One of the most common sights during the years of the recession was the ghost estate. There’s something very sad about an abandoned housing development – half-finished houses, walls but no roofs, gaping holes where windows and doors were meant to be, overgrown mounds of clay or sand or gravel and scattered bits of building materials littering the site and sometimes a rusting crane like a giant scarecrow presiding over it all.
Every abandoned estate is the death of a dream, the death of several dreams, but even such a bleak scenario has its signs of hope. Invariably there will be grass and weeds growing up through the cracks in the cement pavements, or even through tarmacadam roadways. Signs of new life springing up in the most unpromising of surroundings. New life triumphing over the impossible odds of being buried under concrete and asphalt. Tender green shoots of hope pushing up through the hard stones and the bitumen, drawn by the light of the sun. Surely a little miracle in itself.
Tonight we celebrate a big miracle – the biggest miracle of all – the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. His premature death appeared to be the end of many dreams – his own dream of bringing in the Kingdom of God, the dreams of his disciples who had staked their whole lives on him, the dream of his mother, his friends and the disciples who followed him. His body was buried in a new tomb hewn out of rock, we are told, and a huge stone was put over it. The dream was dead, the hopes of his followers were dashed.
When the women came to the burial place on Sunday morning it was not in expectation of resurrection. It was to mourn and honour the dead. When the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were joined by a stranger their faces were downcast, their hopes were shattered. They told the stranger about Jesus but it was in the past tense: Our hope had been that he would be the one to set Israel free.
But, sensationally, the great miracle happened. The stone was removed from the tomb and it was empty. The bewildered women met Jesus and he was alive. And the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus eventually realised that the stranger who met them and walked the road with them was the risen Jesus. They recognised him in the breaking of bread. The women were filled with awe and great joy and ran to tell the other disciples. The two on the road to Emmaus said, were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke to us, and they rushed back to Jerusalem to tell the Good News to the others.
Pope Paul VI once described the resurrection as ‘the unique and sensational event on which the whole of human history turns’. The miracle of Jesus’ resurrection means that death now has no dominion. Death is defeated. Sin is conquered. By raising Jesus from the dead God has changed the course of human history. God has given us the hope that life is not a meaningless riddle that ends in despair. Life is a journey through death to the glory of new life with God. Death is not the end, but the gateway to a new beginning, to eternal life in heaven. This is our faith. This is the Good News celebrate tonight.
We take time to celebrate it – time to savour the symbols of the liturgy that try to communicate the incommunicable, the symbols that try to mediate the mystery, try to give us some glimpse, or at least some sense of the wonder of what we believe. In our distracted and frenetic world where we are invariably in a hurry to the next appointment or the next chore, we find it hard to slow down enough to enter into mystery. In our more and more functional world, we may miss the meaning of symbols like candlelight and incense, darkness and light, water and fire, bread and wine.
So let’s not be impatient tonight. Let’s forget the phone for a while and ignore the watch and enter into the joy and the celebration of this sensational event. The Great Easter Hymn, what we used to call the Exultet near the beginning of the Vigil, captures the mood of the feast. It’s not just happiness, not merely private joy, but universal exultation. It invites the hosts of heaven and all the people of earth to join with us in the Church in an exultant hymn of praise. It wants us the raise the roof: “let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the people.”
Because, amid all the broken dreams and disappointments of our lives; amid all the half-finished, desolate ghost estates of our human existence, tonight we celebrate the rebirth of hope. We celebrate the death of death and the dawn of life. We celebrate the green shoots of new life, eternal life, pushing their way up through the arid, desert places of our lives and our world, drawn by the light of the Risen Lord. We celebrate the dream that will never die, that all will be well, and that one day we will all be reunited with those who have gone before us, and with Christ, in the glory of the resurrection.