The following is the homily preached by Deacon Pat Hessel at Holy Trinity Parish (Spruce Grove) at the Easter Vigil on March 31, 2018. I liked it so much I wanted to share it here…
How wonderful it was to listen to these nine readings from our Holy Bible! They trace the history of our faith from the moment of creation through the covenant with the chosen people, the many struggles of the Israelites, and ultimately, the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Throughout these readings we witnessed the love and faithfulness of God.
Isn’t that an interesting term: “the faithfulness of God.” We usually say that it is we who have to be faithful to God, not the other way around. And yet, when we listened to those readings, we heard time and again how God was faithful to us.
We heard that God created the world, “and, indeed, it was very good.” God promised Abraham that his offspring would be “as numerous as the stars of heaven.” By great miracles, God led Moses and the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to “a land flowing with milk and honey.” The readings we heard from the prophets recounted the many times the people of Israel had been unfaithful, and while God punished them, they were always brought back – protected by their faithful God. We sometimes speak of God’s faithfulness as love. And certainly, we see God’s love in the creation story – love not only for human beings, but for the whole created world – a world that we were told to look after – to care for with the love that God showed in the act of creation. We also speak of God’s faithfulness as mercy or forgiveness. And we see this repeatedly as God brings the people back after they’ve sinned. God does the same for us. And we witnessed the most profound evidence of God’s faithfulness when Jesus, the second person of the Holy Trinity, who had existed from the beginning, entered the human condition, and changed humankind forever.
There are people who argue about which event was more important – the Incarnation – the birth of Jesus – or the events of Holy Week – what we call the Paschal Mystery – the great mystery that culminated in the Resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate tonight. Those who think the Incarnation was more important argue correctly that when Jesus entered the human condition, he changed humanity. Because Jesus was both human and divine, we humans were invited into a more intimate relationship with the Trinity.
Those who think that the Paschal Mystery was more important, point out that the perfect love and obedience that Jesus showed in following the will of the Father, ultimately leading to his death on the cross, freed us from our sinfulness. By remaining faithful to the Father, who has always been faithful to us, Jesus took in all the hatred and evil in the world – overcame all the hatred and evil in the world. As we read in the Song of Songs, “love is strong as death.” Jesus conquered sin and death through perfect love. The Resurrection shows us that love won – God won.
So, which is more important, the Incarnation or the Paschal Mystery? Christmas or Easter? Or is it a question that even makes sense to ask? Something happened last Sunday that hasn’t happened for 62 years. Last Sunday, March 25th, was Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. And we read the account of the Passion and death of Jesus. But March 25th is also the feast of the Annunciation – the date that Mary conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit – nine months before Christmas. So, last Sunday, when we recalled the very first entry of Jesus into the human condition, we also recalled his passion and death. So, rather than contrasting or comparing or ranking these two events, the remarkable coincidence we witnessed last Sunday causes us to appreciate the unity of Jesus life on earth – from start to finish. We can think of the entire time Jesus spent on earth as the most important event in the history of the world. And when we focus only on the events marking the beginning and end of Jesus’ earthly life, we risk losing sight of the time in the middle – the time Jesus walked with us, laughed with us, cried with us, taught us – showed us who God is.
I spoke yesterday with one of the people who is being baptized tonight. I asked her if she was excited. She said that she was more nervous than excited. I encouraged her to spend her last day as a catechumen getting excited. Ours is an exciting faith. We celebrate our God whose love brought the world into being, whose faithfulness protected and guided all of us from the moment of creation, and who became a human person to show us God, and to welcome us into an intimate relationship with our creator. The love that Jesus showed when he walked the earth was met with great enthusiasm by many, but also with hatred and jealousy. It was the evil of the world that brought Jesus to the cross, but it was the love and faithfulness of God that raised him from the dead – love is stronger than death. The Resurrection that we remember and celebrate tonight is the great victory of love and faithfulness over evil. God always wins.