The following homily was given by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades at the Easter Vigil, Saturday, April 11, 2020, during a livestreamed Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne.
The Easter Vigil always begins in darkness. In fact, the Church does not allow the Easter Vigil, the first Mass of Easter, to begin until after the sun sets. The darkness of our churches reminds us of the darkness of the tomb of Jesus. This darkness also reminds us of the darkness of history and even the darkness before the dawn of creation. Creation only begins when God says: “Let there be light.”
At the beginning of the Easter Vigil, in the darkness of the church, a light appears – the light of the Paschal candle. It is the light of a new creation. When He raises His Son Jesus from the dead, God is saying again “let there be light.” The darkness is driven away the moment that Jesus rises from the grave. Light is created anew.
Jesus is God’s pure light. At the Easter Vigil, the light of the Paschal Candle is passed to everyone in the church as their candles are lit. The Risen Jesus draws all of us into the new light of the resurrection. He conquers all darkness.
When we were baptized, the Lord said to each one of us: “let there be light.” We became children of God and children of the light. We are to live as children of the light in the midst of the darkness that still threatens us. Evil still exists and the devil and his minions still seek the ruin of souls. But we walk through life illumined by the light of Christ, the light of faith. Even though we know that earthly death still awaits, we walk by the light of the One who conquered death, by the light of the Risen Christ who is our hope.
During this coronavirus pandemic, we are keenly aware of the danger of death. We don’t yet have a cure or a vaccine to protect us. And, even when we do, there won’t be a cure for death. We pray that our scientists will soon develop the vaccine for the virus, but they will never develop a medicine for immortality. Actually, this medicine has already been developed. We received it at our Baptism.
When Jesus rose from the dead, death was conquered. The tomb was thrown open. The light of Christ erupted and it has spread throughout the world and throughout history. Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the true light, more than the physical phenomenon of light. He is pure light. He is God Himself, God who causes a new creation to be born in the midst of the old. He enlightens us with the truth. In Christ’s light, we can recognize what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong.
The flame of the Paschal candle gives forth light. Christ the light illuminates us with the truth, the truth about life, about the dignity of every human person and the truth about God who is Love. The flame also gives forth heat. Christ not only enlightens us, He gives us warmth, the warmth of His love, the love that is stronger than death. The light of the candle is a fire. The fire of Christ’s love burns up evil. It is the fire of God’s warmth and goodness. The Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles at Pentecost in the form of tongues of fire. The Holy Spirit strengthens us to spread the fire of God’s love, His warmth and His mercy, that transforming fire we received deep within us when we were baptized, the fire that was then enkindled within us when we were confirmed. We must protect that light and that fire from being extinguished by sin. The Lord calls us to walk as children of the light and not fall back into darkness.
Our faith is often put to the test. It is put to the test during this pandemic. It is tested by suffering, evil, injustice, and death. Some people can lose faith because they have a false concept of God. We must look at the true face of God, the God who, in Christ, took upon Himself all the wounds of humanity. The God we believe in still carries the wounds of His passion and death. Like Jesus pointed out His glorious wounds to the doubting Thomas, He points them out to us in the trials and sufferings of this life. Those wounds show us who the true God is: the God who loves us to the extent of taking upon Himself our wounds and our pain. This is the God we believe in amid the sufferings and tragedies of life. This is the God we believe in during this pandemic, not a god who desires the suffering and death of the innocent. Many ask why God has allowed this pandemic. It is important to remember that “the Lord does not take away suffering and evil from the world, but He has vanquished suffering and evil at their roots by the superabundance of His grace” (Pope Benedict XVI).
The Risen Lord gives us the love that does not fear death, as the way to peace and joy. This is the peace and joy of Easter. The Risen One promises us a share in His Resurrection. This is the hope of Easter, the hope that does not disappoint. May we be witnesses of this hope during this crisis and witnesses to the love that destroys sin and is stronger even than death!