The Easter Mystery: Healed at the Source to be Complete in Christ
Homily – Easter Vigil
By Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone
Archbishop of San Francisco
April 4, 2015
The celebration of Easter is certainly the high point of the year in the worship life of the Church, and the cause of our greatest joy: Christ’s triumph over death holds out to us the promise of eternal life. But why, really, are we here? Why are we here in this church, at this time, joining together in the worship of the one, true God?
It might seem odd, but I would suggest the reason is that we intuitively sense that there is something not quite right with the world, and not quite right with human nature. No matter how strong one’s faith is, or how many advances we make in the sciences and technology, the big questions of life still plague us: Why is there evil in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is there so much suffering in the world? How could a good God permit all this?
There is something off, or better yet, incomplete. Yes, that’s it: deep down inside, we have this sense of incompleteness. We yearn for something more, something greater; we yearn for immortality, an immortality that will fill an empty spot deep within our soul.
Before such a profound mystery of life, there is only one of two paths we can take: either despair or hope. Despair is the path chosen when God is excluded from the picture, when we leave ourselves to our own devices. And that just never works. On the other hand, we take the path of hope when we rely on God, recognizing that only God can save us, only God can make things right, only God can fulfill our deepest desire, which, in the end, is intimacy with Him, a desire He placed right within us in creating us.
Back to the Source
That is why we are here tonight. Tonight we celebrate the fulfillment of that hope, the hope of our ultimate healing for all eternity. And notice how God accomplishes the fulfillment of this hope: He respects the pattern for healing He put right within creation. Notice how healing works in our everyday human experience: to be healed from an illness or pain, we must go straight to the source. In the physical realm, think of how a vaccine works: it contains some of the virus of the disease that you are being inoculated against. Likewise if the pain is psychological: you must go back to the place, or person, that is the source of the pain, confront it, be reconciled with it and seek resolution.
So it is with God’s plan for our salvation. In a famous Easter homily a long time ago, the 4th century Bishop of Constantinople and renown preacher St. John Chrysostom explained it this way:
A virgin, wood, and death were the symbols of our defeat. For, Eve was a virgin; she had not yet known her husband when she was deceived. The wood was the tree; death was the chastisement imposed on Adam. Do you see how a virgin, a tree, and death were the symbols of our defeat? See, then, how they also became, in turn, causes of our victory. Instead of Eve, Mary; instead of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the Tree of the Cross; instead of Adam’s death, the Master’s death. Do you see how the Devil was defeated through the same means through which he conquered us? Through the Tree the devil laid Adam low; through the Cross Christ vanquished the devil.
Christ returns to the source of our demise so that he might heal us from our estrangement from God right at the source of its cause. And while we will not know the fullness of this eternal healing in this life, we can begin to enjoy its fruits, and we can live in hope of its completion when we pass from this life to the next.
Tonight we have the joy of initiating new brothers and sisters into this mystery of Christ’s dying and rising. Each one of them has their own conversion story to tell, as all of us do, in some way or another. But no matter the way, every conversion story is a story of turning one’s life completely over to Christ. It means allowing him to enter into us and healing those parts of us that estrange us from him, whatever those sinful tendencies might be – our selfishness, our pride, vanity, greed – anything that might distance us from him. He heals us from it, so that we may be complete: only he can fill the empty space we feel deep within our soul.
The grace of the sacraments, beginning with baptism – which our new brothers and sisters will have the joy of receiving this evening – transforms us for holiness. But we do have to be cooperators of that grace, so that we may place all that God has given us at his service, seeking his glory, not our own.
This is our great hope, the hope that marks our celebration this night: death came into this world through the fall of our first parents, but through death those united to Christ find passage to eternal life, our definitive healing from the ills of this world. We find intimacy with God forever. As St. John Chrysostom put it that immemorial Easter homily: “From being dead we have become immortal, from a fall we have been raised up, and from being defeated we have become victors.”