Easter Vigil (Year A)
First Reading: Genesis 1:1-2:2 Second Reading: Genesis 22:1-1 Third Reading: Exodus 14:15-15:1
Fourth Reading: Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28
Epistle Reading: Romans 6:3-11 Gospel Reading: Luke 24:1-12
“CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD. ALLELUIA! ALLELUIA!”
The long 40 days of Lent has come to an end and the Great Pascal Triduum brings us to the Easter Vigil. Easter is at our doorsteps. We have gathered here tonight to participate in the Easter Vigil Mass. There are no words to describe the Easter Vigil. It is the Solemnity of Solemnities. Most blessed of all nights chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead. As we stand in vigil by Jesus' tomb, we keep ourselves ready to greet the Risen Lord, alive again, immortal.
The liturgical celebration of the Easter Vigil makes use of two eloquent signs that are related to the meaning and significance of the Resurrection:
The first sign is the fire that becomes light. Light is the most powerful and most primitive of all natural symbols. In the beginning, God said, let there be light. Even more, light is the universal metaphor for insight and understanding, for reason as opposed to ignorance, for freedom from darkness and bondage. Tonight we begin our Easter Vigil with a solemn ceremony of light and we light the Pascal Candle. The Paschal Candle is the symbol of Jesus, the Light of the World, who dispels all darkness and lights our way, as the Pillar of Fire once led the Israelite people into the Promised Land.
As the procession makes its way through the Church, shrouded in the darkness of the night, the light of the Paschal Candle becomes a wave of lights, and it speaks to us of Christ as the true morning star that never sets - the Risen Lord in whom light has conquered darkness.
The second sign is water. Everywhere water is a symbol of renewal, purification, restoration of life. We are re-born in water and the Spirit, children of a new creation. Tonight we have the solemn ceremony of the blessing of the Baptismal Font by dipping into it the Pascal Candle, symbolic of the Risen Christ. Then we proclaim solemnly our baptismal promises. Through the water of baptism our sins are washed away and we become a new creature as children of God through a new life in the Holy Spirit.
On the one hand, it recalls the waters of the Red Sea, decline and death, the mystery of the Cross. But now it is presented to us as spring water, a life-giving element amid the dryness. Thus it becomes the image of the sacrament of baptism, through which we become sharers in the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Yet these great signs of creation, light and water, are not the only constituent elements of the liturgy of the Easter Vigil. Another essential feature is the ample encounter with the Words of Sacred Scripture that it provides. We have unusually altogether six readings from the Scripture today – four from the Old Testament, one from the Epistles and one from the Gospels, each relating to and explaining fully the meaning of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is because the Church wishes to offer us a panoramic view of whole trajectory of salvation history, starting with creation, passing through the election and the liberation of Israel to the testimony of the prophets by which this entire history is directed ever more clearly towards Jesus Christ. In the Liturgical tradition, all these readings were called prophecies. Even when they are not directly foretelling future events, they have a prophetic character, they show us the inner foundation and orientation of history. In this way they take us by the hand and lead us towards Christ, the Word of God, and show us the true Light.
In the First Reading of today, taken from the Book of Genesis, we hear about the creation story. This first creation however, was spoiled through the sin of Adam – and suffering and death came into the world. The resurrection of Jesus is the new creation. Jesus is the new Adam, who comes out victorious over sin and death though his resurrection.
In the Second Reading taken again from the Book of Genesis, we hear about God testing the faith of Abraham, by asking him to sacrifice his son Issac. Abraham passed the test; however God spared Isaac, his son. In the New Testament God too asked for the sacrifice of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, but He did not spare him; but He raised him from the dead. Accepting the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the test of our faith, as it is the foundation of Christian life and belief.
In the Third Reading taken from the Book of Exodus, we hear about the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea, which symbolizes their freedom from the slavery of Egypt. The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ brings us freedom from the slavery of sin and death.
In the Fourth Reading taken from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, we hear about God sprinkling clean water upon His people and removing their impurities and giving them a new heart and placing within them a new spirit. In the same way, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ purifies us and makes us anew.
In the Epistle Reading taken from the Letter to the Romans, St Paul speaks about Baptism. He says we who are baptized into Christ are baptized into his death, so that we might be raised in the newness of life by the glory of the Father. So, through baptism we die to our sin, become the children of God and receive a new life in the Holy Spirit.
In the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke, we have the account of the event of the Resurrection itself. Early in the morning at daybreak, when the sabbath was over, the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus (Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza, Mary the mother of James and others unidentified) came with spices to the tomb where Jesus' body was laid. They saw that the stone was rolled back from the entrance of the tomb and on entering find the tomb empty. Puzzled as they were, two men in dazzling garments appeared and said to them, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here, but he has been raised. Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.” The women then return to proclaim the Good News.
There is an ancient legend which tells of a monk who is said to have found the crown of thorns that had mockingly encircled the brow of the Master. It goes on to tell how the saintly man carried it into the Chapel of the Cathedral on Good Friday morning and set it upon the altar. What a ghastly looking thing it was – rugged, cruel and stained with blood. It was no wonder his flock merely glanced at it for a moment of their devotions and turned away sick at its ugliness. But it was a true symbol of Good Friday. All the ugliness of men's hearts which crucified the Lord, all the physical horrors, the mental nausea and spiritual torture through which our Lord passed were indicated in the crown of mockery that he wore.
Very early Easter morning the monk hurried to the Chapel to remove the symbol of sin, suffering and death. He knew it would be strangely out of place in the glory of the resurrection morning. Imagine his surprise when, opening the door, he found the place full of beautiful fragrance. At first all he saw was the sun shining through a stained glass window directly upon the altar upon which the thorns lay. Fixing his gaze upon the altar, he saw the crown of thorns. But the thorns and barrenness of the twisted twigs had undergone a marvellous transformation – the whole thing had blossomed into roses of a rarest beauty and the most delicate fragrance. The symbol of crucifixion and death had become the emblem of loveliness and life.
Today, we solemnly celebrate Easter and joyfully proclaim - “CHRIST IS RISEN FROM THE DEAD. ALLELUIA! ALLELUIA!” Jesus lives on! There is no grave-site for Jesus. His bones have not disintegrated in the ground. He rose from the dead. That is the message of today. He has been transformed, just as we can and will be transformed. He has destroyed the idea that death is finality, infinite nothingness. He has so loved us that he gave his life for us and gave his life to us. The Resurrection of Christ is a pledge of our own resurrection. It is the foundation upon which our faith rests. It is the guarantee of our own resurrection and God's assurance that our sins are forgiven and that we are called to eternal life. So this is a joyful day, a day of great hope.
But the truth of the Resurrection is supposed to transform us. Just as Jesus broke through the rock into the freedom of new life, so this feast is meant to free our souls to the possibilities of sin-free living. Instead of Easter as the conclusion of Lent, it's the beginning of a new and more disciplined life, focused on holding firm to habits of prayer and devout living we found so refreshing during these last six weeks. Everything about Jesus' glorious breakthrough from death has implications for us. The Christian needs to celebrate this day because it is something remarkable to remember and celebrate. The fact that we celebrate it in the Spring is a reminder that nature also comes back to life. We look at the fresh growth of the trees and flowers, the greening of the world, and we know that we shall experience the same thing. And this is the Good News of today.