Easter Vigil: The Light of Christ shines in the darkness

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Easter Vigil, Year B: April 7, 2012
Gen 1:1–2:2; Exod 14:15–15:1; Isa 55:1-11; Rom 6:3-11; Mark 16:1-7

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is truly risen! Alleluia!

Those who are in RCIA this year have been counting down to this day for a long time. And as we listened to the first Old Testament reading, from the Book of Genesis, didn’t it feel like we were back in September again? For, just as then, we began with the Triune God speaking his word into the darkness“Let there be light”— and there was light. And so began God’s good creation—creating freely, out of love—to share his glorious goodness. And the culmination of that creation: making man in his image, male and female. Because he loved you so much. And it was very good.

But how quickly our first parents brought in darkness again—through turning away from God and each other, in pride and fear and sin. And how very dense and heavy is the darkness of sin! It was always depressing, wasn’t it, whenever we had to focus on sin in our sessions this year. And yet we know that it is all too real. G.K. Chesterton once remarked that “original sin … is the only part of Christian theology that can really be proved.” These dark desires and dark actions surround us. And we even recognize them within ourselves—along with the hunger for the loving relationship with God for which we were created.

Into this darkness came our Lord Jesus Christ. Born of the Father before all ages, God from God, Light from Light, he emptied himself to take on our human nature. Freely, out of love, he joined us in our darkness. And during his earthly ministry he touched us with his light. He touched our disease; he touched our hunger and our thirst; he touched our selfish greed; he touched what holds us captive. And he plunged all the way into the deepest depths of our darkness, suffering on Good Friday the very worst that we could give: envy, lies, injustice, condemnation, torture, humiliation, and an intentionally painful death.

Into the worst of our darkness plunged the Light of Christ. And the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)  For on this night Christ conquered death itself! On this night, Christ became the firstfruits of the Resurrection. On this night, he poured forth his loving power and grace, a great flood capable of dispelling all wickedness, washing faults away, restoring innocence to the fallen and joy to mourners, driving out hatred, and fostering concord. On this night, he began the New Creation, sending forth his grace to every part of the darkness, to touch life after life, and heart after heart.

On this night, he touches the heart of every person here; but most especially of the ten who have come to receive one or all of the sacraments of initiation—baptism, confirmation, and first Holy Communion—to be embraced by his love as never before.

On this night, we followed the Light of Christ into the darkness—much as the People of Israel followed the pillar of fire into the midst of the Red Sea, to reach freedom on the other side. For that is the way Christ has opened for us: in union with him, through a death like his, to reach unity with him in the resurrection.

Jack, Aimee, Tommy, Ronny, and Billy: you will be baptized into Christ Jesus this evening—buried with him through baptism. Does that seem like a strange image? In the early centuries of the Church, the baptistery was often a small separate building near the church building. And often, inside, steps went down to the baptismal font, which was an in-ground pool—perhaps just big enough for an adult to lie down in and be completely immersed—dying to sin in union with Christ’s death, and then rising back to newness of life, to live with him.

Your baptism tonight will not look like that: but when water is poured over your forehead right here, and the words of baptism is spoken, you will be washed clean of all sin just as effectively. Christ will triumph over sin and death in you, and he will draw you to himself, and give you adoption as a son or daughter of God the Father. And you will never be the same.

Ron, Laurie, Sos, and John: tonight you also complete your journey and arrive home, as you are received into the full communion of the Catholic Church. And Jesse: tonight you complete your Christian initiation, after being baptized many years ago.

Together, eight of you will receive the second sacrament of initiation, when you are sealed with the Holy Spirit in confirmation. And then you will be brought to the third sacrament when you receive our Lord’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion for the first time. How long our Lord has desired to be united with you in that intimate sharing! For you are his beloved; he loves you so much! And tonight he draws you to himself.

This is the night. All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come and eat; come, without paying and without cost. Why spend your money for what fails to satisfy? Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more. His light shines in the darkness. (John 1:5) On this night, throughout all the world, let there be light!


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