Easter Vigil in the Holy Night
April 11, 2020
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
As of this morning over 100,000 people have died from the coronavirus worldwide.
About 20,000 of those were in the United States.
And there has been talk of the total US deaths winding up at
between 60,000 to 200,000
—and one point they said it could be as many as 2,000,000.
And so we seemed gripped by fear.
We feel it all around us: in the media, in the stores, at work, in our homes,
and even in our churches.
And we are quarantined and ordered to stay in our homes,
and there are no public Masses, even for Easter.
Something similar, even worse afflicted the first disciples on Easter Morning.
Jesus was dead, publicly and brutally executed on the Cross 2 days before,
and His corpse had been laid and sealed in the tomb by His own followers.
And devastated with grief for his suffering and death
and their loss of this one whom they loved so much,
they were also completely bewildered
as with Him seemed to die all their hopes and all they believed in.
And all this was probably all the worse for the few disciples
who had stood by Him, even at the cross, to the bloody and awful end.
And of course, they couldn’t help wondering if they might be next on the list
for Caiaphas and Pilate.
And so they were overwhelmed by fear.
The Gospel of Easters, tonight and tomorrow [today and last night]
capture this rather vividly.
Tonight/last night we read from St. Matthew’s account:
“as the first day of the week was dawning,
Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.”
Today/tomorrow we read from St. John’s account:
“Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark….”
So we see Mary Magdalene who stood at the foot of the cross,
the perfect example of the disciple filled with sorrow and confusion,
and so gripped with fear.
And she comes to the “tomb”—the archetypal symbol of death.
And she comes “at dawn,” “while it was still dark”
–the darkness heavily symbolic of the emotional disposition of the disciples.
But suddenly, everything changes.
Tonight/last night we read:
“And behold, there was a great earthquake;
for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven,
approached, rolled back the stone, and sat upon it.
His appearance was like lightning and His clothing was white as snow.”
And then it told us:
“The guards were shaken with fear of Him and became like dead men.”
Now everything has changed, things have sort of flip-flopped:
now the Romans, His executioners are afraid,
and they are “like dead men.”
And then the glorious angel says to the women, “Do not be afraid!”
Because, Jesus “has been raised just as He said.”
And then as they run to tell the apostles, St. Matthew tells us:
“Jesus met them on their way and greeted them…. [and] said to them,
“Do not be afraid.
Again, “do not be afraid.”
And nothing is the same ever again.
And Jesus sent the Magdalene to tell the good news to the apostles,
and the proclamation of the life, death and resurrection has begun.
The world, gripped in its own forms of fear, would be told,
“be not afraid…” ”for Jesus is risen”
Friends, the last few weeks we have been living in fear.
And that’s understandable.
But it’s not what Jesus wants for us.
Why should we be afraid when Jesus has conquered death and every evil
—on Easter 2000 years ago, but even to today and forever.
Now, the skeptical mind might ask:
“if Jesus conquered death and evil,
then they why are people still getting sick and dying?
why is there a coronavirus?”
Of course, Christians don’t believe Jesus ended physical death, or all physical or moral evil–at least not yet.
Because you can conquer something without banishing it entirely.
So, in a war you can conquer a city,
but there may still be unrest and violence in the streets.
And you can conquer a disease by developing a vaccine,
but you don’t eradicate it until everyone has taken the vaccine.
Christ has physical conquered death and suffering Himself—it is a fact;
He came back and is still alive and glorious.
And He conquered moral evil as well
—the devil has lost, he’s just too prideful and foolish to give up, yet.
But above all, Jesus has conquered eternal death
—to those who love Him and follow His commandments,
He will give eternal life after physical death.
So what do we have to fear?
Think about this.
Why are we so afraid of the coronavirus?
Getting sick of course is nothing to look forward to.
I mean, we all dislike any discomfort,
much less the pain and debilitation of illness.
But we’ve all been sick, some terribly,
and all of us have recovered from the vast majority of our illnesses.
So I don’t think just getting sick with the virus scares us enough
to close down the economy, and especially close down public Masses.
The real problem, the real reason we’re afraid, I think, is death.
I know that effects my behavior much more than illness.
I mean, people get sick all the time, and they get better,
so we live our lives aware of that, but not petrified.
But when death enters into the equation, things change.
For example, there were 56,000,000 cases of flu in the US last year.
That’s 100 times more then the number of coronavirus cases we’ve had.
But the death rate of the coronavirus is 40 times greater than the flu.
That’s really scary, and that’s why we treat them completely differently.
At some level, almost all of us are afraid to die.
In a certain sense, it’s natural, at least in our fallen nature.
First of all, we love living in this world, as we should: it’s a fantastic gift from God.
So we’re afraid of losing it.
But for most folks, it goes way beyond that.
First, there is the simple fear of the unknown—and the unknown forever.
What happens? will it hurt? will I just disappear?
There’s also a fear of losing all you have in this life
—both your potential accomplishments and pleasures,
and the people you love.
And even devout and faithful Christians are afraid of death.
Although theirs is more often the fear of judgment and hell.
But it shouldn’t be that way for!
Which is why Jesus tells Magdalene, and us: “be not afraid!”
What is there to be afraid of?
If we’re afraid of the pain and discomfort of being sick,
remember all the people Jesus healed in Gospels.
If we’re afraid of losing a job, or being hungry, or your family being destitute,
remember when Jesus said:
“do not be anxious …
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap…
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not of more value than they?”
And if you are afraid of death, yours or someone you love,
remember that Jesus tells us:
“I am the resurrection and the life.
Whoever believes in me, even if he die, he shall live.”
My friends, this is a glorious day.
The day Jesus, God the Son, changed everything.
Yes there will be troubles, and illness and even death in the world.
So, be careful and prudent:
foolishness is not the same as courage.
But do not be paralyzed by fear, and do not let anxiety lead you by the nose.
Because Jesus loves us, as His Cross testifies,
and He lives with us always, as His Resurrection testifies.
So St. Paul tells us elsewhere,
if Jesus “is for us, who can be against us?…
“Not tribulation, or distress, persecution, famine, nakedness,
danger, or sword…
…neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers,
nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God
in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Brothers and sisters in Christ, my sons and daughters,
it is a very sad thing that we cannot be together today in this church
to worship God offering Christ’s sacrifice to the Father in this Holy Mass
and to receive the Crucified and Risen Christ in Holy Communion.
But look today to the example of our heavenly sister, St. Mary Magdalene.
She came to the tomb overwhelmed with sorrow and fear.
But then she saw the Risen Lord, and everything changed.
Let us join the Magdalene today, and take strength and courage in Jesus,
as He gives you His grace today.
Let everything change for you today,
and let that change resound in everything you think, do and say.
“Do not be afraid!”
Because, Jesus “has been raised just as He said.”