The Easter Vigil mass is such a joyful and wonderful time for us as Catholics – there is really no other mass like it in the rest of our Church’s liturgical year. I was speaking to some of our parishioners about this mass several weeks ago, and we were all remarking how the symbolism of this mass sticks out in our minds, how it so very dramatically represents what our faith is all about. The sun sets before our Easter Vigil mass began this evening, and then the Easter fire became a light shining in the midst of the evening’s darkness, symbolizing the light of Christ that is brought into our world and into our lives in our very special way through tonight’s celebration of our Savior’s death and resurrection.
Our first reading from Genesis tonight brings us back to the very beginning of the world, where there is this formless darkness covering the abyss, where wind is sweeping over the waters, and God announces: “Let there be light.” As we hear this reading in the midst of the darkness of our church, the symbolism is striking. The lights of the paschal candle – the lights of the small candles that we held which were lit off that paschal candle – they are all lights penetrating the darkness of the world.
We celebrate Christ’s resurrection today as we hear about the women who go to the tomb to anoint his body, but to their amazement they find that the tomb was empty. It took awhile for those women, the apostles, and the members of the early Church to figure out all the implications of what resurrection meant to them in terms of their faith. And that is for us to figure out as well. How does Christ’s death and resurrection affect our journey? How does it influence the ways we live out our faith?
The significance of these events, of the cross and resurrection, is present in our community in a special way in some of the sacraments that we will celebrate this evening. We have three adults who are coming into full communion into our Church. They have been journeying through the RCIA process this past year, they have undergone a time of prayer, discernment, and preparation. They will receive the sacrament of confirmation and will receive Christ in the Eucharist for the first time in their lives. We also have a group of six youth and children who will be receiving first holy communion for the first time as well. And a member of the RCIA group who is coming back to the Church in a very committed way will receive a special blessing tonight as well. The Easter Vigil mass had been the time in the early Church when adults would enter into the faith. The reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which we have been celebrating this year in the Year of Faith, revived this practice. With great joy, we celebrate this special moment with these members of our faith community.
As we celebrate this evening's mass, what we cannot forget is this: that the resurrection is intrinsically tied to the cross; that the cross is intrinsically connected to the resurrection. We had 40 days in the desert during Lent in order for Easter to really mean something to us in our lives of faith. We live in a world today where our faith is under attack, where our government is taking stabs at the freedom we have to practice our religion and to live out our faith. In order to see the light of the resurrection, we in turn must be lights shining in the darkness of our world. And while we had 40 days of Lent, we need to be aware that the Easter season does not end with this Easter Vigil mass and with Easter morning tomorrow. We will travel through the Easter season to Pentecost on May 27. For these next weeks during the Easter season, we will ponder what the resurrection of Jesus really means to us, we will ponder what it really means to live the resurrection in our lives.