Salvation through Christ
(Easter Vigil Gospel: Matthew 28:1-10; Easter Day Gospel: John 20:1-9)
Many of the prayers and the Scripture readings for Easter Sunday revolve - as we would expect - around the fact that Christ has brought salvation to the human race. This is the meaning of Easter and the theme of the Easter season. One of the Mass prayers during the Easter Season sums up what we mean by "salvation" or "redemption" when it says that "in Christ, a new age has dawned. The long reign of sin is ended, a broken world has been renewed and man is once again made whole".
If you're like me you might listen to those kinds of statement and wonder: what does that actually mean? These are big claims. In what way are they true? When we look around the world - when we look into our own selves, if we're honest - do we feel that a new age has dawned? Does it look as if the long reign of sin is ended and a broken world has been renewed?
Put it another way: has Christ's life and work and death and resurrection actually made any difference? That's a question which as believers in Christ we can't help asking ourselves.
The answer - or the approach to an answer - lies in how we understand "salvation", how we understand what Christ actually achieved. And there are two images that came into my head when I was thinking about what I wanted to say tonight - two analogies - that I hope might be helpful in trying to understand what we mean when we talk about how Christ has brought about our salvation.
The first image is this. Imagine a city with a large population where the water supply is polluted. Everyone in the city suffers from poor health because they're drinking poisoned water.
Eventually the government decide to sort the problem out. They organise a massive programme of repair and renovation to the water supply, no doubt using some kind of public private finance initiative if it's a New Labour-style government. But in any case, the water is purified and everyone's health gets better.
That's a picture or a model of salvation - the government takes the role of saviour, swoops down from on high, and puts the situation straight purely by using its own resources. No involvement is required from the people who are on the receiving end of its good works.
The other image is maybe more elaborate. Imagine another city, where there are a lot of health problems among the population but hardly any medical facilities. A group of doctors get together and they agree that a lot of the illnesses are due to quite basic problems that could be treated and got rid of quite easily. So they open up a surgery, and a lot of the people come to them and get cured.
But we know what also happens with initiatives like that. Not everybody comes. Some people aren't interested. They walk past the surgery, even although they would most likely benefit from a visit. For some reason they prefer to plod on, still suffering from their upset stomachs or their bad skin or whatever.
And then, on top of that, even some of the people who do come, don't follow the doctors' advice. The doctors are there, with their time and their energy and their expertise - all ready to help. But some of the patients don't take their medicine, and they don't make the changes in their lifestyle that the doctors tell them to, so they don't get the full benefit of the doctors' services.
And that's another model of salvation - where the people being "saved" have to co-operate and do their bit for the salvation to work.
Well, you won't be surprised that it's the second image that I think is more like the salvation offered and achieved by Christ. With Jesus' mission God has opened up a surgery in a disease-ridden city, not launched a P.P.F. scheme. We can't be saved by accident, or behind our backs, or purely as a result of someone else's actions. We need to respond, we need to co-operate.
After the Resurrection Jesus didn't say, "right that's everything sorted, that's the end of history now". He said, "'Go and teach all nations, baptise them" - bring the message of salvation to them, bring them into the new community of salvation. So that the era after Christ's Resurrection became the era of the Church. Christ returned to the Father and left his follows to get on with the job of proclaiming the message throughout the world and throughout the rest of history.
And that's why quite early on in the Church's history the Easter Vigil, when we especially commemorate Jesus' rising from death and the climax of his work on earth, also became the special occasion for baptising converts and bringing new members into the community of the Church. They were making that connection between Christ's offer of salvation and men and women's response to it.
Tonight all over the world there will be men and women being baptised or being received into the Church, including N. and N. who are joining the Church community in this particular parish.
They're all co-operating with the offer of salvation God has made to them in the different circumstances of their lives. In the words we use later on they're being born again in Christ and becoming members of Christ and of his priestly people.
So let's keep all the new members of the Church in mind tonight as we listen to our own candidates making their profession of faith. Let's also reflect gratefully on the fullness of life God has offered us as we renew our own baptismal promises. And let's pray that as Easter comes round again we'll all grow in openness to the work of salvation God carries out in us.