The Easter Vigil 2021
Jerusalem, April 3, 2021
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
The Lord is risen, alleluia!
With the readings just proclaimed, we have covered the entire course of salvation history, from creation to redemption. We have heard the wonders that God has accomplished. The red thread that runs through all the readings is God’s fidelity to His promise, to His desire for relationship and encounter. A fidelity that required God’s continuous intervention to resume through forgiveness the relationship continually interrupted by our sin.
The Gospel proclaimed is the culmination of this revelation. This short passage contains three meaningful verbs which I will dwell upon briefly: Buy, See, Go.
The three women of the Gospel are overcome by grief but have not been paralyzed by it. The disciples are scattered with the capture and death of Jesus; all seem lost, dreams are shattered, hopes disappointed. Not for these women. They can resist grief, transcend apparent failure and not hesitate to spend money to buy what is necessary to honor a beloved, not a loser. Their love for Jesus did not die with His death; their bond with the Master goes beyond human dreams of a new kingdom.
True love is gratuitous; it does not depend on circumstances and does not know death. That is why they want to go to the Tomb for a final act of compassion. And they buy what is necessary already on the eve of the Sabbath, not waiting the next day. Immediately they buy oil for a worthy burial. They spent their money to anoint the body of the beloved Master from Galilee. They spent the last year following Jesus, taking care of Him, and continue to spend and take care of Him after the death.
If we were to look today at our experience, whom do we resemble? Are we like the scattered and disoriented disciples, or are we like the three women, struck by grief but not paralyzed? The signs of death will be with us always. Death is not canceled and, with it, sorrow, injustice, jealousy, divisions, and what belongs to it, here among us and in the whole world. But death has no more power over us because “the love of Christ possesses us… he died for all so that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who, for their sake, died and was raised” (2Cor 5:14-15).
Today we are invited to learn from these women who live in loss; learn how to spend our life for the love of Christ, to look at the cross as the measure of the love that redeemed us, and to this empty Tomb as the proclamation of eternal life for all. And eternal life already begins here, now. We are already part of it because we are united to Him in His rising. May the Church, therefore, continue to proclaim the folly of this love that can change the life of the world and that does not fear death and its bonds!
All the resurrection Gospels use the verb to see, although, in reality, there would be nothing for us to see because the body of Jesus is no longer in the Tomb. There are no descriptions of the resurrection event in the Gospels; they only show signs of the resurrection, encounters with witnesses, and finally with the Risen One. In Mark’s Gospel, the sign is the rock of the Tomb already rolled back (Mk 16:4), and the witness is the young man dressed in white, sitting on the right (Mk 16:5).
We need a sign to see and a word to hear. We can never, in fact, explain the resurrection. No theory could ever convince. We can only encounter the resurrection; we can only experience it. We still need witnesses who show us signs of the Risen One among us, who credibly announce that the world is no longer in the power of death. It seems impossible, but it is not so, and even today, we can encounter them, and there are many of them.
Today, the witnesses are those who, despite all adversity, pain, loneliness, illness, and injustice, spend their lives creating opportunities for justice, love, and acceptance. They are those who know how to forgive because they already feel forgiven. In the silence of every day, they are those who give their lives for their children and the children of others, who consider each person a part of their own destiny and take care of it with love and passion, regardless of themselves.
The first witness is the Church, the place where the Risen One speaks to us through the sacraments and the proclamation of the Word.
Today, the Gospel invites us to be a courageous Church, one that is not afraid of aloneness and misunderstanding; a Church that meets the Risen One every day and manifests Him serenely to the world with a clear and sure word, with a free, decisive, and passionate witness.
In order to see and witness the Risen One, it is necessary first to be moved. The women went first to the Tomb; there, they saw the empty Tomb, met the witness, and were then invited to go to Peter and the disciples and then to Galilee. The gesture of seeing is linked to going. You don’t encounter the Risen One if you don’t go to the Tomb and remain closed in your own cenacles. And you can’t stand still if you see and meet the Risen One. And where are we going? We have come several times here to the empty Tomb of Christ. We venerate it daily, like the women of the Gospel. Yet sometimes, it seems to me that we are so unmoved, in every sense. What and Who do we announce, how do we do it?
If there is a witness needed today more than ever, it is precisely the witness of hope. The signs of fear show themselves, but they must not stop our charity. “Do not be afraid! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He is risen, he is not here” (Mk 16:6). The Risen Christ is our hope, and this is what we are called to witness, going everywhere, without stopping.
So let us not fall back or close ourselves in our fears. Let us not allow death and its subjects to frighten us. And let’s not even worship this empty tomb. The Resurrection is the proclamation of a new joy that breaks into the world that cannot remain locked up in this Place, but which from here must still reach everyone today. “Go and say to the disciples and Peter, that he is going before you...” (Mk 16:7).
Where? Everywhere. In Galilee and on the mountain: in the Upper Room and along the road to Emmaus: on the sea and in the deserts, wherever man pitches his tent, breaks his bread, builds his cities, crying and singing, yearning and cursing. “He precedes you.” (Don Primo Mazzolari).
May our Church of Holy Land also, today, experience the Risen One, living in His light, enjoying His presence, feeding on His love, and continuing to spend itself for the life of the world!
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem