The Easter Vigil
Homily by Abbot Gregory Duerr, OSB
Mt. Angel Abbey
Saturday Night, March 30, 2013, at 8:00 PM


My dear friends in the Risen Christ!

Recently I came across a story involving a Russian Communist leader by the name of Nikolai Bukharin. Around 1930 he traveled from Moscow to Kiev to address a large assembly on the topic of atheism. According to the story, For a solid hour he aimed his heavy verbal artillery at Christianity, hurling argument and ridicule. At last he was finished and viewed what seemed to be the smoldering ashes of men’s faith. “Are there any questions?” Bukharin demanded. A solitary man arose and asked permission to speak. He mounted the platform and moved close to the Communist. For a while he slowly scanned the audience. At last he shouted the ancient Orthodox greeting, “CHRIST IS RISEN!” The vast assembly arose as one man and the response came crashing like the sound of an avalanche, “HE IS RISEN INDEED!” (from an Easter sermon, “Remember Jesus Christ,” by Keith Wessel)

My brothers and sisters, would that we had such a vibrant faith in the Risen Jesus! Would that our memory of Jesus and of his Resurrection remained so alive, so all-embracing, as to influence our attitudes, our thinking, our acting, our relationships, our ministry in the Name and in the Spirit of Jesus, our vision of the world, our worship and our prayer, our way of being alive for God in Christ Jesus! Would that there were emblazoned upon our Christian consciousness the words of St. Paul to Timothy (II Tim 2:8): REMEMBER JESUS CHRIST, RAISED FROM THE DEAD! This was the summary of his gospel, and it was out of his compelling remembrance of Jesus that he wrote in his letter to the Philippians:

I consider everything as a loss because of THE SUPREME GOOD OF KNOWING CHRIST JESUS MY LORD. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things…, that I may GAIN CHRIST and BE FOUND IN HIM, not having any righteousness of my own… but that which comes through FAITH IN CHRIST, the righteousness from God, depending on FAITH to KNOW HIM and THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION… (Philippians 3:8-10)

Here, in these passionate words of the great Apostle Paul, we find the language with which to describe our gathering on this holiest of nights: We’ve come to REMEMBER JESUS CHRIST… AND THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION! In fire and flame we proclaimed him our LIGHT; in the long readings of the liturgy of the word we traced SALVATION HISTORY, God’s lordship over creation and all history leading up to the saving death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Soon this night, in the baptismal liturgy, we will renew our own baptismal entry into the mystery of the dying and rising of Jesus, emphatically rejecting sin and proclaiming our faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And finally tonight, in the liturgy of the Eucharist, filled with immense gratitude we will go to meet the Lord in his Body and his Blood, the panis angelicus, the angelic bread that sustains us on our present journey.

Yes, this is a wondrous night, a night in which to remember Jesus Christ and to open our lives once again to the power of his resurrection. Our hearts thrilled tonight as we stood with lighted candles, attentive to the sublime poetry of the Easter Proclamation, marveling, for example, in the daring proclamation that there is even something “happy” about mankind’s sinfulness, in that it rought us “so great, so glorious a Redeemer,” Jesus! But that ours may be an enduring faith, a flame that continues to warm our hearts and enlighten our minds, the Easter Proclamation ended with this hope:

May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star:
the one Morning Star who never sets,
who … has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns for ever and ever. AMEN!


Yes, my brothers and sisters, this is indeed a wondrous night… But what about tomorrow… and the next day… and the next…? Will the flame of our faith still be burning bright? Will our lives still be oriented toward the ever-shining Morning Star that is Jesus? Will we still gratefully treasure the Eucharistic gifts that we received on Holy Thursday, and will we still remember Good Friday’s lessons in patient suffering from our crucified Christ—or will we still reject our daily crosses with grumbling and impatience? Will the days ahead find us still willing to reject sin, as we so fittingly promise to do in tonight’s renewal of our baptismal promises? How is it, in other words, that we can sustain our faith in Jesus Christ? How is it that we can LIVE our faith more fully and let JESUS make a real difference in our lives?

Well, it’s not easy! But there is an important clue in the Gospel reading from St. Luke that was just proclaimed at this Easter Vigil. Recall the scene. The Gospel said that at daybreak that Easter Sunday morning Mary Magdalene and some other women disciples of Jesus went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus; but they found the stone rolled away from the entrance, and “when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (Lk 24:5b-6). As they were puzzling over this, they became terrified when two figures in dazzling garments appeared and told them that Jesus had been raised from the dead! Then they told the women something very important—that clue that I mentioned a moment ago: REMEMBER WHAT HE SAID TO YOU (Lk 24:6b, with reference, here, to Jesus’ earlier predictions of his crucifixion and resurrection on the third day). We may well guess that Jesus’ predictions hadn’t sunk in very well: You’re not going to die, Jesus; forget about that…! In fact, we can read in chapter 16 of St. Matthew’s Gospel that Peter did just that when he heard Jesus’ first prediction of the Passion. It says that

Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you.” [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Mt 16:22-23)

We ourselves have probably done the same thing at times to encourage a friend or family member overwhelmed by sickness or disease: You’re going to be OK; you’re not going to die… Jesus’ apostles and disciples loved him, and it’s understandable why they wouldn’t want to entertain the thought of his passion and death—and even the thought of being raised from the dead… what was that about?! And so the women at the tomb were told: REMEMBER WHAT HE SAID TO YOU:

REMEMBER what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be HANDED OVER to sinners and be CRUCIFIED, and RISE on the third day. (Lk 24:6-7)

And the very next verse says “AND THEY REMEMBERED HIS WORDS” (Lk 24:8). And it was that REMEMBRANCE, now empowered by encounter with those two supernatural emissaries, that generated a new and exciting FAITH in the women who had gone to the tomb—so exciting that they ran back to the still skeptical apostles and others and “ANNOUNCED all these things…” (24:9). Yes, it was these women—with Mary Magdalene among them—who became the first proclaimers of the Easter gospel!

My brothers and sisters, let us REMEMBER JESUS CHRIST… and WHAT HE SAID TO US! REMEMBER… Yes, that’s the word to remember! We’ve got to remember to remember!! The Jerome Biblical Commentary says that

REMEMBERING is bringing to bear in the present, with power and new and deepened insight, the meaning of past actions and words in salvation history. (Jerome Biblical Commentary, 720) On this holy night, of course, we remember JESUS especially as RISEN and as LIGHT and LIFE to all who embrace him in baptismal FAITH! The challenge is to keep remembering him—tomorrow, and the next day, and the next; the challenge is to keep remembering what he said to us and what he did for us—tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Ours must be a FAITH that keeps us ever MINDFUL of Jesus and his words through meaningful encounter with him in the Eucharist and in lives dedicated to prayer and to faithful lectio on his Gospel of love. That’s the kind of remembering we need to have… and then the remembered Jesus and his remembered words will shape our lives—and then we too, whether with words or without, will be proclaimers of the Easter gospel!

When Abbot Bonaventure, of happy memory, and I used to converse, it was usually in the German language that we both grew up with, and we used to greet each other with “Gelobt sei Jesus Christus— Praised be Jesus Christ,” with the response “In ewigkeit. Amen—For ever. Amen.” And that is how I greet you in this holy night of nights: PRAISED BY JESUS CHRIST, FOR EVER. AMEN! HE IS

—Abbot Gregory Duerr, O.S.B.