Tonight, as we celebrate this Easter vigil, by word and song and light and water. The church comes to life. Sixteen centuries ago, Saint Augustine called the Easter Vigil the “Mother of all vigils,” the most beautiful liturgy in the entire church year.
This was a night of vigil for the disciples of Jesus – a night of sadness and fear. The disciples remained locked in the upper room. Yet the women went to the tomb on Sunday morning at dawn to anoint the dead body of Jesus. Their hearts were overwhelmed, and they were asking themselves: “How will we enter? Who will roll back the stone of the tomb for us?” But then the first sign of the great event happened. The large stone was already rolled away, and the tomb was open!
The women were the first to see this great sign – the empty tomb, and they were the first to enter it. It is good for us on this vigil night, to reflect on the experience of the women – the experience which also speaks to us. Because that’s why we’re here, to enter into the mystery of the empty tomb with these women and become part of the mystery which God has accomplished. We cannot enter into the mystery of Easter without contemplating the silence of this night and longing to hear the tiny whisper of the risen Lord speaking to us from the empty tomb.
The women did not remain prisoners of their fear and sadness, but at the first light of dawn, they went out carrying their ointments, their hearts broken with sorrow at the death of their master. They went to the tomb, found it open and entered it to see for themselves discovering the evidence of risen life. They entered that tomb so that we too may enter into the mystery which leads from death to new risen life.
To enter into the mystery of the Resurrection of the Lord means that we too go in search of truth, life, and love. We enter the empty tomb in wonder, seeking the answers to the questions which challenge our faith, our hope, and our very existence.
With the women who were Jesus’ disciples, we keep watch this night, and we are resolved not to lose faith and hope. Tonight at this vigil, we trace the long history of God’s saving deeds for His people from all the way back to the beginning of creation, right here to the year 2020.
By promising a Messiah, God saved the human race after the sin of Adam and Eve. By hearing the calls of the Israelites in Egyptian bondage, God raised up Moses to deliver his people. By parting the waters of the Red Sea, God saved the Israelites from terrifying destruction at the hands of Pharaoh and his charioteers. By the preaching of the prophets, God saved His people from spiritual ruin and rejection.
But on this glorious night, God showed his greatest power – He conquered death and restored life. This is the night that Jesus was born for! This is the night that turned into the most glorious and brilliant mornings of all time! This is the night when the darkness caused by sin was illuminated by the brightness and power of the risen Lord. This is the night when the great silence of the grave of the Son of God was broken.
God the Father spoke, “My son come forth!” The stone rolled aside, and Jesus came into our world again. Easter is the greatest of all the great feasts in the church year. Easter proves to us that we can get through all the Good Fridays of our lives – that Good Friday was for three hours and Easter is forever.
All of Lent has been pointing to this Easter Vigil: the night on which our elect will be baptized, and our candidates will make a formal profession of faith and the rest of us will renew our baptismal commitment to the risen Lord.
In our baptism, we, who were once in darkness have been drawn into the light of the risen Lord Jesus. In our baptism, we passed from the slavery of sin to newfound freedom through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Easter assures us that what Jesus had in mind at Calvary was not what the Apostles, the faithful women, and Jesus’ other followers were thinking. They walked away from Calvary with the notion that everything had ended! It was only on Easter Sunday and the days following that they would discover the fact that Jesus was and is alive.
We are often like those followers of Jesus; disappointed and lacking faith and hope. This first mass of Easter is the birthday of our faith, hope and joy. The mass of Easter is the celebration of victory over sin, death, separation from God and hopelessness.
It is the celebration of new life, the promise of unending life, the source of our knowledge that God is Emmanuel – God with us. The mass of Easter brings us new life, new love and new hope in Jesus Christ risen from the dead.
After the long period of darkness brought about by original sin, after all the expectation and hope from the prophets, after the glad tidings of the birth of Jesus, after the thirty hidden years and the three public years, after the horrible passion which seemed to be the end of all hope, after three days in the silence of the tomb, “Jesus Christ is risen from the dead!”
The Lamb of God – the Son of the eternal Father has been sacrificed to take away the sins of the world. He has crushed death by His death, and has restored everlasting life to those in the graves! He is the one who destroyed sin and robbed the devil of his offspring – as Moses robbed the Egyptians of their offspring.
He is the one who brought us out of slavery into freedom, out of darkness into light, out of death into life. He is the new Passover lamb who was slain for us! It is He who was crucified, was buried in the earth and rose triumphant from the dead.
This Easter, be convinced, more than ever before, that Jesus Christ has the answers; He alone can give us hope and strength; He alone can truly inspire and guide us; He alone can bring us through the Good Friday’s of our lives; He alone can give us eternal life.
With the risen Lord, we can face anything – anything that tries to discourage us, to defeat us, to make us give up.
The secret of this new life is endurance. That is what Jesus came to teach us through His cross and Resurrection. Through Him, with Him and in Him, we can endure – not only to the end of our lives on Earth – but even beyond to our eternal life in the house of God our Father.