What is Easter all about?
Easter Sunday. fr Ben wonders what a person who knows nothing of the Christian faith would make of the Easter Vigil.
The Prime Minister, in an Easter message to Christians a few days ago, said “Easter is all about remembering the importance of change, responsibility, and doing the right thing for the good of our children.”
This was a surprise to many Christians, who thought that Easter was all about Jesus Christ rising from the dead, having taken away our sins by his saving death on the cross. But I suppose it’s easy for people to get the wrong impression.
Suppose you’d brought somebody along this evening who didn’t know anything about the Christian faith, and when we got to the conclusion of the Vigil of Old Testament readings you asked your friend what Easter was all about. He or she couldn’t be blamed for wondering… “has it got something to do with water?”
For indeed water figures prominently today.
Creation begins with God’s spirit hovering over the water, before he divides that water in two; then he shifts the seas together and fills them with “great sea-serpents and every kind of living creature with which the waters teem.”
The Israelites cross the waters of the Red Sea at the start of their journey across the desert, and then we get to sing to the Lord who has triumphed gloriously when the waters return to engulf the Egyptians.
Through the prophet Isaiah, the same Lord tells us to “come to the water”, while through the prophet Ezekiel he promises to “pour clean water” over the house of Israel that they may be cleansed.
So there was lots of water in our Vigil. And, to be fair to the Prime Minister, I suppose there was also lots of “change” and “responsibility”, though whether Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac really counts as “doing the right thing for the good of our children” is a debatable point. But I digress.
It is St Paul in his letter to the Romans who gives us this evening an explanation of the prominence of water: “when we were baptised” – washed with water, that is – “we went into the tomb with [Christ] and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead… we too might live a new life.” In baptism we die to sin united to Christ’s death on the cross; and emerging from the baptismal water we live with him anew.
In churches across the world tonight, many thousands of people will receive the great sacrament of baptism. They will enter Christ’s tomb in the font and be raised to new life in him. And among the various rites that follow, each newly-baptised Christian will be presented with a white garment.
This white garment should ring a bell… tonight’s gospel passage from St Mark has a young man in a white robe sitting in the empty tomb.
And if your memory is good, you’ll remember that during the Passion last Sunday we heard of young man wearing nothing but a linen cloth – presumably also white.
As a result of our white habit, members of the Order of Preachers often get a little self-conscious when the scriptures talk about people in white robes; but in fact the white robe is a garment common to all the baptised. The baptised, even if old in years, are made young by new life in Christ. In baptism we have seen Christ betrayed and crucified; but in baptism we also risen with Christ and received a mission to proclaim that news.
Like the young man in the gospel we proclaim the good news first of all to our fellow disciples: for we all need strengthening in the faith. But then, strengthened by the Holy Spirit we have the task of taking the Good News to the whole world. Strengthened by the testimony of our young white-robed newly-baptised brothers and sisters, we are sent from the tomb of the font to our homes – our Galilees – and to the world with this message: Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.
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