March 30, 2024

Deacon Tim Papa Homily
We Are an Easter People

Holy Saturday At the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night Cycle B

Genesis 1:1,26-31a; Exodus 14:15-15:1; Isaiah 54:5-14; Romans 6:3-11; Mark 16:1-7

Happy Easter. Felices Pascua. Today is the day that we get to celebrate one incredible fact, one which I talked about in my homily last weekend, one which was proclaimed in the Gospel three weekends ago: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” [John 3:16 NABRE]. We celebrate tonight the event that turned this from a promise to a reality. God came to us. Jesus Chris, true God and true man, shared this world with us. Like us, he shared both our joys and sorrows, our highs and lows, our suffering and our celebrations. For Christ, the turnaround from sorrow to joy, from cross to resurrection, took three days. For us, it might take longer in terms of earth time, but that our final salvation is now possible is no longer in doubt. The gospels and all of the New and Old Testaments all clearly provide the evidence of this. Tonight, let us focus on one passage which shows us the plan of God that we have just been a part of these last three days, and it is one that our Lord himself told us to look at when he hung on the cross.

For years when I was younger, I didn’t appreciate why Jesus cried out during his crucifixion “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” [Psalm 22:2 NABRE]. Was the faith of Jesus shaken that badly? And if it was, what chance do I have to keep my faith in my daily challenges? Jesus, being truly a human like us, was feeling the effects of the painful execution that he was enduring as well as the abandonment of his disciples who ran away, but he was not in despair. He was actually quoting the first line of a psalm, which for Jewish people at the time would be a kind of title for it.

Psalm 22, said to be written by King David himself a thousand years before Christ, is a blueprint of the Pascal mystery that we are celebrating this week. It begins with the psalmist relating the problems of his life to God, as many of the psalms which are categorized as laments did. The psalmist then goes on to describe some of these problems. In verses seven through nine, we read:

But I am a worm, not a man,

scorned by men, despised by the people.

All who see me mock me;

they curl their lips and jeer;

they shake their heads at me:

“He relied on the LORD – let him deliver him;

if he loves him, let him rescue him.”

Then, a few verses later, we read [vv. 17-19]:

Dogs surround me;

a pack of evildoers closes in on me.

They have pierced my hands and my feet

I can count all my bones.

They stare at me and gloat;

they divide my garments among them;

for my clothing they cast lots.

Does this sound familiar? Of course it does. This was the responsorial psalm last week on Palm Sunday, and the gospels explicitly cite some of these lines in their crucifixion description.

But it would be a mistake to focus solely on these verses now that we are celebrating Easter. Easter cannot be understood without the cross, so it is right to mention it, but it would be wrong to stop there. And in the case of Psalm 22, it doesn’t stop there.

This psalm, it turns out, is not a lament, or at least not solely a lament. At its end, according to the eminent theologians who made the translation we use at Mass, it turns into a “universal chorus of praise” [Notes for NABRE Psalm 22]. Despite the hardships of his life, the psalmist tells us in verses twenty-five through twenty-seven:

For [the LORD] has not spurned or disdained

the misery of this poor wretch,

Did not turn away from me,

but heard me when I cried out.

I will offer praise in the great assembly;

my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him.

The poor will eat their fill;

those who seek the LORD will offer praise.

May your hearts enjoy life forever!”

You see, Psalm 22 is not just a Good Friday psalm; it is at its heart an Easter Sunday psalm, just as we, despite the bad things that happen to us, our personal Good Fridays, we Christians are an Easter people who share the praise of our God with the psalmist, who ends with these verses [vv. 31-32]:

And I will live for the LORD;

my descendants will serve you.

The generation to come will be told of the Lord,

that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn

the deliverance you have brought.

That last line is particularly important to all of us gathered here. To those who will be brought into the Church tonight with baptism or acceptance into the Church, you are accepting the deliverance which is ours in Christ Jesus. To those of us that have been in the Church for many years, maybe since childhood, it is our chance to renew our baptismal promises and proclaim that deliverance to others. Easter is a time of great joy, and a time of resolution to let the light of Christ, the risen Christ, shine for all to see, “that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought.”

There is great truth in this psalm – the psalm that Jesus started in words on the cross; the psalm that Jesus finished in action at the empty tomb. May all of us be able to make this psalm, this song of praise, a reality in our lives so that we really become the Easter people that God has made us to be.


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