The Open Gates of Heaven

Holy Saturday. (1) Gn 1:1-2:2; Ps 104:1-2,5-6,10,12-14,24,35; (3) Ex 14:15-15:1; (Ps)Ex 15:1-6,17-18; (5) Is 55:1-11; (Ps)Is 12:2-3,4-6; (8) Rm 6:3-11; Ps 118:1-2,16-17,22-23; (9) Mk 16:1-7

Tonight the Church celebrates the Resurrection of Christ, when he broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave. Tonight we also welcome those here present who will be Baptized, received into full communion with the Catholic Church and Confirmed. For some of them, this Mass will also be their First Communion, when they will receive the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, for the first time.

Now the readings that we have heard this evening lead us through what is called 'salvation history', the unfolding of God’s plan to save the human race from sin and death after the Fall in the Garden of Eden. The Book of Genesis recounts how creation was originally good, that God created human beings in his own image and according to his likeness. Adam and Eve were therefore given the grace to know God personally in paradise. Rebelling against God, however, our first parents lost this divine likeness, the ability to know God face to face; they were expelled from paradise into a world under a curse. From this time of the Fall, the whole of the forty-six books of the Old Testament recount the centuries of preparation for the coming of Christ to save us from sin and from hell, from eternal separation from God. Today's third reading, for example, from the Book of Exodus, recounts how God saved the people of Israel, the people from whom His Son Jesus would one day be born. The escape of the people of Israel from Pharaoh through the Red Sea also foreshadows Christian Baptism, in which a person is freed from sin and born again as a child of God and member of the Church. The fifth reading, from the Book of the prophet Isaiah, refers to a covenant that God will make with his people, the most familiar example of a covenant today being a marriage. Isaiah's prophecy of a covenant with God foreshadows Christian Confirmation, in which a person is sealed with Holy Spirit and strengthened by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit to be moved by God and to know God personally.

If these Old Testament events and prophecies are like the stones of a great arch through history, the keystone of that arch, the stone holding all the other stones in place, is the passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through his death, Jesus Christ ransomed us from the eternal death of hell and reconciled us with God, enabling us to enter heaven. The blood and water that flowed from Christ's side on the cross signifies the beginning of all the sacraments and the birth of the Church. Through his Resurrection, Jesus Christ has shown us that the end of this short earthly life is not the termination of our existence. Not only does the soul continue, but the glorified and transformed body of Christ represents a promise to us, that our bodies will be raised from death and transformed at the end of time.

To those about to receive sacraments for the first time, this parish welcomes you with joy, but I would also like to make one brief exhortation to you. When the people of Israel escaped from Pharaoh through the Red Sea, they rejoiced that God had saved them. Likewise, we rejoice that you are receiving the sacraments today. But having passed through the Red Sea, the people of Israel then spent forty years in a wilderness, while God prepared them to enter their Promised Land, a symbol of heaven. Although they had been saved by God, many of these people rebelled against God and died in wilderness. I do not want the same thing to happen to your souls. The gifts you are receiving today open the gates of heaven to you, but it will be your choice whether walk through those gates. So this is my exhortation: keep the faith from this night until your last, dying breadth. In this way, by the grace of God, I hope that we may all, one day, meet and share in the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

 Father Andrew Pinsent, Saint Ambrose Church, Saint Louis, 11th April 2009

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