As Christians across the world celebrated Holy Week this year the dark events unfolding in Kenya and the Middle East revealed how the Church, and the call to martyrdom, is ever ancient, ever new. Young people, so we are told, corralled and asked to profess their faith were then shot down in cold blood. On Thursday we celebrated the 'dance' of the 'holy twelve' as they accompanied Jesus to Gethsemane and the cross. It is sobering to think that almost all of the twelve met the same fate as those young men and women in Kenya. So, on this 'night of nights' as we journey into the deepest mysteries of faith we do so knowing that we are accompanied by these young people - the new shining lights - the new martyrs of Kenya.
Eternal Rest Grant Unto them O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
I close with the Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday that encompasses the mystery in words better than I can write:
'What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly he goes to seek out Adam, our first parent, like a lost sheep. The Lord goes in holding his victorious weapon, the cross. When Adam, the first created human, sees him, he strikes his breast and in terror calls out to all: ‘My Lord be with you all.’ And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand, he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.'
‘I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in prison to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell.
‘Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Arise, work of my hands; arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me, and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
‘For your sake I, your God, became your child; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of all humanity, I became like you without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.
‘See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.
‘I slept on a cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.
‘Rise, then, let us go hence! The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God.
‘The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness, the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages...’