Reflection for the Easter Vigil
We stage this moment with great fanfares and the ringing of bells, but the recording of the event that Christians believe utterly changed the world is accompanied even more dramatically in Matthew’s Gospel by earthquakes and lightning in the form of angels. This vigil service is sensitive to the drama of this scene, and yet the most important moment has occurred before the noise and celebration; the moment where the dark is penetrated by a small pure light. The new Paschal candle is sung into the darkened church with the words, “The light of Christ” and in the ancient Exultet, we pray, “grant that this Easter candle may make our darkness light.”
The drama of the stone having been rolled away, the visitation of angels, organ fanfares and noisy bells all happen in that moment of witness- when the two Marys ‘went to see the tomb.’ It is the revealing dawn of the new day and the women’s faithful presence to witness that allows the joyful and fearful drama of light and sound.
And yet, this event which shakes the earth has already happened. God was not in the lightning or the earthquake, but was a quiet presence already wandering the garden, preparing to meet Mary and Mary whose hope and fear and joy had sent them running from the empty tomb. They do not find Jesus, but the risen Christ finds them.
The new day had dawned and yet light had already pierced the darkness of the night. While it was still dark, God had been working. It may have been the day that brought the news, but in the deepest night God was doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. When we cannot see a future, when our way is unclear or grief and loss overshadow us, God is there. When we have fallen short of our own hopeful sense of who we could be, or where our life might take us, God is active, imagining what we cannot imagine for ourselves and forgiving what we are sure could never be forgiven. When we despair of the pain and suffering in the world, and wonder how peace can ever be known in places darkened with war or terror, God is already present, a glow of loving presence in the midst of pain, and a flame of courage in those who long for justice.
We have completed our journey through Lent. In our hemisphere, Lent does not naturally point us to its meaning. The word comes from an old English word meaning “to lengthen” because the days are getting longer as Summer approaches. Yet we too, even with our shortening days, can see the symbolism of the growing light in our hearts as we allow the Spirit to give us grace and help us release our attachments to things– perhaps some of those things represented by symbols we burned in the Easter fire- and turn to God with lightened hearts, ready to welcome the new bright day.
What does it tell us that God’s work is done in darkness? I think it reveals the truth that our liberation is achieved not by our own works but by the God of grace who can accomplish infinitely more than we could think or imagine. We do not need to be more repentant, nor more virtuous nor have the strength to drive away our own darkness in order find the light of Christ and receive the mercy of God. This is the day, after all, as the Exultet proclaims, that has given us back what we have lost beyond our deepest dreams, making even our sin a happy fault. The darkness as a place of new birth and new life reminds us that there is nowhere that God’s light and love cannot penetrate. There is nothing that God’s light and love cannot redeem.
Christ is risen from the dead,
And his flame of love still burns within us!
Christ sheds his peaceful light on the world!
Christ lives and reigns for ever and ever.
Alleluia, alleluia, Amen.