Saturday, March 26, 2016

The long road to the Covenant (Easter Vigil homily)

I want you to use your imagination. 
Imagine you were standing on a mountain. 
You got there by a very long journey. What an ordeal! 
Now you are catching your breath, and taking in the breathtaking view. 
Your gaze follows the slope of the mountain, 
down to the table-land below. 
Your eyes trace out the path you came, across valleys and rivers, 
until they spy out the far horizon, hazy in the distance.

And now, imagine that – in taking in this scene, 
you aren’t just looking at your own journey, 
but you are recalling a journey through time. 
And not just your own journey, but the journey of humanity; 
you are able to cast your gaze all the way back to man’s beginning.

You see, that’s what the readings tonight are helping us to do. 
Yes, these readings were an ordeal! 
Some parishes will cut out some of the readings, 
and try to make it “brief,” 
but that defeats the whole point of this Mass, 
which is unlike any other Mass all year long. 
This Mass is about the journey of man; 
or, more precisely, God’s journey with man, 
from the Creation to Redemption.

Two scholars I respect – Scott Hahn and John Bergsma – 
have aptly identified the theme that links all these passages, 
indeed, all the Old Testament, together: 
and that is the theme of covenant.

What is a covenant?
We can understand a covenant better 
when we contrast it with a contract. 
If you need someone to cut the grass, maybe you put out a sign, 
and a young person comes and knocks at your door, 
and you offer him the job. 
“Show up twice a week, here’s the mower, and I’ll pay you each week.”
If that college kid gets a better job, he’ll quit; 
and if he doesn’t show up reliably, you’ll let him go. 
That’s how a contract works.

But with a covenant, there’s no “quitting” or being fired. 
A covenant is forever. 

And a covenant is total. 
With a contract, all that student owes you 
is a few hours a week of work; the rest of the time is his own.
All you owe is the money you promised, and nothing more.

But with a covenant, each gives all to the other. 
Employment isn’t a covenant, but family is; and so is marriage. 
I belong to you, you belong to me, all in all, 
and we belong to each other forever. That’s a covenant.

And the first covenant began with creation. 
As Pope Benedict pointed out, 
the climax of Creation is the Sabbath;
later in the Book of Exodus, we read, 
“the Israelites [shall] observe the Sabbath 
throughout their generations as an everlasting covenant” (31:16-17). 

Also, notice God makes man in his “image” and likeness.” 
What does this sound like? 
It doesn’t sound like employer-to-employee, 
or even Creator to creature. But it does sound like father to child. 
Family. Family is a covenant.
After this we have the story of Abraham and Isaac, 
foreshadowing the Cross. 
Then the exodus from Egypt, 
which is also about the rejection of the false gods of Egypt, 
passing through the waters of the Red Sea to communion with God at Mount Sinai – 
another covenant.

And did you notice? We also heard Isaiah prophesy this:

All you who are thirsty, come to the water!
You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat…
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.

Why is God talking about food? 
What does that have to do with covenant? 
Notice he says, “I will renew with you the everlasting covenant…” 
What could he mean? Stay tuned…

As I said at the outset, 
we’re retracing our steps along a long, winding path. 
That path winds its way upward, up a hill – to Calvary. To Good Friday.

But the story of salvation doesn’t just lead from Creation to the Cross; 
it leads all the way to us. It leads to our own baptism, 
when we passed through the waters 
and were adopted as God’s children. 
To our confirmation, when we received the Holy Spirit 
promised by Ezekiel; 
and to the new and everlasting covenant, 
which we share in the grain that becomes the Body of Christ, 
the wine that becomes his true Blood. “Rich fare” indeed!

See that? The story of salvation leads right to this place, 
to this altar, to tonight!

This Mass tonight is not like any other Mass we celebrate. 
It is the culmination of this Holy Week, 
and the Holy Three Nights we’ve kept together. 
Thursday night when Jesus began his Passover, 
offering himself as the Lamb on the cross 
the next evening, Good Friday.

And there was a detail I meant to mention yesterday. 
Do you know that when Jesus died on the Cross, 
the evening sacrifice was taking place in the Temple? 
And do you know what they were praying for? 
We actually have some idea about this from ancient writings. 
Among the things they prayed for were:

- Redemption
- Forgiveness of Sins
- The coming of the Messiah, and
- The resurrection from the dead

And that brings us to this night. 
All the promises made, all the sacrifices offered; 
all the repentance and all the hope, 
all mean nothing if that tomb is not empty!

I began by proposing we are on a journey, 
but of course that journey does not end on this night. 
The empty tomb, the Risen Lamb, the Risen Lord, leads us on. 
He will lead us to the Father. That was the promise at the beginning.

That was what Adam lost, and which the New Adam brought back to us.
Humanity wandered a long way from the Garden to the Cross.

You and I have spent 40 days of penance and sacrifice. 
Tonight we return to the font and source of our Faith, 
which is Jesus, the slain Lamb, the victorious Lamb, 
who conquered death and hell 
and returned from the dead to lead us on. 
Tonight ends our mourning and begins our rejoicing. 

We are not at heaven yet, but this night, this Easter, 
and this Holy Mass is our taste of heaven. 
God has created us, claimed us, redeemed us, and called us. 
We’re headed home!

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Beautiful...perfect! Christ is risen!!