Tonight, on this most sacred night of our liturgical year, we have the Vigil of all Vigils – the Easter Vigil. We revisit our human history, a history that is possible because of the creating and sustaining hand of our God. Our God has been made visible in various ways, in all countries, in all languages, and in all times and seasons. Our God has walked with the universe, creating, shaping, guiding, restoring, celebrating, redeeming, challenging, comforting and blessing us at every turn. Our history has been marked with suffering, a suffering that we have often created through the things we have done and failed to do. At other times we have suffered as a result of nature – storms, droughts, floods, winds, earth quakes, infestations and diseases. The suffering we experience as a result of our actions and inactions we understand and accept because we can see the connection! The suffering we experience as a result of nature confuses us because it is hard for us to understand and accept the randomness of it.
Our history has been marked with joy! At times the result of God’s gracious gifts – the birth of children, the sight of a mountain, the endless waves of the sea, a golden field of wheat, a forest, birds taking flight, sunrise and sunset, blankets of snow, a garden at harvest time, the accomplishment of a difficult task, and the sounds of human voices singing in harmony. At times our joy has come from ourselves, choices to use our gifts for the well-being of others, choices to push our minds to unlock the marvels of nature, choices to love and forgive, to be generous and patient. We have created joy by the quality and integrity of our lives. People young and old have brought forth delight and goodness on the earth. Tonight, we remember those stories and we recall that in all these stories God is present.
In the Gospel, we hear again the story of Christ’s resurrection. We hear again the surprise of Mary and her companions as they arrive at the tomb and discover the shock of their lives. The earth shakes, the angel of the Lord, garments like snow, appearance like lightning comes and rolls away the stone sealing the tomb. The soldiers guarding the tomb are stunned. They are like dead men.
We are told the angel speaks to the women and invites them to take a closer look at the empty tomb. Do they look? They are also told to go and tell the disciples that Jesus is no longer in the tomb – he is RISEN as he said he would!
Matthew tells us that they run quickly away from the tomb – filled with both fear and great joy! While they are going, Jesus stops them and He greets them! They take hold of his feet, worshipping him! Jesus repeats the message that they received from the Angel! He asks them to go to the disciples and share with them a message, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Paul in his message to the Christians at Rome tells again the story of Jesus, the power of baptism and how it is that we, each of us, share in the mission. Baptism makes us witnesses of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus and invites us to do what Jesus does. Paul reminds us that we are alive because of Christ.
So what do we make of these readings?
I was struck by Matthew’s description of Mary and her companion as they ran from the tomb – they are filled with fear and great joy! In my life, I experience both the fear and the joy of life – of God. I am amazed at how those two experiences can live side by side in my life, in my body and in my thinking. We have an amazing capacity to hold within us conflicting emotions and thoughts and actions. Our lives are often a mix of so much: good deeds and not so good deeds, good thoughts and not so good thoughts, good feelings and not so great feelings! We are not perfect! We stumble and we fall, at times moved by fear and anxiety and at times moved by great joy!
Tonight, we have lit the new fire, tonight, we bless the water, tonight, we renew our baptismal vows and tonight, unable to receive the body and blood of Jesus, we unite ourselves with him in a spiritual communion, hoping that our joy will increase and our fear will diminish.
As we live these days let us look for ways to deepen our faith – listening to music, observing nature, rediscovering our brothers and sisters through conversations, reading good books, watching movies, playing games, going for walks, solving puzzles, doing our chores, sitting in prayer, and serving one another. All these actions, these ordinary behaviours are opportunities for you and I to discover our God at work in us. We are transformed by them. At times these ordinary tasks frighten us and overwhelm us and yet they are also opportunities for us to affirm our faith in God.
As we continue the celebration of the Easter Triduum let us be aware of our fear and our great joy! Let us ask for God’s grace to be moved more and more by our great joy. Let us ask for God’s grace to let go of the fear that keeps us from telling others about Jesus, that keeps us from doing as Jesus would have us do! Lifted up by the story of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ let us bravely announce to the world, through our words, our actions, and our commitments that Christ is indeed alive and risen from the dead!
Fr. Doug Jeffrey, OMI