Homily preached by the Most Reverend Malcolm McMahon OP, Archbishop of Liverpool, at the Easter Vigil. Livestreamed from the Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool on Saturday 11 April 2020 at 8pm.
Watch the Easter Vigil at the Metropolitan Cathedral, Liverpool
‘Felix culpa... O happy fault, o necessary sin of Adam…, that earned so great, so glorious a redeemer.’ That is part of the great song of praise Father Philip sang over the Easter Candle. Sin as happy? Necessary?
Our sins are the bad news. In the face of them, our gracious God speaks a word of good news. That Word takes flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. That Word became the friend of sinners and ate with them and eats with them still. How did he see how our sins fit into this?
I have a rug in my sitting room that was made in Afghanistan. This rug used to annoy me because the pattern went wrong in one corner. It was very slight but really got on my nerves (what does that say about me?). I should also say that it was made by master rug weavers who are Muslims. Their designs are intricate and beautiful. So much of Islamic art is like that, geometric and symmetrical and very beautiful. But I learnt that in every rug they deliberately weave an imperfection into one of the corners. It is not an accident or unplanned. If there is no imperfection, it is not genuine. You see only God is perfect, and to make something that is perfect is an offence against God. But it occurred to me, from a Christian perspective, that perfection is not the absence of imperfection but the incorporation of imperfection into the whole.
That's how Jesus of Nazareth sees sin: he weaves our sins into a pattern which includes them and then spins a different design around them, using them as part of the pattern. Our imperfections are the threads God uses to weave a tapestry. Our sins are the threads used to make something uniquely beautiful. Have you ever seen a handmade rug from behind? My dad started making a rug when he was in hospital for an operation to occupy him as he healed. It wasn’t finished when he was discharged, and it took another ten years for him to complete, but even as a child I noticed that on the underside of the rug there are all sorts of knots and pieces which seem to go nowhere, threads which don't look like they are connected. Yet when you see the rug from the front, the connections and the beauty are clear.
Think for a moment of your own experience: when have you felt you needed God most? When have you felt the presence of God most? Is it not when you and I have felt ourselves powerless? When we are strong and sleek, healthy and flawless, we don't need God and we can easily become self-righteous. But when we acknowledge our brokenness, our wounds, then those become the places where God can enter in. That's where the healing begins, the weaving of our sinfulness into the design of God which includes our necessary sins.
Tonight we renew our baptismal promises remembering the living water promised to the woman at the well; we were washed clean of our sins and the Holy Spirit was poured out on us confirming our faith. We reaffirm that we are a baptized, redeemed and holy people. The fellowship of the Holy Spirit is ours. But we also are aware that we are sinners-in-the-process-of-becoming-saints.
Our lives are ‘felix culpa’ in miniature. If we weren’t in lockdown due to the coronavirus, I would be welcoming new Catholics into the Church this evening to join us at the table of the Lord. So their journey continues for a few more weeks, and they have a special place in our prayers this evening. This evening I am acutely aware that we have all found our way to this Easter Vigil by different routes, and I don’t mean by getting lost on the internet: to a great extent our stories are all similar – we are all heading in the same direction – this night we are drawn to the light of the Risen Christ.
We all have different stories but our lives with their ups and downs became Christ's story when he died for us on the Cross: tonight we move from darkness to light, from discord to harmony, from pain and stumbling to new patterns of life. The people of power of Jesus’ time thought that the thread had been cut when they laid him in the tomb. But God would weave even death into the pattern: resurrection becomes part of the new design.
We – you and I – the story of our lives are the strands used by God to weave a new pattern from imperfection, failure, sickness, depression. Our God takes each strand and says to us: See you can be perfect because I am doing something new with you and for you. In the places we see death, our God picks up the thread and weaves it into life.
May the light of Christ shine in your hearts and those of families and friends this evening and always. Happy Easter.