Sunday, 1 April 2018

Easter Vigil Year B

Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:2; Genesis 22:1-18; Exodus 14:15-15:1; Isaiah 54:5-14; Isaiah 55:1-11; Baruch 3:9-15,3 32-4:4; Ezekiel 36:16-17a,18-28; Romans 6:3-11; Mark 16:1-7

In the grounds of Providence College, in Providence, Rhode Island, is a statue called 'veritas eternaliter iuvenis', truth eternally young. Unveiled in 1974, it is of a young couple, emerging from the background of their formation up to now, and facing together towards the world and towards their future.

From time to time people talk about the secret of eternal youth, a secret of immortality, some formula or elixir, that would keep us forever young, forever energetic, hopeful and forward looking. On this night in which we celebrate the victory over death of our young hero, Jesus, we can say that we have found the secret of eternal youth. By his resurrection from among the dead, the promise of immortality is fulfilled and we are given a hope which keeps us forever young.

Thomas Aquinas says there are two groups of people who are naturally hopeful, the drunk because they have lost touch with the difficulties of life, and the young because they have much time ahead of them in which their desires and aspirations might be fulfilled. The Christian hope, founded on the resurrection of Christ, moves us into a different experience of time because it opens for us the door to eternal life. And in that perspective we are forever young.

More than that, we are forever being brought to birth, the waters breaking over us and around us, through which we are carried into light and into life. (In Italian to give birth is 'dare alla luce', to bring into the light.) We hear about water in the reading from Genesis 1 (God's Spirit hovers over the primeval waters of chaos), in the reading from Exodus 15 (the Chosen People pass through the waters of the Red Sea), in the reading from Isaiah 55 (come to the water, all you who are thirsty) with its response from Isaiah 12 (with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation), and finally in the reading from Romans 6 (baptism means entering the tomb with Jesus in order to rise from there with him to a new life, dying in these waters in order to be born anew from them).

This year we are in the year of Saint Mark, and in the gospel reading from Mark 16:1-8 we hear of a young man at the tomb. He is dressed in a white robe, sitting there, and he explains to the terrified women that Jesus has risen and has gone before them to Galilee. Is it fanciful to think he might be the same young man who was present at the moment of Jesus' betrayal (Mark 14:51-52)? That young man was also dressed in a white (linen) cloth which fell from him as he ran away naked. Now the naked champion, Jesus, has risen from the tomb, has clothed Himself with immortality, and the world and its history are forever radically changed.

Who the young man is remains mysterious. In Mark 16 we take him to be the angel referred to in the other gospels. In Mark 14 we do not know who he is. He may be fulfilling the prophecy of Amos 2:16 which says that those who are stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked on that day, on the great and terrible day of the Lord. But his presence strengthens the theme of youthfulness associated with the Resurrection. (Another possibility is that he is the rich young man of Matthew 19 since the same term is used to describe him as is used for the young men in Mark 14 and Mark 16.)

In this new life men and women will be eternally young. In this new creation there will be no more aging and no more dying, for now life really is eternal and love immortal. Lovers already know that life is eternal and love is immortal: they sing and write about it all the time in their songs and poems. Philosopher Gabriel Marcel wrote that 'I love you' means  'you will not die'. The resurrection of Jesus turns what might otherwise remain a romantic illusion into reality.

Behold, the day of the Lord has come! And in it we are made young. The statute at Providence College therefore represents all of us, not just those who are chronologically young. Living in the truth which is eternally young, veritas eternaliter iuvenis, we too become youthful: energetic, hopeful and forward-looking. Tonight each of us is that young person, no matter how old we have become in years. Tonight we are refreshed and renewed as we are reborn. We put on Christ once again as we are sprinkled with the waters of baptism and as we rejoice in the light of His rising.

We are to be the witnesses to His resurrection, to tell the world about this wonderful thing. But first, tonight and in the coming days, let us savour its truth and meaning for ourselves. Then we will, inevitably, witness to its eternal youthfulness by our joy and by our love.


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