“Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes forever!"
The Vigil of this great night begins with the service of light. We all gather around the big pot of fire. The priest echoes as he lights up the Paschal candle, "May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds". All other lights in the church are turned off. The Great Paschal Candle Light alone radiates the evening. We light the Paschal candle and joyfully march behind the Light of Christ. The Easter Exultet is proclaimed which captures the joy of this great night, "Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King! Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes forever!" The message is that Christ the Lord is risen from the dead. Christ breaks the chains of darkness. The empty tomb bears witness, as the angel says to the women, “He has been raised; he is not here”. Christ is not in the darkness. He is not in the void. He renders death powerless. He rolls the veils away.
The Genesis account of creation narrates the power of light over darkness. God says, “Let there be light. God saw that light was good, and God separated light from darkness " (Gen.1:3-7). In the exodus account, God makes himself available to the Israelites in the form of Pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire in the night. God shields his people from annihilation, protects them from their Egyptian assailants. God's light surrounds Israel and delivers them.
In the Holy week, we experience the struggle between darkness and light. The forces of hatred attempt to extinguish the light of goodness, love and mercy. Christ the Light of the World, is crucified. Betrayal reigns over trust. Hatred ridicules love on the cross. Falsehood threatens truth. Gossip and rumors oppose transparency. Injustice intimidates fairness. Conspiracy mocks confidence. The shepherd is struck, the sheep scatter. Wailing and crying take to the streets. Fear grips the universe. Criminals gain freedom in place of the innocent. Pilate queries the authority of Jesus, questions him, “Truth, what is that?” (Jn.18:38). The gospel laments, "The sun's light failed, so that darkness came over the whole land" (Lk.23:44). This is the calamity of the death of Christ. At the death of Jesus, darkness takes a momentary reign because everyone rejects the light.
But that’s just the beginning. Christ’s resurrection is the force that restores light to the world, “…life that was the light of men; and light that shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it" (Jn.1:4). Pilate and the Roman soldiers wrongly think they are the heroes. They imagine that everything will end on Good Friday. They only know about death, they don’t know about the resurrection. Sunday morning takes them unawares. The Light beams irresistibly. Scripture says of the power of Christ, “When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!" (Matt. 27:54). Jesus is indeed “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”.
Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome set out to anoint Jesus’ body. They find out that his body is not there. The tomb is empty. They have no idea that Jesus goes to the tomb to destroy the powers of death, to dispel darkness. His death is different because He is Lord of the living and the dead. He dies to free us from the bondage of death. Mark reports that the women are utterly amazed. They are amazed because something extraordinary; indeed, something super-ordinary has happened. The whole world is amazed today at the resurrection of Christ. That’s the true story, our salvation story. The tomb is the witness. The burial cloths are present. The angel is there to confirm it. Christ has conquered. His glory fills us. Darkness vanishes forever in our lives.
Prior to his death, Christ says to his followers, "I am the light of the world, anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark, but will have the light of life" (John 8:12). The paschal candle symbolizes the light of Christ in our liturgy tonight. At the beginning of our celebration, the priest lights his candle from the paschal candle, then everyone lights her/his candle and gives the light to the other. In that process, everyone’s candle is lit. The church becomes aglow with light. What a beauty is the movement of this light. That fulfills Christ’s words, “anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark, but will have the light of life". We must appreciate the mystery of tonight’s celebration, and therefore be agents of light.
In Christ, “Darkness vanishes forever”. The Psalm tells us, "In your light, Lord, we see light" (Ps.36:9). Again, we read, "Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame". Christ frees us from shame, pain and fear. He frees us from darkness and death. He frees us from sin and iniquity. He frees us from hatred and lack of forgiveness. He makes us children of light. Let us take this light home; it is the light of love, compassion, sincerity, fairness, and peace. We are the children of the resurrection. We are the children of light. Christ has truly risen. He sets you free. Alleluia!
THE TRANSFORMING POWER OF CHRIST'S RESURRECTION
Let us use the old Peter to introduce this reflection. The old Peter was the fearful Peter who stood outside the courtyard during his master's trial. The old Peter was the one confronted by the servant-girl, the one who was quick to respond, "I do not know what you are talking about" (Matt.26:71). The old Peter was the one who took an oath before the enemies of Jesus denying he never knew him. The old Peter cursed and swore to the bystanders, "I do not know the man" (Matt.26:75). The old Peter heard the cock crow and wept for his disgusting actions. The old Peter fizzled away in the crowd, became completely anonymous at the crucifixion of the Master Jesus.
The first reading of the Easter Sunday presents us with the new Peter, the one completely transformed by the power of Christ's resurrection. The new Peter quickly comes to such depth of faith and courage. The audacity of his conviction empowers him to proclaim the risen Lord to the Jews. The new Peter states that Christ is anointed with power and the Holy Spirit, and that he goes about doing good and healing those oppressed by the devil. The new Peter stresses, "We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem" (Acts 10:39). In Acts of the Apostles, we notice the new zeal injected in believers by the resurrection of Christ. Luke states, "You will receive the power of the Holy Spirit which will come upon you, and then you will be my witnesses, not only in Jerusalem but throughout Judaea and Samaria, and indeed to earth's remotest end" (Acts 1:8). The power of the resurrection transforms believers from timidity to courage, from mediocrity to resourcefulness, from fear to confidence, from despair to hope, from sloth to agility, from naivety to wisdom. The resurrection commissioned the new Peter, and as well commissions us to preach to the people, to testify that Christ is the appointed of God to judge the living and the dead. Yes, He is alive. Let's shout ALLELUIA......
Not only Peter was transformed. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb early in the morning. At the crucifixion, these ladies watched from a distance (Matt.27:55) as Christ sorrowfully marched to Golgotha to be crucified. The resurrection restored their energy to bear witness to the risen Christ. Hence, they left early enough to the tomb. The description of the angel who descended from heaven to roll away the stone matched exactly that of Christ at his transfiguration; "His face was like lightening, his robe white as snow" (Matt.28:3-4; cf.Mk.9:3). That's the transforming power of the resurrection. The concentration of fear also shifted. Before the resurrection, the disciples were the ones afraid, but after the resurrection, "The guards were so shaken by fear of him that they were like dead men" (Matt.28:4). St. John writes about him, "What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men; and light shines in the darkness, and darkness could not overpower it" (Jn.1:4-5). The angel declared to the women, "Do not be afraid, I know who you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen" (Matt.28:5-6).
In the second reading, Saint Paul gives us an analogy of the yeast that leavens the dough. He invites us to become fresh batch of dough. Oftentimes, we see bread in its big and leavened form, the finished product. It is usually the small amount of yeast that enables the flour to rise, then a big loaf is formed. "Leaven" for Saint Paul, as in the Old Testament, symbolizes sin and corruption. Paul reminds us to think of how our Christian life, the life of the resurrection can impact the world contrary to the old leaven of sin. He explains that "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (v. 7), his resurrection annihilates "the old yeast of malice and wickedness" (v. 8). For Paul, just as at the Passover ancient Israel was instructed to remove any leaven from their homes, so as believers in Christ's resurrection, we must remove all sin and evil in order to worship God.
The mandate for us today just like for Mary Magdalene and Peter, is to "Go and tell his disciples that He has been raised from the dead". They went away "fearfully overjoyed", ran to announce the resurrection of Christ. Similarly, we must be transformed by the news that Christ is risen. We must be bearers of the good news.
If we take the idea of "leaven" from a positive dimension, we can also use it to measure the impact of the good news to those around us. Jesus told the disciples a parable, "The kingdom of God is like the yeast a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour till it was leavened all through" (Matt.13:33). The yeast makes the flour leavened, causes it to rise a great deal. That is what the good news does. We leave in a period of trouble for Christianity, not because of its content but especially because of the aggressive approach from other competing world religions. Threats consistently mount against Christianity. Negative influences come from the social media culture. Policies that contradict Christian principles are daily postulated. Christians seem cowed and discouraged amidst these threats. Saint Paul says to us, "For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the feast" (1Cor.5:7-8). The new dough in us is the dough of courage, sincerity, justice, love, compassion and joy. It is the dough of the risen Christ which made the new Peter bold witness to the resurrection.
Easter brings transformation to believers and fear to non-believers. Those who contradict or deny the message are simply dead like the guards at the tomb. Let us embrace the message with courage and conviction. Let us open ourselves as Christ's witnesses. Saint Francis de Sales once wrote in his book, Introduction to the Devout Life, "Those who love God can never stop thinking about him, longing for him, aspiring to him, and speaking about him. If it were possible, they would engrave the holy, sacred name of Jesus on the breasts of all mankind. Every creature proclaims the praises of their beloved". Christ tells you again as you encounter him at Easter, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; there they will see me" (Matt.28:10). Galilee is that apostolic mission that we all must embrace as believers. Galilee is the place of evangelical action, that point of encounter with the risen Christ. Galilee is our homes, offices, schools, and any spot where we need to proclaim the risen Christ. Let us go and tell the whole world, he is risen, he is not in that place of darkness anymore.