The waters of baptism bring us into a new life with Jesus Christ and His Holy Church, said Archbishop Leo Cushley in his Easter Vigil homily at St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral, 20 April.
“The waters of baptism bring confusion and death to our old enemy, Satan; and as Ezekiel anticipates, the waters cleanse us and purify us for a new life in Christ,” said Archbishop Cushley just prior to receiving a total of 10 converts into the Church.
“From the side of the old Adam, God drew Eve. Christ, the new Adam, now gives birth to the new Eve from His side on the Cross. The new Eve is us, the Church, and she is born from the side of the new Adam by means of water – Baptism, and blood - the Eucharist.”
As it custom, the Easter Vigil began with a cathedral cast entirely into darkness, the gloom being pierced by the lighting of the Paschal or Easter Candle representing Jesus Christ, the light of the world.
A succession of scriptural readings from both the Old and New Testaments then followed charting the progression of salvation history from the creation of the universe to the incarnation of Jesus Christ and onto his passion, death and resurrection.
“This is why tonight is the moment par excellence for us to become sharers in Christ’s death and resurrection,” added the Archbishop, “We imitate Christ’s death through these powerful symbols. And our imitation of Christ’s death is symbolic, but our salvation is a reality.”
“We now turn, therefore, to the Blessing of the Water, and to the Baptism of those who wish to join us in Christ’s death, so that we may all of us be conformed to Christ, and one day have a full share in His life.” Archbishop Cushley’s homily is reproduced in full below:
Homily of Archbishop Leo Cushley of St Andrews & Edinburgh
Easter Vigil, 2019
St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Edinburgh
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On this most solemn occasion, our hearts and filled with profound joy as we discover anew God’s great goodness to us.
In our Vigil tonight we hear how God created us; how he loves us; and how he frees us from sin and death.
The readings from the very start of the Bible story, Genesis, are among the most beautiful and moving in the whole of the Scriptures, and very appropriate to our celebration tonight. Genesis, Chapter one, contains almost all that we need here for an Easter Vigil. It tells us of God’s spirit, at the beginning of all things, hovering over the dark waters, as he will do shortly over the waters of baptism here tonight; we hear of the creation of light, God’s first action on the first day, something we, too, place at the start of our Vigil; we witness the creation of plants and trees and vegetation, signs of life; then the sun, the moon and the stars, the animals; then birds and fish and reptiles. Finally, when all is ready, God makes man. But he doesn’t make him like anything else. He makes us in his own image, and he entrusts all his wonderful, good creation to us. God sees all that he has made, and indeed, it is very good. The truth of the story, this story of love and goodness and harmony and balance, all speaks of God’s loving will for us.
The second reading in the full Vigil is also from Genesis. God puts Abraham to the test, by asking him to put his son to death for him. This man of great faith, who has longed for a son that he only has in his old age, is proved to an extreme that is unique. Abraham’s faith is tested terribly, but God spares him and his son this awful trial. Again, this touching story reminds us with great longing of how much God loves us in letting His own Son be put to death, and not just any death, but an extreme death on a Cross. In Abraham, God spares the father’s only son, the boy that he thought he would never have. But God loved us so much that he did not spare His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As we share in the dismay and then relief of Abraham, we are led to reflect how much greater, how much more profound is God’s love for us when he does not spare His only Son to save us, and while we are still sinners.
And the full Vigil’s third reading we find the stirring, powerful story of how God saves us and sets us free, just as he saved the entire people of Israel from slavery and death. Israel flees Pharaoh in a desperate race to cross the Red Sea, which takes Moses and his people to life and liberty in the Promised Land. And we, in our turn, are led through the waters of Baptism by the new Moses, Christ Himself, who leads us to liberty and eternal life in the promised garden of Paradise. We, like Israel, are set free by God’s mighty arm and outstretched hand from something that is all too real, all too evident: our slavery to this world and the inevitability of our death.
After readings from Ezekiel and St Paul, we come to St Luke’s account of the Empty Tomb. The women go to the Tomb but find the stone rolled away and meet “two men in brilliant clothes” who announce that Jesus is risen. Just as the Risen Lord is going to do with his downcast disciples in the Emmaus story later, they say, “Remember what he told you.” Remember: Jesus had to die so that he could rise on the third day…”
So, it had to be this way, say the two angels.
And yet, something is beginning to dawn upon the characters in Luke’s Gospel: they are starting to move from perplexity to understanding; from disbelief to belief; from the darkest despair to the most profound joy. Luke’s account only appears at first to be a record of disbelief and incomprehension. The disciples at first treat the stories of the women as “pure nonsense”; but this is very shortly going to change. Perhaps here only Peter, who rushes to the Tomb and finds a few things there but no actual body, returns “amazed at what had happened.” We haven’t heard the last of Peter but, for now, we are all still waiting at the Empty Tomb.
As for St Luke, he remains anxious to tell us all about the wonderful, unexpected outcome of Good Friday, and the unexpected, overwhelming joy of meeting the Risen Lord will be revealed only a few short lines later.
And as for ourselves, our hearts filled with joy at what the living Word of God has told us, we now turn to the initiation of those who are about to become Catholic Christians. So, we conclude by remembering the prophetic words of Ezekiel, and the words of St Paul tonight. After Ezekiel has described the Lord’s wish to cleanse his people from all their sins, St Paul, in the reading from his letter to the Romans, we heard: “When we were baptised in Christ Jesus, we were baptised into his death. We went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead, we too might live a new life… if in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate his resurrection”.
St Paul’s words speak directly to what are now about to do here. My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, here is why we celebrate the initiation of adults tonight. Here we recall the death of the Lord, and the empty Tomb, and in baptism we join Him in that death. The waters of baptism bring confusion and death to our old enemy, Satan; and as Ezekiel anticipates, the waters cleanse us and purify us for a new life in Christ.
From the side of the old Adam, God drew Eve. Christ, the new Adam, now gives birth to the new Eve from His side on the Cross. The new Eve is us, the Church, and she is born from the side of the new Adam by means of water – Baptism, and blood - the Eucharist. This is why tonight is the moment par excellence for us to become sharers in Christ’s death and resurrection. We imitate Christ’s death through these powerful symbols. And our imitation of Christ’s death is symbolic, but our salvation is a reality.
We now turn, therefore, to the Blessing of the Water, and to the Baptism of those who wish to join us in Christ’s death, so that we may all of us be conformed to Christ, and one day have a full share in His life.
* Photographs courtesy of Benedicta Yi Xin Lin