Saturday, April 15, 2017

From Place to Place


Easter Vigil (A)


Heal the world. Make it a better place,
for you and for me, and the entire human race…

My dear friends, do any of you still remember these words? They are taken, of course, from the chorus of an old Michael Jackson song from the 1990s. Do you remember what the song is about? It calls everyone to do something important. Something urgent. To heal the world. To make it a better place. And it’s not difficult to see why. It’s because the world is broken. There are people dying. From starvation and disease. From war and conflict. From loneliness and neglect. People are dying. So heal the world. Make it a better place…

And how do we do this? Where do we start? The song tells us in its opening verse…

There's a place in your heart, and I know that it is love. And this place could be much brighter than tomorrow. And if you really try, you’ll find there's no need to cry.
In this place you will feel there's no hurt or sorrow…

According to the song, we heal the broken exterior place that is our world by first finding a safe interior place. A location within our hearts that the song calls love. Apparently, if we really try to find this place inside ourselves, we will also discover the energy we need to reach out and to heal the world. So goes the song.

To move from inner place to outer place. To first find love here in our hearts. In order to then move out and heal the world out there. Sounds like a plan. Except that it’s easier said than done. For isn’t brokenness to be found not just in the big bad and pitiful world out there, but also in our own hearts as well? Don’t we often struggle to find and to sustain the love that we need to care for our own family and friends on a daily basis? Let alone to repair the whole wide world? Don’t our best efforts at reaching out sometimes result in more harm than good? We exploit instead of repair. Oppress rather than heal.

If the healing of the world truly depends on love, then surely we need to find a more reliable and consistent source. A better place than our own poor broken hearts. A place where love flows without pause or limit or hidden agenda. Where brokenness finds true healing… Where exactly is this place? What does it look like? How can it be found? These are the questions that our readings help us to ponder on this joyous Easter night.

Notice how, in all our readings tonight, reference is made to various places. Places that God provides. Places in which human beings can live and flourish. In the first reading this place is called the earth. God goes to great lengths to make it fit for human life. But to live in this place is not just a physical project. It is also a spiritual one. It requires obedience to God’s command. Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and conquer it. Care for this place as a God-given responsibility. Instead of selfishly exploiting it as a mere resource.

In the second reading, God invites Abraham to go to a particular place. A certain mountain in the land of Moriah. Again, this is not just a geographic location, but a spiritual place. The place of trust and obedience. Of worship and sacrifice. Abraham is able to find and to remain in this place, because he trusts God enough to obey God’s command. He holds nothing back. Not even his only and much beloved son, Isaac. As a result, Abraham experiences God’s generous providence. On the mountain, the Lord provides

In the third reading too, we find God providing people with safe places. Pursued by the Egyptian army, the Israelites are led into the waters of the Red Sea. But instead of drowning, they find safe passage. God creates a road for them. A way from danger to safety. From certain death to new life. Eventually leading them to the Promised Land.

But, again, it’s important to see that the Promised Land is not just a physical place. It is, above all, a spiritual one. To live there is to remain faithful to God. But the people fail. They worship false gods. And end up in exile. Not just exile from their homeland. But exile from God. In the four readings from the prophets, God promises to bring the people back. But notice how this is described in terms of relationship. I did forsake you for a brief moment, God says, but with great love I will take you back… My love for you will never leave you… Pay attention, come to me…  listen, and your soul will live… Had you walked in the way of God, you would have lived in peace for ever… God promises to gather the people back to God himself. Enfolding them in God’s embrace.

And God promises to do this by cleansing them. By pouring clean water over them. By giving them a new heart. By putting a new spirit in them. For us Christians, this promise finds its fulfilment in baptism. Which for us is much more than just getting our heads and clothes wet. As St. Paul reminds us, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with Christ. We joined him in death. We died to our old selfish ways of life. So that as Christ was raised from the dead… we too might live a new life. A life of love. A life with Christ in God.

To be baptised–as you, our beloved elect will be, later tonight–to be baptised, is to be transported to a location in Mystery. To be brought to live in a special spiritual Place. A Place that is also a Person. The Crucified and Risen Christ. From whose pierced side flows the constant stream of God’s undying love. Here we finally arrive at that place that Michael Jackson was looking for in human hearts. That truly reliable and consistent source of love that alone is capable of healing our world. Except that this place is more than just an interior space.

Notice how, when the two Mary’s visit the tomb of Jesus in the gospel, they are told by an angel to go to a another location. To go to Galilee. Again, this is a spiritual place. Galilee is where Jesus carried out his public ministry. And, after his Dying and Rising, this ministry now extends to the whole world. To go to Galilee is to do what Jesus did. The same thing that Michael Jackson wanted everyone to do. To heal the world. Except that now, this work of healing doesn’t have to be something draining. No. Through the Dying and Rising of Christ, the work of healing has become instead something that energises. For the angel promises that, even out there in Galilee, we will see him. There, in the work of healing the world, we find Christ the Lord himself. Continually filling us with his power. Faithfully energising us to share his merciful love with a broken world.

Heal the world. Make it a better place, for you and for me, and the entire human race… To do this is to allow ourselves to be brought to that other Place who is Christ. Christ Crucified and Risen. Whom we joyously celebrate on this most holy night.

My dear sister and brothers, what must we do to continue seeking and remaining in this marvellous and mysterious Place, today and every day, for the rest of our lives?

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