Easter Vigil – 2016
Tonight we began our Easter Vigil with the blessing of the fire, a ritual that happens only once a year actually. The fire was blessed, and from it the Easter Candle was lighted, and it continues to burn in the sanctuary lamps.
The fire is also a symbol of the divine presence of Christ who is the Light of the world. We also receive that light at our baptism when we were given a lighted candle to symbolize that we are enlightened by the light of Christ and that we are to live as children of the light.
But here is where, if we reflected deeper, there seems to be a contradiction and an opposition of symbols. We were baptized with water and then we are enlightened by fire. Water and fire don’t go together. Water extinguishes fire, but fire can also boil water and can eventually evaporate the water.
But in the divine mystery, water and fire take on a combined spiritual purpose in our lives. Water permeates into stone structures and hence no matter how sturdy a building may be, there will eventually be a leaking problem somewhere.
And in the confrontation between a stream of water and a rock, the stream of water always wins, not through strength but through persistence. Later we will renew our baptismal promises – we will renounce sin and evil and the devil, and we will also profess our belief in God.
And then we will be sprinkled with holy water. The spiritual significance is that God will shower His love upon us until His love permeates into our hearts until we turn into fountains of living water that will in turn flow to others.
But just as education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of the fire of wisdom, the cleansing water of God’s love makes us shine with the light of Christ. The Easter celebration of the Resurrection of Christ also reminds us spiritual powers of fire and water.
Fire gives light and it also radiates warmth. The fire of God’s love is in us so that as children of the light, we radiate the warmth of God’s love to others, and that’s just by being who we truly are – the children of the light.
Being baptized with water, we also take on the spiritual meaning of water, in that clean water is essential for life and so we must be life-giving to others. Also water is considered as the universal solvent, and so we pour out our lives for others so that we can help them to solve their problems in life.
We will bless the water later and it will be used to bless our homes, our workplace, bless our children, and also bless ourselves so that God’s love will continue to permeate into our hearts and into our lives.
Now the question is: Once Jesus had died and descended into hell, would it have been possible for Jesus to accomplish His victory over sin and death by rising straight from hell to Heaven? Why did Jesus spend forty days on earth?
The answer might seem obvious: that is, to convince His followers of His Resurrection. We might think that if Jesus had been raised by the Father straight from death in hell to glory in Heaven, His disciples would not have believed in the Resurrection.
On the other hand, we hear at the end of this morning’s Gospel passage that “the other disciple also went in… and he saw and believed.” Mary of Magdala had told Peter and John that the Lord’s Body had been taken from the tomb, but when John “the other disciple”—saw the burial cloths there, and then entered the tomb, he “saw and believed.”
Does this mean that John believed in the Resurrection? St. Augustine of Hippo answers “no”, noting that the very next sentence of the Gospel text tells us that Peter and John “did not yet understand the Scripture that [Jesus] had to rise from the dead.”
So what did John see and believe if not the Resurrection of Jesus? Augustine argues that John “saw the supulchre or the tomb empty, and believed what the woman had said, that He had been taken away from the tomb”.
So if even the two greatest apostles—Peter, most invested with authority by Jesus, and John, most beloved by Jesus—saw but did not believe in the Resurrection, what hope would other, lesser disciples have of believing without seeing the Lord Jesus in the Risen Flesh?
As we hear all four evangelists’ accounts of these forty days, we learn that the Risen Jesus fosters belief chiefly in two ways. Jesus explains “the Scriptures” of the Old Testament, and celebrates the Holy Eucharist.
Jesus manifests the power of His Resurrection in Word and Sacrament, or better yet, in the Word and in the Word made Flesh. But during these forty days, Jesus does not only convince His followers of what had happened on Easter Sunday morn.
Jesus does not merely console them with final chances to be with Him before His Ascension. Jesus during these forty days equips His apostles.
The Easter Season has two poles. Easter is not only about celebrating the truth that Jesus has risen. Easter is also about preparing for Pentecost. Jesus was preparing His Apostles to lead the Church—His Mystical Body—from the day of Pentecost onwards by means of the Word and Sacrament.
The focus of the Easter Season on the life of the Church is why the First Reading during Easter comes not from the Old Testament, as it does throughout the rest of the year, but from the Acts of the Apostles.
You and I need to spend this Easter Season, then, not only giving thanks for the gift of the Risen Jesus. Each of us needs to thank God for the Resurrection by faithfully living one’s vocation and daily stewardship within the life of that Mystical Body who conquered sin and death.
Say Alleluia with me: Alleluia! Now say it louder! Alleluia! Christ is risen! Alleluia! Rejoice! Alleluia! Sin is overpowered! Alleluia! Death is defeated! Alleluia! God loves us! Alleluia! Heaven is full of people, right now, just like us! Alleluia! We can go to heaven too! Alleluia!
We killed Jesus Christ, but he rose from the dead! Alleluia! And he still loves us! Alleluia! We do not need to hate anymore! Alleluia! We do not need to be afraid anymore! Alleluia! We do not need to try to be rich anymore! Alleluia! Every tear will be wiped away! Alleluia!
All suffering in this world will be joy in the next! Alleluia! The Devil cannot hold on to us! Alleluia! We are weak, but God is strong! Alleluia! We have been pre-accepted into heaven! Alleluia! We just have to go! Alleluia! Let us begin the journey right now! Alleluia!
We are going to be rich! Alleluia! We are going to be strong! Alleluia! We are going to see what we could not see! Alleluia! We are going to meet Jesus! Alleluia! And all the saints in heaven! Alleluia! Praise God! Alleluia! Jesus Christ is risen! Alleluia! Alleluia! Amen.