Due to the exceptional circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the jubilant crowd of the faithful was unable to join the friars of St. Stephen’s Convent in celebrating the joy of the Resurrection. Therefore, the community addresses the sermons of the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday to you, in order to share some of the weekend’s festivities and to offer food for meditation during the Easter octave.
Sermon of the Easter Vigil, by Fr. Martin Staszak o.p.
“The tomb could not hold the Lord Jesus” affirms our liturgy and our faith. This confession of faith is undoubtedly difficult to hear in this time of epidemic: in some places, coffins and cemeteries are no longer sufficient to bury the dead. It takes boldness to speak in such a context of the empty tomb, of the resurrection, of the victory of life over death. Moreover, this year we feel a little like the first Christians who gathered to celebrate the Lord in the catacombs. Or like the disciples who, when the doors were closed, did not leave their homes for fear of their lives, which were threatened like Jesus’. With the church closed and we ourselves confined—our small community without the faithful or the hundreds of pilgrims, lest the contaigion be spread—here, we are yet celebrating the resurrection: “He is truly risen, why do you seek him among the dead? “Can we ignore the thousands of dead? Can we celebrate joyfully with the survivors? In any case, our Hallelujah cannot forget the victims. We are well aware that the present situation weighs on this year’s Easter celebrations.
And yet we have the courage to sing this Hallelujah, to celebrate Easter and to confess our faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we do so not out of naïveté, but because a stronger conviction that death brings us and makes us believe what generations before us believed too, in spite of epidemics, wars, devastation and every possible catastrophe. And we too, in addition to the current crisis and long before it, know of the conflicts in our world, the poverty in many countries, the systems of exploitation and corruption that prevent entire peoples from having their share in the wealth and prosperity of the world.
And yet we dare to celebrate the resurrection because we have also celebrated the crucifixion; we can speak of the empty tomb because we have also spoken of the entombment, because we have prayed throughout that “empty day” that is Holy Saturday, that day marked by death and the tomb. This Saturday is dedicated to death that seems to have no meaning, it is the day of God’s absence. Yes, man is capable of removing the presence of God from this world. In Jesus Christ, God became man; and one can kill a human being, put him in the tomb and forget him forever. These two days, Holy Friday and Holy Saturday, are those days when, between God and the question “why have you forsaken me”, there is only a small space left, a “gap”, that of hope. One must take Holy Saturday, that “empty day”, seriously, to see and believe on that night of the vigil that this “gap” is the narrow door that leads Jesus out of the tomb. Likewise, between the dead (because of epidemics, wars or misery) and our faith in the living God, there is that “gap” that gives a chance to our hope that God will act towards our dead as he did with Jesus.
This hope remains, it is indestructible. This “gap” remains because God is Love and Life in an absolute sense, unlike death and human sin which are not absolute. Our faith in the risen Jesus refuses to believe that life is defined by death.
The definition of life according to the philosopher Heidegger as “being-towards-death” is thus reversed here because, since the victory of Jesus, death leads to life, a life even stronger than death.
We could, however, be asked this question: Where is the proof of this beautiful hope, what are the certainties of your faith in the resurrection of Jesus? What makes you so sure that life will prevail in a world that knows death so well— today and since the beginning of time? In a purely logical, mathematical sense, there are no proofs, no formulas. Faith has an “existential” dimension that goes beyond the cognitive dimension. It is kerygma, the proclamation of the Good News; whoever looks for algebraic equations will always be disappointed: they are never resolved. Certainly, faith must be reasonable, but it is not the product of our reasoning, otherwise we would base life on tautologies, we would only believe what we have already thought and deduced. Our faith speaks of this “interstice” that is there and that remains between us and what God does for us.
Proof is as existential as faith itself: it is the life and strength of God’s people— and of our community. It is the faith of countless believers whose lives are marked by the conviction that life is stronger than death, that God’s love overcomes sin. This faith “proves itself” in the love of God and neighbour: the lives and radiance of all the saints are part of human history and bear witness to their faith; it has survived persecutions, multiple catastrophes and also the decadence and sins of the Christian people themselves.
Faith, not only believes but also practises, bears witness to its truth, which becomes graspable because it bears and forms our lives. Our view of life remains realistic: it knows and does not deny the violence, sin, death and malevolence in our world. It knows that we ourselves are not immune from sin. But at the same time, it knows even more confidently that it does not stop there: God always leaves this space, this “interstice”, open, because He is greater. This “gap” is the open door of the tombs, the door of Jesus’ and of all his brothers and sisters.
Easter Sunday Sermon, by Fr. Olivier Catel o.p.
There are mornings, like this one, when we would like to run all together to the Holy Sepulchre, yes, once again, on this Easter morning to see, once again, like the apostles, that empty tomb, happily empty, mysteriously empty. Peter and John run, run with all their strength to go to the tomb, to see the extraordinary : Jesus came out of the tomb alive.
The news of the Resurrection sets the apostles on their way, they get themselves up—in Greek it would be like “rising again”—this news bids them arise and they come out of that upper-room where they were locked in, for fear of the Jews, for fear of death, seized by that deep feeling of despair and disappointment. I would dare to say that the apostles, after the death of Jesus, they who had fled, confined themselves, locked up and waited, waited for I do not know what, but waited. They had a profound experience of the tomb, of their own tomb, they went down to the Underworld. Our situation today is a bit like that of the apostles on Easter Day: we are locked up, not only physically but also psychologically, perhaps even spiritually. This period of confinement has undoubtedly taught us several things: we have discovered our own limits, we have experienced mixed feelings, fear, anxiety, staring at our screens, looking at the endless list of victims, thinking that death—in the form of a virus—is running through the streets and that we could well be seized by this disease just as the apostles were afraid of being seized by the Temple guards or the people of the Sanhedrin. And yet, in this confinement, in the midst of this tomb that they have built for themselves, that they have inhabited, comes news that will make them come out, even run, that will set them free: by physically entering this tomb, in the visible absence of any divine manifestation, the greatest event in all human history is nevertheless manifested, Jesus has risen from the dead. This hope of the apostles who ran, this questioning that sets them on their way, becomes an experience of faith, of a faith that they have transmitted to us until today. The tomb is empty, Christ is risen, he is truly risen, hallelujah!
But this empty tomb, this tomb of Jesus is not only about Jesus. If Jesus suffered, it is for us; if Jesus died on the cross, it is for us; if Jesus resurrected, it is for us. This empty, tidy tomb, on this Sunday morning, is none other than our own tomb, this tomb of confinement, this tomb full of our dead, of our fears, of our despair. The tomb is empty because the risen Christ took everything with him, took everything away. The old man who slept in us, that old Adam who resists and haunts us, that old Adam full of weakness, has also risen with Christ. On this Easter day, therefore, we are invited to see with the eyes of faith that the tomb of our fears and our dead is empty thanks to the power of the Resurrection, we “are risen with Christ. Indeed, you have passed through death, and your life remains hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, your life, appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. “We are risen, we are truly risen, hallelujah!
What did Peter and John do, “Then the disciples went home. “To do what…? to bear witness, to do what Mary Magdalene did for them, to become witnesses of the Resurrection and to invite others to come running and have this profound experience of faith and liberation. Inhabitants of Jerusalem, you know this feeling well: you want to go to the Holy Sepulchre, to enter the tomb, to touch it, to venerate it, but almost immediately you want to go out again. Oh not only because the place is narrow, but because we understand that it is the only place in the world where Jesus is not, we understand that we cannot keep this good news to ourselves. We become those who carry the word of Resurrection, this word that can bring men and women out of their homes, out of their confinement, out of their fears. As St. Bernadette said: “I am not charged to make you believe it, I am charged to tell you” Yes, brothers and sisters, we are charged to say it, “God has charged us to announce to the people and to testify that he himself has established him as Judge of the living and the dead. “Be careful lest the message become merely “Jesus loves you,” for we must never forget that this new life has come through the cross of Christ. Our hope in the resurrection must never cause us to lack compassion for the suffering of mankind. As in the Gospel of Lazarus, let us weep with those who mourn and proclaim the glory of the Risen One who has passed through the cross. The Church lives on this mystery : the Church, the Body of Christ, is risen, truly risen!
When we leave our homes, when the world begins its mad rush again, what will be the destination of our rush, of our activities, for each one of us? what experience of liberation will we have lived? what renewed relationship with Christ? what or whom will we want to bear witness to?
On this day of grace and joy, we have many prayer intentions for the world, for grieving families, for our loved ones, for ourselves, for the Church. Let us allow Christ to enter our tombs, in those dark places of our souls, so that he may shine his light, so that he may awaken us from all our dead: “Awake, O you who sleep, awaken from the dead and Christ will enlighten you”. It is high time to leave our tombs!