we break those promises we console ourselves by saying, “Oh well, my intention was pure. Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you thought they would.” Of course they don’t! But does that mean that you can just break a promise because it is no longer convenient for you – especially a promise to God?
After the sin of Adam and Eve, God promised to send to us a Savior. He fulfilled His promise and tonight we celebrate the fulfillment of that promise – the rising of Christ from the dead and the victory over sin and death that comes with it. But if we want the benefits of that victory to apply to us then we must keep our end of the bargain. If we truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead – which is evidenced by the existence of the Catholic Church – then we will do that which we have promised.
In the end, the final question that must be answered is this – do you believe or not? If you do, then would you give your life in witness to that belief? It was this that the Apostles did in their witness to Jesus' death and Resurrection. Are you willing to do the same? Here I am not just speaking of dying the death of a martyr. Although, we should be willing to do so rather than deny Christ. On the other hand, we are all called to die to our selves: our sinfulness, our pride, our concupiscence. If we will not do this then we will not be worthy of the Resurrection to the life to come.
If we are not willing to die to our selves then we simply do not believe enough in the Truth of the Resurrection. Christ, the Son of God died for you – but He did not remain in the tomb. And He does not wish for a single one of us to remain dead in our sins. His Resurrection is an offer to each of us to rise from our own tomb of sin and death – but will you accept it?