Brief Book Review: Easter Vigil Homilies

Easter Vigil Homilies by Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis)

Who should read this? Anyone who listens to sermons, who preaches sermons, who finds the church’s witness to be at the center of life, and who cares about the gospel of Christ Jesus will be nourished by this collection of homilies.  

Why is this book significant? Although Pope Francis serves the Roman Catholic church, his proclamations have much to offer Protestants and Orthodox Christians, as well. His articulation of the gospel over the eighteen years spanning his service as archbishop and today as pope (the timeframe of these homilies) shows his deep understanding of God’s work among God’s people and our need for the wholeness God offers.

What intrigued me the most? It is a rare gift to read a number of homilies preached on the same liturgical day –– on the same theme but with differing approaches –– offering succinct and yet profound considerations of the experience Jesus’ followers had when confronted by the empty tomb.   

Kudos. The Liturgical Press is to be commended for publishing this collection. For pastors and priests, Francis makes it clear that preaching at the Easter Vigil (in fact, holding the Vigil itself!) is critical to grasping the full import of Jesus’ death and resurrection. For us today to wait in darkness at the tomb gives substance to the stories of the women arriving “at early dawn” to care for Jesus’ body. At the moment in the Vigil when it is time for preaching, after the bounty of Old Testament readings that tell us of our ancestors in faith, the reading from Romans, and the Gospel story also become the story of our lives.  

Francis opens doors to life itself: “Either we believe in the power of the tomb closed by the stone, adopting it as a way of life and feeding our heart with sadness, or we open ourselves to receive the announcement of the angel –– ‘He is not here, for he has been raised’ –– and we accept joy…” (p. 36).

Implications. The theme in each of these homilies is the resurrection of Christ Jesus. Francis’ texts are the Gospel accounts of the women coming to the tomb and finding, in each version, slightly differing emphases but always a challenge and a promise. His use of language, gentle yet full of conviction, brings the full impact of resurrection from the dead –– an entirely impossible, unnatural event –– into the every-day life of the reader: “Optimism is a psychological attitude; hope is a gift from God…”

As Francis presents the gospel announcement, it is a call to leave the tombs we have been locked inside or created for ourselves, to move into the unknown without fear. He understands the predicament of human life –– that the question “Why do you look for the living one among the dead?” is a crucial “milestone in human history.” He declares in many ways: “We need this question shouted to us every time we close ourselves up in some form of selfishness, when we decide that we’re satisfied with the stagnant water of self-satisfaction… when we get drunk with the wine of the idolatry of ourselves… when we put our hope in worldly vanities, in money, in face…” (pp. 23-24).   

This is a book to savor.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio/ Pope Francis, Easter Vigil Homilies, Liturgical Press, 2019, 62.

REVIEWER: The Rev. Melinda A. Quivik, PhD

Dr. Melinda Quivik, a pastor in the ELCA and former seminary professor of worship and preaching, writes, edits, and gives workshops and lectures on worship and preaching. She is the General Editor for Liturgy, a print and online journal of The Liturgical Conference for pastors and scholars on topics related to worship.

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