Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Easter Sunday

Readings for the Easter Vigil
Readings for Easter Sunday

If you’ve never been to the Easter Vigil before, do yourself a favor and attend it next year. It’s the single most beautiful liturgy of the entire Church Year and with good reason.

It begins in darkness, the crowd of people arriving and making their way to their places. It begins with a simple spark and a small flame. The flame builds into a fire. The people gather around the fire and from the fire comes forth a single flame to light the Paschal Candle, a symbol of Christ the Light of the World. The candle moves to the door and a word is proclaimed: the Light of Christ! All respond: Thanks be to God! And the light spreads to a few, the servers of the Mass. The Candle proceeds into the midpoint of the church and the people fall in behind. Again the proclamation: the Light of Christ! Thanks be to God! The servers share the light with those around them and it begins to spread. The candle proceeds once more, now to the sanctuary and all file into the seats and again the proclamation: the Light of Christ! Thanks be to God! Now the light has spread to the candle of every person in the church and the light has begun to cast out the darkness.

Now the Exsultet is sung, an ancient hymn of blessing upon the candle. At its conclusion, a little light is added to the church as the Old Testament readings are read and responses sung. These tell us the ancient stories of our faith and the ways that God worked to bring about our salvation. At the end of the readings the Gloria is sung and the light come up in the church and the altar candles are lit; more light. After a New Testament reading we sing the Alleluia and the lights are all turned on full strength; more light. After the Gospel and homily, baptisms are celebrated and baptismal candles are lit. But there still remains one light that is dimmed: the sanctuary lamp. After the Consecration of the Blessed Sacrament, the lamp is lit indicating the Eucharistic Presence in the tabernacle. 

The beauty of the Easter Vigil is that while it is primarily the triumph of Jesus Christ over the darkness of death by virtue of His Resurrection to Life, it also is a recounting of the whole story of salvation history, as well as the story of God working in each individual soul.

The world was created in darkness, as we heard in Genesis, and light was created. This can be viewed as God revealing things that otherwise would be unknown to us and it happens continually over the centuries. It begins with a man. Then a couple. Then a family. Pretty soon the family turns into a tribe of people and then into a whole nation. This nation is blessed by God with a leader to become a Kingdom. That Kingdom endured much for a thousand years until the Lord took flesh and came among us to build His Church. Generation after generation came to know the Lord a little bit more than those before them. The light continued to grow and increase until the Light itself came.

The same can be said of the unfolding of the Resurrection story. Mary goes first and witnesses it, then she tells Peter and John, they tell the other disciples, and the flame spreads and grows through the earth and throughout the centuries down to us, to you and me. And should we expect it to be any different after us?

The little flame of faith, symbolized by the baptismal candle we each received, took root in our hearts and began to grow and spread and the Lord Jesus wants to make that little light into a raging fire filled with the Holy Spirit. But we have to be willing to help Him! We have to be willing to share the Light with others and let them know the good news. At St. Joseph Abbey there was an venerable tradition that followed the Easter Vigil. The seminarians had all been fasting and praying while on retreat during the Triduum and were free to go home after the Vigil ended, so inevitably it would let out and a whole slew of famished young seminarians would immediately head home. But before hitting the interstate we would stop at the Wendy’s, which was right at the end of the road to the seminary. Sinking our teeth into a greasy cheeseburger and fries never tasted so good as on that night! Well, confession time: I like to keep that tradition alive. So after the Vigil I went out to McDonalds and got a big cheeseburger and feasted. As I was leaving with my food I thanked the young lady at the window and said, “Happy Easter!” She just looked at me dumbfounded and probably though ‘this poor pastor doesn’t even know it’s only Saturday’.

That’s my invitation to each of you – to share the good news that Jesus Christ has Risen from the dead with everyone you meet this week. It can be by telling everyone “Happy Easter”, which might confused the mess out of people come Thursday or Friday. It can be by acts of kindness, gift of prayers, or any number of things. But the simple point is that we have to share the light. Jesus Christ has conquered the darkness of sin, death, despair, and everything else that this world tries to use to quench our hope. Some people don’t yet know that, and sometimes we still struggle to accept it ourselves. Let the light spread. Help the Lord cast out the darkness. Christ is Risen! Alleluia, alleluia! He is truly Risen! Alleluia, alleluia!