Meaning of the Easter Vigil
Archbishop Alex J. Brunett
This ceremony we celebrate is filled with many thoughts for our consideration. It can seem to be long and involved and complete with many nuances. What does it all really mean?
Did you notice the first reading we had — it started with the story of creation in the Book of Genesis. "In the beginning, God created heavens and earth . . . and He said, 'Let there be light.'" Light, that power to see things in harmony and peace. The ability to have a vision about the meaning of life — light to see beyond the horizon — light to see in the face of every person the creative image of God!
The last reading we had tells us that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb of Jesus and it was dark — there was no light. How did we go from light to darkness? — seeking the body of one bruised and broken? What is this Easter celebration all about anyway?
You know, I think it is easy enough to recognize the darkness that swirls around us, clamoring to reclaim the earth from light to darkness — life to death.
We have heard its voices in wars and rumors of wars and from far places like Afghanistan, Rwanda and Syria.
We have seen its bony fingers beckoning from the streets of our own towns and cities, as gangs shoot it out in the parking lot of the local supermarket, or as drive-by killers gun down children at play in their front yards or as students murder one another in the hallways of our schools. We have met its leering grin in our own homes, courtesy of television or video or the nearer horrors of domestic violence. We have known Unabombers and Freeman. We have, perhaps, if we dare to tell the truth, heard its seductive invitations in the depths of our own hearts, complete with carefully crafted and convincing rationalizations for every greedy or self-serving impulse that lurks there. We are no strangers to darkness.
With darkness comes fear. We hug a little closer our small securities; a house, a car, a job, a wardrobe, a bank account, a Social Security check. And yet, we know them to be fragile ... we see the anguish of those suddenly left jobless or homeless, without possessions or income, by some capricious wind, some unexpected shifting of the earth, some whim of the economy. We hardly dare to look beyond them to the insecurity of our greater treasures: health, friendship, family and a future in which to hope. Sickness, death, disaster are also dreaded words of personal darkness.
We need liberation and life: forgiveness and peace; hope and light. We need resurrection!
The writer Franz Kafka has a story about a man who had been confined for many years in a dark and windowless cell and had given up all prospects of ever being free again — of ever coming into the light. When the slightest glimmer of hope would rise in him, he would quickly put it out of his mind. One day, however, he tried the door of his cell and found it unlocked, as it had been all those years. He opened the door and walked out into the light of freedom.
We are living in a time when hope, for many people, is just about played out. Without a sense of hope and promise for the future, life loses its vitality and promise. When there is no hope for the future, there is no power in the present.
The dispirited followers of Jesus were fraught with feelings of doubt and despair when that first Easter dawned — when light appeared. But then as they were walking toward the tomb it happened! They had come for a burial, but they were greeted with a resurrection.
Whenever we live our lives in darkness devoid of hope, it is of our choosing. Like the prisoner in Franz Kafka's story, we are choosing not to try to turn the handle on the door that can lead us out of freedom, to light, and horizons unlimited. Easter reminds us in an unforgettable way that the door is unlocked and a wide open world of love, hope, light and unlimited horizons await us!
As one person observed: "When it gets dark enough, you can see the stars."
That brings us back to our Gospel reading about this Jesus . . . the broken body they come to discover. It says that Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark — there was no light. Maybe that is the message we need to hear and proclaim again tonight. Perhaps for whatever reason we are in darkness right now — family concerns, problems at work, anxiety about health and our future, the loss of someone you love — Easter promises us that in the midst of our deepest darkness, the Son rises to overwhelm the darkness forever.
Victor Hugo once put it like this: "For half a century I have been writing my thoughts in prose and verse and history and philosophy . . . but I feel I have not said the thousandth part of what is in me. When I go down to the grave I can say, 'I have finished my day's work,' but I cannot say, 'I have finished my life.' My day's work will begin again the next morning. The tomb is not a blind alley. It is a thoroughfare. It closes on the twilight, it opens on the dawn." Mary Magdalene came to the tomb while it was still dark — but the darkness did not remain. The dawn broke. God's Son has risen!
We have returned to the moment of creation . . . In the beginning . . . God said: "Let there be light!" It is that light we celebrate tonight, e.g., the Paschal Candle. It is the light we share with those who are to be baptized today. It is the light that was given to each of us at our Baptism; it is the light of Resurrection.
Receive the light of Christ. Walk always as children of the light. Keep the flame of faith alive in your heart. This light is entrusted to you to be burned brightly. When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet Him with all the Saints in His Heavenly Kingdom.
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