Welcome everybody to this celebration of our Easter Vigil. One of the early saints, St. Ambrose described Holy Saturday night as the mother of all vigils. Tonight is the climax of the Christain Year because it is the big victory celebration. The V stands for vigil but it also stands for victory. It is Christ’s victory over the discouraging darkness of sin and the bewildering darkness of death. For the early disciples to whom Christ appeared, their reaction was one of astonishment. We share in that sense of astonishment as we listen to the account of how Gods plan of salvation came to such a wonderful conclusion in the resurrection of his son.
Back in the days when there was at least one confession box in each church a couple had an unusual experience. The lights above the confessional area were no longer working and the husband Sam had volunteered to fix the problem. The only way to reach the wiring was to enter the attic above the altar and then crawl over the ceiling by balancing on the rafters. It was a tricky operation and not without risk. Being concerned for her husbands safety the wife, Christine waited below in a pew. Unknown to her, several other parishoners had silently come into other seats behind. They had no reason to pay her any attention and probably presumed that she was praying. Worried about her husband’s safety, she looked up towards the ceiling and shouted, -‘Sam, Sam are you up there? Did you manage to make it okay?’ You can imagine the outburst from behind her when Sam’s hearty voice echoed down, ‘Yes, I made it up here, and everything is just fine.’
On a more serious note, everyone who has looked into an open grave and lost a loved one needs similar reassurance, that they made it okay and everything is just fine. Its also the reassurance and hope that gives life its meaning and that we need for ourselves as we face that final journey.
One of the wonderful things about Easter is that it’s pure unadulterated miracle. When someone dies you don’t expect them to rise again, at least not in three days. When a burial takes place and the grave is filled in you don’t expect the tomb to burst open and to see that person ever in the flesh again. On Good Friday when Jesus was laid in the tomb even hope seemed hopeless. All appeared lost and it was as if darkness was reigning supreme. Good and evil had clashed in Jesus and to all appearances evil had won.
Then on Easter morning the miraculous happened. God raised Jesus from the dead. What appeared to be the end was in fact a new beginning. The fruits of that beginning have sustained the Christian church for two thousand years and are still ours to enjoy.
It is no accident that we celebrate Easter at this time of year when the signs of new beginnings are all around us. The spring that has lay sleeping in the womb of winter has just been born. The light is coming to meet us as the hours of daylight are becoming greater and the hours of darkness becoming less. The trees that have been barren are beginning to put fort shoots and leaves. All around us death is giving way to new life. Nature itself sings its own Easter alleluia.
Some time back I was walking beside a young man as he carried the cremated remains of his mother to the graveyard. There was a large bush close to the church that for months had been lifeless and dead. That day the sun was shining and almost overnight it was just ablaze with beautiful buds. It was as if nature was offering its own form of eloquent reassurance.
V stands for victory and not just victory over death but also something we experience at so many times in our lives.
When we go through a period of questioning, doubt and confusion and emerge with a new sense of faith and hope, that is a glimpse of resurrection where we discover that God is greater than our doubts and is able to lead us through them.
When we grieve for a loved one and having allowed ourselves to experience all the emotions that are part of that process we then come to a deep awareness that they are now more with us than they ever were because they are with us in spirit. That too is Resurrection.
Sometimes we encounter obstacles that don’t do away no matter how much we pray or wish them to disappear. Yet from somewhere we find the strength to cope and rise above them. Is that not a foretaste of resurrection?
On Easter morning a stone was rolled away from the tomb. If I were to think of my heart as the tomb could there be a stone across that prevents me from experiencing a fuller and more satisfying life?
It could be an addiction, a compulsion or an old hurt that I have nursed for far too long. It may be something that I feel guilty about but have never admitted to myself or confessed to the Lord. Two of the worst forms of bondage are guilt and resentment and often the one I hold resentment towards is myself. The things I beat myself up over tend to be the most private and so are the most difficult to talk about.
Remember in the account of the Passion after Peter had denied Jesus and Judas had betrayed him. One wept tears of repentance and looked to the Lord for mercy. The other wept tears of remorse and turned in on himself in despair and unforgiveness.
Whatever the stone at the entrance to any of our hearts may be Jesus invites us to face up to it and recognize it for what it is so that we too can experience the new life of Easter.