Easter Vigil 2020

Published: April 11, 2020

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily at the Diocese of Little Rock House of Formation in Little Rock on Saturday, April 11, 2020.

Bishop Taylor

A few weeks ago, on March 27, Pope Francis led Catholics throughout the world in a special hour of prayer conducted in a rainstorm, right in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. He based his reflection on the story of the calming of a rainstorm in Mark’s Gospel: A storm blew up on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples were afraid, Jesus was sleeping, they woke him up, he challenged their lack of faith and then he calmed the storm.

And of course, it is obvious how clearly this passage from 2,000 years ago speaks to our lived reality today. The storm of COVID-19 is a very dangerous threat and we are afraid, but with a difference: we are the ones who have to be wakened up, not Jesus. And not just to the coronavirus threat. I believe that God will bring good out of this crisis if we just let him.

Pope Francis lists a whole series of areas in which we are blind to threats that are more serious, if not quite as immediate, as the COVID-19 virus that is taking such a toll right now. As we gather this evening to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection and our share in his victory, we proclaim that Jesus is not asleep!  He has awakened from the dead, and now he challenges our lack of faith even as we plan renew our baptismal promises in this Mass.  

Do we truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead and — more fundamentally — that by placing our faith, our trust in him, by doing things his way, we can have a share in his victory? Even when it means “passing through the valley of the shadow of death” ourselves?

If this were a normal year, we would have gathered outside in the dark and proceeded to light a fire and from that fire the Easter candle, a symbol of the resurrection that gives witness to the fact that the light is more powerful than the darkness — any darkness, any storm, including this pandemic that has so filled us with anxiety about the future.

We recall that on Good Friday evil did its worst — in this case not a rainstorm or a deadly disease threatening the entire planet, but something far worse: human wickedness. Natural phenomena can take a heavy toll and cause us much sorrow, worry and fear, but they do not destroy the soul in the same way that human evil does.

But even so, just like with the men caught in the rainstorm with Jesus that day, God uses these threats — both natural threats and human threats — to shake us up and thereby challenge us to ask ourselves just where it is that we in fact place our faith, our trust — as evidenced not merely by what we say, but rather by what we do, the criteria we use for all our decision making.

Do we truly believe that Jesus rose from the dead and — more fundamentally — that by placing our faith, our trust in him, by doing things his way, we can have a share in his victory? Even when it means “passing through the valley of the shadow of death” ourselves?

You and I are experiencing something very new in our lives, a time when our cherished worldly securities have been stripped away. Pope Francis elaborates on Jesus’ words, “Why are you afraid?  Have you no faith?” this way. He says: “Faith begins when we realize we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars.

"Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

"The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love.”