It is Easter – the end of another long Lent. But it isn’t the end. Lent stirs up anticipation for Easter and we have arrived. Where and how do we find ourselves? Is it a new beginning for us? No matter how many times we have celebrated Easter it is not the same old feast; it is another fresh start – a New Beginning. It’s like when we have a computer problem and we are advised, “Turn off your computer and restart.” We turn it off and start it again, and there are our icons and apps – they look fresh and they work! It’s a crude example, but Christ has done that for us, rebooted us. We were stuck and now we have been given a fresh start, we are not locked in the old “program” – everything can be new for us. In biblical terms, we are a “new creation.” Today St. Paul uses another metaphor to describe us: we are “a fresh batch of dough.” The “old yeast” has been cleared out and we celebrate our feast “with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
The Easter Vigil, commemorating that holy night when the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, is regarded as the “mother of all holy vigils”. Saint Augustine reminds us: “We keep vigil on that night because the Lord Jesus rose from the dead. That life where there is no longer the sleep of death began for us in his flesh. Being thus risen, death will no more have dominion. If we have kept vigil for the risen one, he will see that we shall reign with him forever.” Let’s look at our readings from this evening and do a quick run through of them…
Genesis and the creation story. When God first made the world, it was good. The reading describes why that is the case: that there was enough for everyone, that the world was never meant to be divided between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, but that people were made in the image of God.
Genesis with Abraham and Isaac. God instructs Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. In each instance that God has instructed Abraham to perform a task, including the sacrifice of his own son Isaac, he listens to and trusts God in everything he is asked to perform.
Exodus and the great escape. During the Easter Vigil, this reading is the only reading that is required to be read. It is the ultimate test of Israel’s faith in God. All other readings, with the exception, of the Epistle and the Gospel, are optional. The Exodus reading, narrates the first Passover in which the Jewish people were rescued from Egypt and, passing miraculously through the Red Sea, are brought safely to freedom. The Lord God once saved a single nation from slavery. Now he offers that salvation to all through baptism.
Ezekiel and the return of God’s people from Babylon. The ministry of the prophet Ezekiel is rooted in the experience of exile and the hope of renewal. This program of renewal is notable because it seeks to restore the people back to Israel. It is the Lord God who will demonstrate what holiness is by cleansing the people, by removing all false gods, and – most of all – by taking away the peoples’ hearts of stone and restoring their natural hearts of flesh and blood.
St. Paul to the Romans and “Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more.” Paul’s says that death frees one from the obligations of slavery; even Christ, having died once, will never die again. In the same way, Paul argues, everyone who is baptized “into Christ“, has likewise participated in Christ’s death and is freed of the obligations of slavery to any kind of evil.
Let’s look at our Gospel reading from Mark. Mary and the other women were without hope. Jesus was dead. The only thing left was to give him a proper burial. It would be hard to see him again. To look at that face they had known so well. To anoint the one who had meant everything to them. Once the anointing was done what would they do?
What would be the future of this group Jesus had gathered around him? They had even heard that some members of the group were leaving today, to return to their homes because now that Jesus was dead, everything was over. It was now meaningless to be his follower. It was hard to believe that it was all over.
In the middle of their sorrow and hopelessness, they realize the stone is gone, rolled back. They hurry into the tomb, fearing the worst, but the tomb is filled with light instead of darkness. There is a man…? No, an angel! He is smiling at them. He gives a message of unbelievable good news. “Jesus is risen! He will see you in Galilee!” The Angel orders them to give speedy notice of this to his disciples. This is unbelievable, they think to themselves. “People don’t rise from the dead.” But somehow the angel’s impossible words bring them comfort, peace and even belief. In their hearts, they know that the impossible has come true.
The angel has given them a mission. They are to announce the Resurrection to the others. They are to be, “A herald to the Apostles!” They are rewarded for their affection and fidelity to Jesus: In attending him on the cross, to the grave, and in the grave. They have a message, and it is of the greatest importance. “Jesus, is alive! “
The Angel instructs them to be sure to tell Peter. “Go to Peter by name, and tell him, he shall be as welcome as any of the rest to see him in Galilee.” It will be good news to him, he would be afraid. Had the Angel said only, “Go, tell his disciples,” poor Peter would have been ready to sigh, and say, “But I doubt I cannot look upon myself as one of disciples, for I disowned him, and deserve to be disowned by him.”
In their journey as they head toward the Upper Room in Galilee, they would have time to recollect and call to mind what Jesus had often said to them; that he should suffer and die, and the third day be raised again. How strange they didn’t listen before. It seems so obvious now.
This is the story of the one who made the heaven and the earth, and who in the beginning created man, who was proclaimed through the law and the prophets, who became human through the virgin, who was hanged upon a tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected to the heights of heaven, who sits at the right hand of the Father, who has authority to judge and to save everything, from the beginning of the world to the end of the age.
They will come to understand the Jesus telling of His suffering and rising from the dead. Maybe that is how we come to see the risen Christ. Without seeing him we believe Christ is alive and with us. We meet him when we worship with others who are witnesses to his life; we have our eyes opened to the risen Christ when the words of Scripture touch our hearts; we come to know him in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the cup.
We also meet him where he has told us he can be found – in the needy, outcast, stranger, imprisoned, exiled and abused. Not scientific proof to be sure, but to us beloved disciples, who come to pray together, we are given the sight that feeds our faith and reassures us that Christ is risen indeed!
The Easter Vigil is a celebration of victory of life over death, of light over darkness, of the divine loving plan over human folly. It is a celebration which renews the Church from within.