Homily, Easter Vigil
Holy Sepulcher – April 11, 2020
Dear brothers and sisters,
Strange as it may seem, the experience we are living in these days is nearest to the Easter one and the dearest and ever-powerful sign of the Holy Sepulcher of Christ next to which we celebrate.
The days we are experiencing are marked by a great void: void of rituals, void of faces, void of presences, void of contacts. A widespread and violent pandemic has taken away our certainties, our habits, our feasts, our meetings. A fear, mixed with disorientation and bewilderment, has taken hold of us. We feel lost, confused, blind. We cannot read what is happening very well, we cannot see or glimpse what it will be, how we will be, how and if we will resume our life.
Didn’t the women on that first Easter sunrise feel that way? Weren’t these the feelings of the disciples after the pain of Good Friday and the silence of Saturday? Wasn’t their drama like what we are experiencing? The Master’s place at the table was now empty, the center that made them a community was lost, the holy city strange and empty, now become an enemy, by weakened friendship from betrayal and infidelity. And even when a new and strange hope pushed them to go out, they found themselves in front of this tomb ... empty…
We should therefore not escape this feeling too quickly. Educated on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, we Christians should know how to stand in the face of death, before the grave, in front of the silence of God and men. The joy of Easter is not a banal happy end of the story of Jesus, it is not the happy end of the Gospel for which they all lived, nor is it the cancellation of the pain of the world or the simple removal of the many bleeding wounds of history.
Easter joy, the real one, is born and consists precisely in a new ability to look at emptiness, to dialogue with pain (“Woman, why are you crying?” Jn 20:15) to see the signs of death and believe.
Here, right here, moreover, the beloved disciple “saw and believed,” he who had already seen the ribs ripped open and turned his gaze to the One who had been pierced.
So here, today, for me, for you, for our Diocese, for the Church, for the world, I want to ask the Lord for an Easter gaze, a new vision to better respond to the One who continues to repeat: “Come and see.”
I am convinced that the emptiness we have to live with these days, and who knows how much longer, is not simply the absence of people or things or habits but it looks very much like the emptiness of the Sepulcher of the Lord. As on that early Easter morning, the disciples were led to understand that it was not a question of absence but of a new mystery of life, the Easter proclamation that was just proclaimed also leads us to believe what a mystery wants to reveal to us, a new word wants to be born from this silence.
I therefore believe that, in the days and months to come, we will all need a renewed capacity for contemplation, we will need a new vision. It will not be enough, and perhaps courage only will not help to face the inevitable difficulties and the announced human, social and economic crisis that this tragedy will provoke. Courage thrives on vision and perspective, otherwise it is only muscular performance, which soon gets tired.
Vision: here is what we ask, here is what we want. Knowing how to comprehend pain and death, new things that God creates and recreates.
With Mary of Magdala, we must go beyond tears and lament for what we believe lost and open ourselves courageously to renewed relationships in which listening to and amazement for the other and his life, especially if weak and fragile, come before self-interest, prejudices and personal advantage.
With the women we will need to know how to recognize the Risen Jesus and worship Him (Mt 28.9): that is, we will have to return to see God and, in Him, our origin and destiny, acknowledging ourselves as sons and brothers, members of a more humble, more fraternal, more supportive humanity. Our weakness can no longer be camouflaged behind proud and presumptuous political and economic strategies but will have to be accepted and lived within a greater trust in the Father and the brothers.
We will need a new look at the community, both civil and ecclesial, done by mutual welcome, shared responsibility, concrete and renewed affection. A new humanity will be possible if a new community will be the womb and school of it. No virtual reality, no social media, however useful to make up for in extraordinary times, can replace the concreteness and depth of the brother’s face. “No one saves himself” is not only the refrain of these days but it is the truth of living. And if in certain moments it is right and proper to “stay at home”, it is only to be able to emerge more aware of the gift of giving and receiving.
And with Peter and John we will have to know how to say, again and again, to those who will be discouraged and distrustful (and there will be many ...): “We have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:25). In the face of the suffering and death that are looming over humanity in these days, we realize that we will have to return to the Easter proclamation of the Resurrection of Christ and ours, which too often we Christians have kept silent. Because we will only be able to base our hope on the invincible certainty of a Love that has conquered death or to say, as it echoes today in some parts of the world, “everything will be all right”. Without Easter faith, every consolation, every commitment to justice and peace will be a short-lived recipe for the heart of the man who yearns to rise again.
Brothers and sisters,
from this empty sepulcher, and in the emptiness we each experience in our unique way, I announce once again that Christ is living and breathes His Spirit of life upon us and on the Church: that this Easter is still a new creation and the chaos of the world finds order and beauty through it. And God gives us His eyes to see the good things He does for those who believe and hope in His love. Amen!
+ Pierbattista Pizzaballa