Easter Vigil: Christ is risen! And in baptism we rise in him to newness of life

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Easter Vigil, Year C: April 3, 2010
Gen 1:1–2:2; Gen 22:1-18; Exod 14:15–15:1; Isa 54:5-14; Isa 55:1-11; Bar 3:9-15, 32–4:4; Ezek 36:16-28; Rom 6:3-11; Luke 24:1-12

There is something very dramatic about the Easter Vigil. Something—I have heard it said—primal. As we began, saturated in darkness; and then, light blazed out of it in fire, ripping it open; life bursts forth from death; hope leaps from despair; and, very soon, new birth will emerge again from that light. For this is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave!

Tomorrow, the choir will sing in Latin: “Death and life have contended in a wondrous duel: the Prince of life, who died, reigns alive!” Tonight it seems that we have seen it happen. Tomorrow will be a day of beautiful rejoicing, and I will be using stuffed animals as props during my homily. Yes, I will! But tonight, the Roman liturgy casts aside its usual reserve to sing, “What good would life have been for us, had Christ not come as our Redeemer? Father, how wonderful your care for us!… To ransom a slave, you gave away your Son.”

How many times has our Lord entered the darkness for us? Our first reading tonight began in the darkness of nonbeing and chaos; and God called light into being, and he arranged, and he created—so that at last, on that sixth day, he could create us, man and woman, in a suitable home. And then in the Exodus, the Lord was with the People of Israel in their fear, in the darkness as they were trapped by the sea; and through his servant Moses he divided that sea so that they could walk through it into freedom. And when the Son of God became man, he entered the darkness of our world: and most especially he entered that darkness in the night on which he was betrayed, and when darkness covered the whole land during the hours when he hung upon that cross, and then when he entered the darkness of death and the tomb.

He entered the darkness for us all these times in love, to save us from our sins. Our Lord was the sheep that God himself provided for the sacrifice, as Abraham truthfully told his son; and our Lord is that descendant of Abraham through whom all the nations of the earth have found blessing—as he too, like his ancestor Abraham, withheld nothing from God the Father. And in his tomb, his sacrificial love, which held nothing back, triumphed over death, so that he became our Passover, our paschal lamb: and in him our suffering and death, joined with his, become a passageway through to emerge to share in his Resurrection.

This night is an opportunity for all of us to remember how great Christ’s redemption is, and to praise him and thank him for it, and to praise and thank the Father through him. But for one here tonight, this is the night when she will receive his redemption through the mystery of baptism.

In the epistle reading, St. Paul reminded us that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. In one of my seminary classes, the professor told us about how one of the ancient baptisteries—which were small separate buildings either near or attached to the main church buildings—in at least one of these baptisteries, it was arranged so that a series of steps went down on all sides leading to the baptismal font: which was a pool, rectangular, exactly in the shape of a coffin, through which water was flowing. And the one who was to be baptized would lie down into it, as into a coffin, immersed in that living water; and so it would be visible that she was dying to sin in union with Christ, and then when she came back up, that she was rising back to a newness of life, to live with him. And in that journey down and up, she rejected Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises; and she was ready to leave her old life behind, and everyone there knew it because they had all been through the same thing. And in her new life she would place her faith in the triune God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit; and she would be baptized, immersed, in that holy Name.

For Cecelia tonight, her reception of the sacrament outwardly will not be quite as dramatic, not quite as wet, as it was back then. But inwardly, within her, just as surely as on the first Easter night, Christ will triumph over sin and death, and he will draw her to himself, and he will give her adoption as a daughter of God. As the Lord said through the prophet Ezekiel, he will sprinkle clean water upon her to cleanse her from all her impurities; and will give her a new heart and will place a new spirit within her, taking from her body her stony heart and giving her a natural heart.

This is the night when Susan also completes her journey and arrives home, as she is received into the full communion of the holy Catholic Church; and when both of these women will be strengthened by being sealed with the Holy Spirit in confirmation, as they are sealed outwardly with the sacred chrism—which was consecrated just a few days ago by Archbishop Wuerl, that successor to those same apostles who first heard the news of the empty tomb—and had a little bit of trouble believing it—on that Easter Sunday morning almost 2000 years ago.

This is the night. All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost. Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes for ever! Alleluia!

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Published in: on April 3, 2010 at 11:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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