Easter Vigil

Life can be really hard when troubles start piling up. Sometimes, having just dealt with a problem, we have to face another one; sometimes, it feels like we are surrounded by challenges with no obvious solution or way out. Three women in today’s gospel, who have just lost Jesus and barely started mourning Him, wondered how to open up the tomb to treat his dead body properly, which had been hastily buried a couple of days earlier. But when they approached the tomb, their problem with the heavy closing stone instantly evaporated, replaced by an incomparably greater problem: Jesus’ body had disappeared. A sense of panic was setting in when they heard the calming words: “There is no need for alarm. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he has risen; he is not here.” They were uttered by “a young man in a white robe seated on the right-hand side” of the tomb. Who was he? Was he trustworthy? Did he calm their fears? The passage we heard ends with his instruction to “go and tell his disciples and Peter.” However, the story didn’t end there; St Mark reported that they “fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Over the last few decades, we have experienced a steady decline in church attendance and a general drop in the number of people declaring to be Christians. The extent of this slide is such that some have announced the effective death of religion in the West. Many factors are at play, such as overall prosperity, peace dividend, and better healthcare, to mention just a few. Who needs religion with its purportedly restrictive morals when you can enjoy life to its fullness, taking advantage of every opportunity coming your way? For the first generation of lapsed adult Christians, seemingly nothing changed because – having been raised with religious values and morals – they mostly kept them instinctively in the practice of their everyday lives. But with each new generation raised with increasingly absent religious input, those values we take for granted have started to disappear, replaced by an ever-growing, self-absorbed individualism, where others are either a means of achieving one’s goals or a hindrance in doing so. Suddenly, society is now waking up to a whole raft of insurmountable challenges. Just recently, there have been reports of an epidemic of mental health problems among young people, the explosion of sexually transmitted diseases or the hugely damaging impact of pornography on young men and, consequently, their attitude towards women. The pursuit of ever-illusive individual happiness tends to break families up, providing no safe space for children to grow and mature. Let me be clear; I’m not claiming that in the distant past, in the old days of full churches, everything was rosy and perfect; far from it. However, the moral framework created by the Christian faith offered a solid point of reference for making decisions and choices. Similarly, the narrative of Jesus’ Passion and sacrificial death helped to repurpose our own suffering, pain and challenges, giving us greater resilience in facing and overcoming them.

Today, we – a relatively small group of Christians still trying to practice and live out our faith – have gathered to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. While we look into the empty, darkened tomb of our modern world, we don’t see Jesus there. We stare into reality and might feel a sense of panic or fear setting in. Today, you see “a young-ish man in a white robe” telling you: “There is no need for alarm. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified: he has risen; he is not here. […] But you must go and tell” everyone where He can be found. The women in today’s gospel “said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” Thankfully, they soon overcame their fears and told others that Jesus was alive. Though initially mocked and dismissed, eventually, they were believed, and thus, a new, undying hope was born.

Image by Robert Balog from Pixabay