The Paschal Vigil

There was an interesting piece on the radio the other day about the degrees of interest in sport.  One contributor said that the real fans go to the games to support their team and their club.  I suppose in a similar way, one could say that the real Christians go to church.  In my humble opinion, if there was ever a time a Christian should go to church, it is tonight.  Tomorrow morning, our parish churches will be filled to bursting with people, many of them strangers, the Christmas and Easter contingent, eager to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus.  And yet, as I have said at Easter every single year of my priesthood, there can be no crown without the Cross.  We cannot truly understand what happened on Easter morning, unless we have travelled the Way of the Cross, a journey we began with Our Lord on Holy Thursday evening.  Yesterday, Good Friday, we commemorated Our Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross which saved us from our sins.  Today we waited silently and patiently as Our Lord lay dead and cold in the tomb.  But tonight, the Church celebrates the holiest of all the nights of the year, the night on which Our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

When you arrived here this evening everything was in darkness and gloom.  And, if you happen to be part of that Christmas and Easter contingent, you will have wondered what on earth was going on.  The darkness and gloom brought home to us that Christ was dead and buried in the tomb.  The liturgy began with the lighting of the new Easter Fire, and from that fire the great Easter candle was lit, which symbolises the Light of Christ in our midst.  Later on, I will bless the new water for Easter which will remind us of our Baptism as we are sprinkled with it.  We will also have the privilege of witnessing the Reception into Full Communion with the Catholic Church and the Confirmation of Samantha Forson who is a friend of the Community and has worshipped with us for some time.  Bishop Egan has granted me the faculty to Receive and Confirm Samantha here tonight.  And, like all of us, Samantha has undergone a conversion experience, a process which has led her to come home to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.  Each one of us has our own story to tell, especially those of us who are converts to the Catholic Faith.  And yet everyone’s conversion process and search for eternal truth involves turning away from darkness and turning towards the light.  That ‘motif’, for lack of a better word, is very much mirrored in the liturgy tonight.  There was that physical movement from the darkness and gloom we experienced outside, gradually being led by the Light of Christ into the splendour of what we now experience inside.  This physical turning from darkness to light mirrors the conversion process.

If we listened carefully to the first reading during the Vigil, we heard that in the beginning all was in darkness and that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.  The darkness and the waters were the two elements present at the very beginning of history.  They are signs of death and they are signs of sin.  It was out of darkness that God made His first point of creation; the first element in the created order was light.  And the second element from which all the rest of material creation came was the order that came from the chaos of the water.  The two things that life requires more than anything else are light and water, and these are the two elements which play a pivotal role at the very beginning of creation.  These elements are reflected in our liturgy tonight.

The great Easter candle which stands before us symbolises the Light of Christ in our world.  If we were witnessing a baptism tonight the candle would be plunged into the font to bless that water, in order for it to bring forth new life, the new life which is ours in Baptism.  In the Epistle, Saint Paul told us that all who are baptized into Christ are baptized into His death and into His Resurrection.  As candidates for baptism, we enter willingly into the water, to be buried with Christ, and then we rise with Him to new and everlasting life.

Tonight’s liturgy is so full of symbolism that we can reflect and meditate upon it for hours, if not days.  In the Vigil part of tonight’s liturgy, the Church draws our attention to the first chapter of the Book of Genesis which tells us that it is God’s Spirit which rested upon the water.  Throughout the Gospels, the Holy Spirit is defined by two different things – fire and water – again, two elements we witness in the liturgy tonight.  Our Lord tells us that He is the Light of the World, and anyone who follows Him will have the light of life in them.  Our Lord speaks about that light, and He tells us that we must be baptized by water and the Holy Spirit.  John the Baptist said that he baptized with water but one is coming after Him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  And when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples at Pentecost, it was in tongues of fire.  Our Lord also spoke of the significance of water.  He spoke of it to the woman from Samaria who drew water from the well, he said to her: If you knew who it was that was speaking to you, you would ask him, and he would give you living water.  Our Lord spoke about this living water and about those who would follow Him, and how this water would well up within them and become springs welling up to eternal life.

From all this we can see that there is life on two different levels for us.  There is our natural life and there is supernatural life: the natural life which we receive from our parents, and the supernatural life which is given to us in Baptism.  This is the grace of God that was won for us in the Resurrection of Christ from the dead.  In Baptism, we are buried with Christ in death.  The Apostles’ Creed tells us that Our Lord descended into Hell, not the place of condemnation, but rather the place of the dead, the underworld: Sheol as the Hebrews called it.  Our Lord went there in order to bring his light into the place of darkness.  He came into this world as the light in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

And so, in our lives, when we reflect upon what has happened to us, we are conceived in sin and, in Baptism, we are reborn into life.  We move from darkness to light.  We move from being plunged into the waters of death to rise up to new and everlasting life.  Sin is the choice of darkness and of death, the very things that existed before God brought order into creation – and when we rise again to new life, whether it be in Baptism or from the Confessional, once again we have within us the Light of Christ and the grace of God welling up to eternal life.

Our Lord is the Light of the World, and yet He tells each one of us that we also are lights in the world.  He says: If the light is in you, then everything is bright; but if your light is darkness, how dark it is.  On this night of the Resurrection, Our Lord has dispersed the darkness with the power of his Light.  He has broken through the chaos of death, and He has won for us the forgiveness of our sins and offered us eternal life.  He calls each one of us to choose life, to choose supernatural life, to reject sin and to live according to God’s grace which has come to us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Each one of us baptized into Christ shares already in His Resurrection, and we are called to live in this world of darkness as the light of the world, to live holy lives, to live Christ-like lives, and to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, to inspire us, and to fill us with His light and with His love.  Our task as baptised Christians is to rise above death and darkness.  Like the Easter candle standing tall and proud, we too are to shine like a brilliant light, and that life which is given to us through water and the Holy Spirit helps us to reject death and to spring up to eternal life.

This is the gift Our Lord has won for us by his Resurrection.  It is the gift that we already share.  It is the dignity that is ours: the call to become saints, the call to be children of the light – to reject darkness, to reject death, to reject sin, and to live lives of holiness.  We are called to be beacons of light in union with Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ raised from the dead.

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