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Bishop's Homily for the Easter Vigil

We know that Jesus has broken the bonds of everlasting death forever.

By Bishop Larry Silva
April 11, 2020

[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (private; live-streamed)]

At least half the movies we see involve a wild chase scene.  The “good guys” pursue the “bad guys”, or vice-versa.  The scenes are truly amazing, and although we can usually predict who will win, time after time they bring us to the edges of our seats.  There is a pursuit as if nothing else matters.  The cars, or chariots, or spaceships careen with incredible speed, often leaving lots of damage along the way, but all this damage seems to be forgotten as the chase goes on.

Tonight we recall a chase scene, too.  There is the obvious one of the Egyptians chasing the Hebrews, horses at full speed, chariots rushing toward the Israelites to bring these slaves back where they belong; the Israelites, fleeing desperately, and finding themselves stuck between the enemy and the deep blue sea.  Then suddenly God parts the sea, letting the Israelites escape, and he makes it flow back just as the Egyptians are in its midst.  The drama of this scene keeps us at the edge of our seats.

But there is also the less obvious drama of someone who is after us all, and who has pursued us relentlessly since the beginning of creation.  Satan wants us.  He is pursuing us.  He wants to eat us up.  He is a powerful and cunning foe whose wiles are not to be underestimated.  Hollywood does not have a wild enough imagination to begin to express how much Satan wants us.  He pursues us in obvious horrors, such as terrorism, or domestic violence, or clergy sexual abuse, or war – things that disgust and horrify all but the sickest among us.  But he also pursues us in more subtle and clever ways:  convincing us that we are in the know and therefore feel justified in putting others down; presenting not horrors but pleasures that delight our senses, but that kill our souls; inspiring us to crave more and more material things while blinding us to the tragic suffering of so many who have nothing; draining our hope when we are faced with desperate situations, and telling us that God really doesn’t care about our suffering.

In the face of so powerful an enemy, we are asked some simple, seemingly undramatic questions.  “Do you renounce Satan?  And all his works?  And all his empty promises?”  The questions seem so simple, the reply so unengaging.  “I do,” hardly seems to be something that would stop the drama of the pursuit of such a relentless foe.

Yet these words have a power that we cannot imagine, because we say them not by ourselves, but joined with the members of the Body of Christ throughout the world, the presence of the risen and living Christ, who in his death and resurrection was victorious in the relentless pursuit of Satan against him and against his saving mission.  These words have power because we join together in the profession of faith that follows them.  Just as the Israelites would have been doomed without the power of God working on their behalf, so we would be doomed without so great a Redeemer.

We have reason to believe in God as a Father, who is creator and sustainer of life, seeing that all he had made was very good.  We believe in his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who, as one of us, was also pursued and overtaken by Satan, suffering the ultimate defeat.  After a passionate pursuit with the highest drama, the Demon of Death ate him up, cruelly and callously.  But his goodness and light sickened Satan from the inside out and dealt a mortal blow to his ways of death.  Jesus burst the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave.  And we believe in the Holy Spirit the risen Jesus sent us to share in his own power over Satan, sin and death, so that we, too, can stand up boldly and without fear to renounce our relentless pursuer, to stop living in fear of the death that he will bring us, and in the conviction that, though death seems so inescapable, life unending will overcome it.

Our protection comes from being soaked in the very name of God -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  How undramatic our Baptism may seem, but it is as dramatic as passing through the Red Sea to freedom and life, and then having the sea flow back upon the enemy of our souls.  Our protection is in being anointed with the Chrism of salvation, which oozes down into every pore of our being to give us a share in the power of Christ, from whom it takes its name.  Our protection is found best of all in eating the Body and Blood of the One who mortally wounded Satan by the simplicity of his goodness, and truth and love and whose very Real Presence makes Satan drown away into insignificance.

Even though our Elect cannot enjoy the culmination of this dramatic redemption in the sacraments of initiation tonight, as they would under normal circumstances, we look forward to the day, we pray very soon, when they, too, will cross over the sea into the Promised Land.  Meanwhile, we who have already been baptized, anointed in Confirmation, and nourished at the table of the Lord renew our Baptismal Promises, so that we will remember that, even though the pursuit may go on and the chase may be repeated again and again, we can stand confident, firm and faithful.  We know for certain that Jesus has broken the bonds of everlasting death forever, that he is with us here not just in Spirit but in his truly risen Body, to stand with us as we say again, “I renounce you, Satan, because I am immersed forever in the invincible love of God; I am sealed with the fragrance of God’s own Holy Spirit; and I feast on Jesus, the Victor over sin and death.”  We sing together a word that will always stop this ancient enemy in his tracks:  Alleluia!  And we go out to the ends of the earth to flood the world with this good news of Jesus’ victory over Satan, sin, and death.