Apr. 15, 2017

Holy Saturday: EASTER VIGIL


Our Easter vigil begins with the remarkable ritual or service of light. Everyone gathers around the big pot of fire. We process from outside, marching joyfully behind the Paschal candle, the Light of Christ. As the priest lights up the Paschal candle he echoes, "May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds". This light is presented to the worshipping community. All other lights in the church are turned off. The Great Paschal Candle Light alone radiates the evening. The Easter proclamation of the Exultet captures the emotion thus, "Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor, radiant in the brightness of your King! Christ has conquered! Glory fills you! Darkness vanishes forever!" That is the Easter message: Christ the Lord is risen from the dead. The light of the world has become radiant. He has broken the chains of darkness. The tomb is empty. Death is powerless. Humanity is freed from sin. The veil of wickedness is rolled away. 

In Genesis account of creation, God created light to have power over darkness. Creation started with the declaration of light. God says, “Let there be light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. Let them be lights in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth. And so it was" (Gen.1:3-7). Between verse 1 and 19 of Genesis chapter 1, the word light appeared about twelve times already. In the exodus account, God made himself available to the Israelites in the form of Pillar of cloud in the day and a pillar of fire in the night. He guided and shielded them from their enemies. The Egyptians pursued Israel with the plan to annihilate them. But God's light surrounded his people and saved them from violence. 

The events of the Holy Week - passion and death of Christ- demonstrate this struggle between light and darkness. Dark forces of hatred tried to extinguish light of goodness, love and mercy. Betrayal reigned over trust. Hatred crucified love on the cross. Falsehood threatened truth. Injustice opposed fairness. Conspiracy mocked confidence. The sheep scattered. Wailing and crying took to the streets. Fear was everywhere. Criminals were released in place of the innocent. Pilate queried Jesus, “Truth, what is that?” (Jn.18:38). At the death of Jesus, "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. His resurrection is the super-counterforce 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 didn’t know that Sunday was coming. They thought it would all end with Friday. They forgot that light would eventually overcome darkness. 

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary who went to anoint Jesus discovered that his body was not there. They had no idea that Jesus went to the tomb to destroy the powers of death, to dispel darkness. He died to give us hope. He died to free us from perpetual bondage of death. Simon Peter went to the tomb and found everything exactly as the women had told the apostles, and Peter was amazed. Yes, the world is amazed today at the resurrection of Christ. It is Easter Sunday; no fable or myth, but an historical reality, the fulfillment of our salvation story. The tomb becomes a passage to glory by the death of Christ. 

We must appreciate the mysteries of this night. Christ says, "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. The priest lights his candle from the paschal candle and every other light in the church is lit from there. Imagine the beauty of the movement of this light: from the paschal candle to the priest; from the priest to the congregation. One person lights the other’s candle, and so on and so forth. Suddenly, the whole church, the entire congregation is filled with light, everywhere is aglow with light. That's how we are supposed to light the world of others as we encounter the great light, Christ, our CENTRAL CIRCUIT. 

Let us reflect deeply on the mystery of Light tonight; “Darkness vanishes forever”. The Psalm echoes, "In your light, Lord, we see light" (Ps.36:9). Again, it says, "Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame". The resurrection of Christ has freed us from shame, pain and fear. It has freed us from darkness and death. It has freed us from sin and iniquity. It has made us children of light. Can we take this light home and shine for others? Can we dispel the darkness of wickedness, hatred, anger, fear, frustration, division, in our homes and in our relationships? That is the meaning of the resurrection. 

May the light of Christ bring light into our lives. Amen.