An Easter Homily from Archbishop Di Noia, O.P.
April 23, 2014
Archbishop J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., delivered the following homily at the Dominican House of Studies on April 19, 2014, for the celebration of the Great Vigil of Easter. He has graciously given us permission to publish it here. “O God of my salvation, hail to thee, O Jesus sweetest love, all hail to thee; O venerable breast, I worship thee; O dwelling-place of love, I fly to thee, With trembling touch, adore and worship thee.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, this is the opening verse of a beautiful medieval poem entitled Salvator mundi salutare (Arnulf of Louvain d. 1250) and dedicated to the membra Jesu nostri, each of the seven verses being addressed to a different part of Christ’s crucified body: ad pedes, ad genua, ad manus, ad latus, ad pectus, ad cor, ad faciem (feet, knees, hands, side, chest, heart and head). But tonight, in praising Our Savior with the words, “O God of my salvation, hail to thee,” no longer is it the Lord’s crucified body that we address. It is gone from view. Where is it? The angel tells us: “I know that you are seeking the crucified Jesus, but He is not here; He has been raised just as He said.” The angel even shows us: “Come!” he says, “See the place where He lay; He is not here.” At once fearful and overjoyed, we hasten to tell the disciples the news. Lo and behold, Jesus meets us on our way and greets us. “O Jesus, sweetest love, all hail to thee.” We approach, and, falling to our knees, we embrace His feet. Our crucified Jesus is alive. “O risen Lord: with trembling touch, we worship and adore thee,” we sing to His glorified body. We pray that His holy and glorious wounds will guard and keep us. Knowing full well that we have reason to be frightened, Jesus reassures us, “Do not be afraid. Tell my disciples to hasten to Galilee where they will see me.” He is happy to see us and eager to see His disciples. So are we. “O dwelling place of love, we fly to thee.” We find the disciples and tell them. But not all of them understand. Later in the day, when two of them meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus, it’s obvious that they don’t recognize Him, and, what is more, that they are puzzled by what we told them. “It is now the third day since our leaders handed Him over to be crucified, and some women of our group have astounded us: they were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find His body there, they came back and told us that angels said that He was alive.” Overjoyed and jubilant to see Jesus alive as we are, it turns out that there are many things we have not understood. The risen Jesus is eager to explain these things to us. He wants to tell us about all that He has done for us. But the key is very different from that of Good Friday. There are no more accusations. No censures or reproof. The question, “what more could I have done for you?” introduces, not a lament, but an exultant demonstration of the successive wonders of His love. As on Good Friday, these wonders are recounted in song, the Improperia yielding now to the Exultet. Not reproaches, tonight, but a jubilant Easter Proclamation. The resplendent glow of the Paschal Candle throws everything into a new light—the light of Christ which dispels all darkness, anxiety and confusion. The Paschal Candle stands for the risen Christ who is here—very much here—tonight. The crucified body has given way to the glorified body. Much transformed now—He appears and disappears, He is no longer subject to the restrictions of space, He enters rooms where the doors are closed, and so on—Jesus nonetheless resumes His familiar role as our Teacher. “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and so enter into His glory?” He asks. Then, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interprets for us all the things about Himself that are contained in the scriptures: Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Baruch, Ezekiel, the Psalms, Paul, Matthew. The passages from the Old Testament are as much about our risen Lord as those from the New. Christ teaches us tonight that He is at the center of all the events they recount. Moreover, while it is true that He speaks to us about things that happened in the past, we are not here simply to recall past events, albeit in an atmosphere of appropriate spiritual emotion. Christ is present here, and because He was present in the events we recall tonight, all these events are made present in Him who has now triumphantly fulfilled all that they promised and prefigured. “I am the Passover of your salvation,” He might well say, paraphrasing a famous sermon of Melito of Sardis. “I was present in many so as to endure many things. In Abel I was slain; in Isaac bound; in Jacob, a stranger; in Joseph sold; in Moses exposed; in David persecuted; in the prophets dishonoured. I became incarnate of the Virgin. Not a bone of Mine was broken on the tree. I was buried in the earth, but rose from the dead, and was lifted up to the heights of heaven” (cf. LH Office of Readings for Holy Thursday). In the blessing of the baptismal water the liturgical narration of these events makes them present to us here and now. The “types” of baptism recounted in the prayer of blessing—the Spirit breathing over the waters at creation, the waters of the Deluge, the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, the waters of the Jordan, and the water that flowed from the side of Christ—are fulfilled in the sacrament of Baptism whose water draws its potency, so to speak, from Christ’s action in all these past events. “All that the Son of God did and taught for the reconciliation of the world is not simply known to us through the historical record of the past; we also experience it through the power of His present works” (St. Leo the Great, Sermon 63.6). What are His present works? In a nutshell, our salvation. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are transformed into his image over the course of our lifetimes as each year we traverse the arc of events from Bethlehem to Golgotha, and beyond. For the Sacrament of Baptism is completed by the Sacrament of Confirmation which brings the Holy Spirit to us in a powerful infusion of grace. Just as the Son proceeds from the Father whose love for Him is the Holy Spirit, so that same Holy Spirit at work in us transforms us into the image of the Son so that we can be loved as He is loved by the Father. During this most sacred Triduum, our paschal journey with Christ began at the table of the Last Supper. “O God of my salvation, hail to thee.” From Gethsemane, we followed Him to Golgotha. “O Jesus, sweetest love, all hail to thee.” Now we have reached the climax of His pasch at the table of the Easter Vigil. We looked for the crucified Jesus at the tomb, but do not find Him. Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we will find Him here, at this table. Now He is at table with us. And at this table, He will feed us. He takes bread, blesses it, and breaks it, and gives it to us. Our eyes are opened and we recognize Him. “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was opening the Scriptures to us!” we exclaim. Our crucified and risen Jesus makes Himself known to us, and, more importantly, gives Himself to us, in the breaking of the bread—in the expiatory sacrifice that is at the heart of our paschal communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and with one another in them. “O risen Lord: with trembling touch, we worship and adore thee.”
Image: Titian, Christ