Homily for Easter Vigil, Year C 2019
Caesar is lord! Caesar is lord! The Roman soldiers chanted on Good Friday. Caesar has done again what he knows best – he has crucified another “imposter” Jesus the Nazarene. No one crosses Caesar without being crossed by him. He is lord. He dominates and, he has conquered the Messiah of the Jews. Even the Jews subscribed to Caesar’s authority when they said, “anyone who makes himself king is defying Caesar”. In other words, Caesar is their king, lord.
Jesus isn’t lord. Caesar is lord. For if Jesus were lord, He would have saved Himself and the Jews from the hands of the Romans. But He didn’t. This left His apostles, followers and even distant admirers in confusion. Is He a fraud, an imposter? But He worked miracles, forgave sins and even raised Lazarus from the death. Who really is He? There was silence, and darkness covered them. It was the dark cloud of desolation, despair. For their hope for a Messiah had gone.
It is in similar silence and darkness that we gather on this Night of all nights. We gather; I presume with our own questions. We are drawn into Jesus’ story and we hear our stories being told – stories of hopelessness. We feel the horror of death. It is as if we were trapped and we can’t escape. We feel the reality of Sheol, “a place”, John Saward described, “as abandonment and isolation, of darkness, of silence, from which no one returns and there is no praise of God”.
And where there is no praise of God, there is bad praise of self, of human beings, of the new Caesar. Like the Caesar of Jesus’ time, the Caesars of our time are good at crucifixion. They rise on social media, on other platforms to cross anyone who expresses a point of view that is contrary to theirs. They condemn their victims in the court of public opinion. Or maybe we are the new Caesars. We have arrogated to ourselves lordship. We cross anyone who crosses us.
But all this comes to light, and then fades away as the Paschal Candle is lit. Its light illumines us and shatters the darkness of our lives and of the world. For once, we can see again. We see not the horror of death, but the glory of the Lord Jesus. He is risen. Alleluia is our song. We are an Easter people, a people of hope. Death doesn’t have the last word. Caesar didn’t win. The Lord Jesus won. He is Lord, not Caesar. This is the good news. It breaks the silence.
We burst into joy as the Easter Proclamation is sung. We hear again the Good Story, “Be glad, let earth be glad, as glory floods her, ablaze with the light from her eternal King, let all corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness. Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of His glory, let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the people... This is the night that with a pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin”.
Sin, the rejection of God and His governance of the whole world, is overcome. Thus, we heard with joy our salvation history in the seven Old Testament Readings. We heard that creation is good because “God saw all He had made, and indeed it was good”. Besides, “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord”. Abraham’s story and the Exodus experience are all manifestations of God’s goodness. And the prophets Isaiah, Baruch and Ezekiel testified to His goodness.
We gather on this Night of all nights to also testify to His goodness, the goodness of His resurrection. He has risen; therefore, “We must realise that our former selves have been crucified with Him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin. When a man dies, of course, he has finished with sin” (Romans 6:3-11). It means we have been set free from the lordship of sin, as tyrannical power. We can now live for God and live the Original Good.
This is the new life St. Paul spoke about in Romans. It is the life of the new creation in Christ. It is the life of the New Adam. We can only live this life, “If we in union with Christ we have imitated His death…” Death to sin. That is, we have to experience our own Good Friday, face the Caesars of our time as Christ did, without submitting to Caesar’s lordship. We have to remember what He said, “unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed”.
This is the reality of life. We have to die to our former ways if we want to experience the resurrection. For there is no resurrection without death. The women in the Gospel Reading from Luke 24: 1-12 couldn’t remember Jesus’ saying, “that the Son of Man had to be crucified, die and rise again on the third day”. As a result, they were overwhelmed by the event of Good Friday. They became discouraged, depressed and they were drawn into Caesar’s power-game.
So, they went to the tomb, looking for Jesus’ dead Body. And they stood in the tomb as we heard “not knowing what to think”, because they had forgotten His words. This is often our story when we stop listening to the Word, or we don’t remember what Jesus asks of us. The events and the happenings of life overcome us. But everything changed; they rose from “not knowing what to think” to become proclaimers of the resurrection as soon as they remembered.
This is the Night of remembering. It is the Night of giving to God our memory of Good Friday so that we can receive and let the memory of His resurrection raise us from our own death. For the more we hang on to our memory of the Good Friday like the women in the Gospel did, the less likely are “we to imitate Christ in His resurrection”; and the more likely are we to believe that Caesar is lord. Let’s solemnly remember this Night and loudly proclaim Christ is Lord. Happy Easter!
Fr. Francis Afu