The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night. March 30, 2024

  The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night. March 30, 2024

Gen. 1: 1 – 2: 2; Gen. 22: 1-18; Ex 14: 15 – 15: 1; Is 54: 5-14; Is 55: 1-11; Baruch 3: 9-15, 32 – 4: 4; Ez 36: 16-17a, 18-28; Rm 6: 3-11; Mk 16: 1-7

 

Theme: “He has Been Raised; He is not Here”

The liturgy of this Easter Vigil concludes not only the Paschal Triduum but also the Holy Week. During our forty-day penitential journey of Lent, we went into the desert with Jesus to prepare ourselves for this greatest celebration of tonight: the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. For forty days, we observed the Lenten disciplines (Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving), overcame Satan with all his temptations, recognized our sins, and confessed them so that tonight we start a New Life with our Risen Lord. The liturgy of this Easter Vigil draws on the symbolism of light versus darkness. Darkness is identified with sin, ignorance, and insecurity. The Easter Candle is the symbol of “Christ our light.” Tonight, we heard seven Old Testament and two New Testament readings. The seven Old Testament memorable stories tell us about our salvation history. From the beginning, God created the world and called everything good, but sin entered the world. Therefore, redemption was needed. So, throughout the readings of the Laws and Prophets, we heard many voices and events of leading Israel and the entire world back to the fullness of our relationship with God. This is what the liturgy of tonight is about. Through the water of baptism (catechumens will be baptized, and the rest of us will renew our baptismal promises), the fullness of our relationship with God will be restored.

 The first reading (Gen 1:1 – 2:2) makes us recall the moment God brought life to the world. The first thing to be created was the light; the last was a human being God created in his image. There are two important details to note in this story. First, God saw how good everything he created was. As to say, out of great love, God created everything perfectly. Second, God brought into being everything that exists in six days, and on the seventh day, he rested. The lesson here is that we must work for six days and keep the seventh day free for rest and worship of God our Maker.

The second reading (Gen 22:1-18) is also taken from the book of Genesis. From the passage of our first reading to the story of the test of Abraham that we heard in the second reading, the book of Genesis unfolds the introduction of sin into the world (Adam and Eve) and the subsequent return of chaos (Cain and Abel, Noah and the Flood, and Tower of Babel). All these stories demonstrate how far humanity, through its arrogance of exploiting creation for its own success, falls into sin and consequently moves away from God’s original designs. Chapter twelve of this book brings the story of Abraham, with whom God intends to restore the goodness of the original creation. God called Abraham, assigned him a mission to be the father of a great nation, and promised him that his descendants should receive blessings. The future of Abraham’s descendants relies upon his son Isaac. Our second reading then is the story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice Isaac as a holocaust. For three days, Abraham, Isaac, his son, and two servants traveled to Moriah, the sacrifice site. We can imagine all sorts of thoughts were running through Abraham’s mind. Visibly, we just saw his obedience put into action. When they arrived close to the place of sacrifice, Abraham asked the two servants to stay at a certain distance and wait for them there. He and Isaac proceeded alone to the site of sacrifice. Isaac carried on his shoulders the wood destined to burn him as an offering. The wood on Isaac’s shoulders metaphorically represents all of Israel laid upon him. Also, Isaac is the prefiguration of Jesus, who carried the cross destined for his crucifixion on his shoulders. To his son’s question about the missing sheep for the holocaust, Abraham answers with a profession of faith: “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.” (Exodus 22: 8). The test of Abraham is over. God sees how Abraham is devoted to him. The reading ends with God swearing to bless Abraham abundantly and make his descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the seashore's sands. (See Genesis 22: 16-18). Isaac was not sacrificed because God would provide a worthy sacrifice, one who would restore the unity of people with God. This worthy sacrifice is Jesus, whose life, death, and resurrection we celebrate tonight.

The third reading (Ex 14:15 – 15:1) continues the story of the salvation of humanity with the account of Moses saving the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. The Israelites were terrified when they realized that Pharaoh and his army had set out after them. They grumbled to Moses. Moses reassured them of God's victory. He called them to keep still (14:10-14.) Then, in our passage, God ordered Moses to lift up his staff, stretch out his hand over the sea, and split it in two. The narrator says that the column of cloud (meaning the presence of God) placed himself behind the people of Israel as they passed through the sea on dry land. When the Egyptian army followed in pursuit after them into the midst of the sea, Moses, per God’s command, stretched out his hand over the sea; the sea returned to its normal flow, and all Egyptians died in the sea. The Israelites feared and believed in the Lord as they saw his incredible power (14:15-31.) They sang a song to the Lord (15:1-21.)

In the story of creation that we heard in our first reading, we saw that God created water to provide life for the creatures. Here, in the book of Exodus, the water has double symbolisms. On the one hand, it symbolizes a new life for the Israelites as they passed through to safety on dry land. On the other hand, the water of the Red Sea is a symbol of death, as it swallowed up and destroyed the Egyptians. The symbol of “death” signifies that in the water of baptism (which the priest will bless tonight and with which the catechumen will be baptized, and Christians will be sprinkled after they renew their baptismal promises,) our old lives die with Christ. The symbol of “new life” means that in the same water of baptism, we are reborn and start a new life with our Resurrected Lord.

The fourth reading (Isaiah 54:5-14) continues the salvation history with the story of the Babylonian Exile. The context of this reading is that God promises his chosen people (pictured as “a wife’ who had been barren and deserted, now suddenly finds herself with numerous children) to bring them back to their land. He asks them to raise a glad cry and break forth in a jubilant song, for their exile is about to end (vv. 1-4.). Our reading picks up from v. 5. Notice different names that Isaiah applies to God: “Husband, Maker, the Lord of hosts, Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.” (v. 5.) Isaiah uses the images of “Husband” (God) and “the unfaithful wife” (the Israelites). The Babylonian exile is explained as the time God, the “husband,” abandoned his “wife,” Israel because of her sins. God calls her back with great tenderness and enduring love (vv. 6-8). God swears that he will keep his covenant of peace and love for Israel forever (vv. 9-10.) The reading ends with God’s promising Israel that her children will be in great peace and justice as they shall be taught by God himself (vv. 13-14.)

This reading teaches us that our Holy Mother Church is God’s “wife,” and we are the children. God abandoned us because of our sins. Now that we have spent Forty Days of Lent and repented, God calls us back with great tenderness and enduring love. He swears to us that his love and covenant will endure forever. Jesus fulfills all his promises about the time of great peace and justice and that Israel’s children, who shall be taught by God himself. 

The fifth reading (Isaiah 55:1-11.) The previous reading focused on how God loved Israel and all the good things he promised her. In this fifth reading, we hear how God now expects his chosen people to accept his promises freely by coming to him in repentance. The prophet commences his passage by inviting the returned Exiles under the figure of a banquet, “All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come, buy grain and eat; come, buy grain without money, wine and milk without cost!” (v. 1.) The Israelites here are identified as “thirsty people” and “Poor.” God invites them to come to the “water” and to receive free food, milk, and wine. They have the free will to accept God’s invitation or refuse it. That is why God encourages them to listen to him so that they may have life in a renewed everlasting covenant with Him (v. 3.) This covenant with God will make them “the missionaries” to attract people to God (v. 5). The chosen people must seek and call upon God in repentance. God’s mercy is near them (vv. 6-7.)

God’s invitation under the figure of the banquet was fulfilled by Jesus when he instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist, the liturgy that we commemorated two days ago, on Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord Supper. At Mass, Christ invites us “who are thirsty and have no money” to come to eat free food (his Body) and drink free wine (his Blood). Jesus is the fulfillment of the new and everlasting covenant that God promised to his chosen people in this reading. The Holy Eucharist makes us the missionaries who attract other people to become members of this new covenant. What we need to do is to seek and call upon God in repentance. His mercy is near to us.

The sixth reading (Baruch 3: 9-15, 32 – 4: 4) of this Easter Vigil is taken from the book of the Prophet Baruch. Here, Baruch is praising “Wisdom,” which he says is “the book of the precepts of God.” He exhorts the people of Israel to embrace the book of God's precepts as a lasting treasure and the source of life. The Church places this reading into the context of salvation history to teach us that the observance of God’s commandments is necessary to be saved. People often forsake God’s Laws because they are distracted by worldly concerns. Prophet Baruch reminds us that if we turn our hearts to “wisdom,” we will not be disappointed. Baruch ends his hymn by inviting us to receive “wisdom.” He says that “wisdom,” the book of the precepts of God, is the law that endures forever. She existed on earth and moved among people since the foundation of the world. Therefore, “all who cling to her will live, but those will die who forsake her.” (Baruch 4: 1). Let us then turn and receive “Wisdom” and walk by her light towards splendor as Baruch calls us to. (See Baruch 4: 2-4). As our relationship with God will soon be renewed through the water of baptism that we will receive tonight, let us decide to receive “wisdom” and follow God's commandments.

The seventh reading (Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28) is tonight's last Old Testament reading. Like Isaiah and Baruch in our previous readings, Ezekiel also writes his book from the perspective of the Babylonian exile. Ezekiel does not see the Israelites as the victims of the Babylonian conquest. Instead, he holds them responsible for defiling the land and bringing ruin to the nation. (See Ezekiel 36: 16-17a, 18). He even says that the Lord himself, not the Babylonians, scattered the people to captivity, “dispersing them over foreign lands.” (See v. 19). So, God recognizes that the dispersal of the Israelites also defines his name because when the people from other nations see God’s people scattered, they mock and ridicule the relationship God has with his chosen ones. Consequently, God decides to bring Israel back to their land to restore the honor of his holy name (see. V. 24). He clarifies that this decision is not for their sake but for his holy name's sake.  (See v. 22).

We, too, defile when we sin, whether before or after baptism. This reading calls us to repent and return to God whenever we go astray. Notice what God promises to do to his chosen people as the restoration of his relationship with them: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to clean you from all your impurities, and from all idols, I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.” (Vv. 25-26). This is what happens tonight in this Easter Vigil Mass. The sprinkling of the baptismal water we are about to receive cleanses us from all our sins and restores our relationship with God. We begin this Easter time with a new heart and a new spirit.

We have concluded our contemplation of the mystery of salvation history in seven different stories of the Old Testament. We now turn to the New Testament with the readings from the Epistle and Gospel. We saw how God is intimately involved with the goodness of his creation. He leads his people out of slavery into freedom. In return for all that he has done for us, we are asked to love him and follow his commandments. As we move now to the New Testament readings, we Christians believe that this salvation history that started in the Old Testament comes to a definitive resolution through the incarnation of our Lord Jesus, his life and ministry in our world, and the ultimate gift of his Paschal Mystery (his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.)

The eighth reading (Romans 6:3-11). In this reading, Saint Paul reminds the Romans and all of us that in our baptism, we were baptized into Christ’s death, buried with him, and resurrected with him. The resurrection of Christ brought us a New Life. We live in a newness of life (see Romans 6: 3-4). Soon, the catechumen will be baptized, and all Christians will renew our baptismal promises tonight. Our “old self” will die with Christ, and we will start a New Life with our Risen Lord. Let us not forget that “dying with our Lord Jesus and rising up to a new life” is an ongoing process until it is fully realized in eternal life. That is why, as soon as sins damage our “New Life” with Christ, we must quickly return to Jesus through the Sacrament of Confession to renew it. 

The ninth reading (Mark 16:1-7.) We begin a new life with our risen Lord, not in darkness but in the light, not in fear and doubt but with hope and courage. Our Gospel says that Mary Magdalen and other women went to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body. They were concerned that they would not be strong enough to roll the stone away from the entrance to the tomb, yet they continued going. The new life with Christ must move us with this great faith. The difficult situations we encounter, even those that seem impossible to solve, must not prevent us from moving forward toward Jesus.

A new life with Jesus makes us the messengers of the good news to others. These women of our Gospel find the stone that covered the entrance of the tomb of Jesus rolled back. They enter the tomb, but they do not see the body of their master. We can imagine their feelings at first sight. They are troubled, frustrated, and afraid. Sometimes, we experience the same feelings. There are people around us who go through these painful feelings. They need people to help them with the good news that will change their attitude. Who does announce this good news to the women in the synoptic Gospels? In Matthew’s account, it is the “angel of the Lord” (Liturgical Year A); in Mark’s version, it is a “young man sitting on the right side and clothed in a white robe” (Liturgical Year B); and in the Gospel according to Luke, “two men” (Liturgical Year C). The role of these “messengers” is to calm the women down by reassuring them that Jesus has risen.

In our Gospel, the angel (young man clothed in a white robe) comforts these women with these words: “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold, the place where they laid him.” (V. 6). When we experience trials that make us feel afraid and troubled, let us remember the message of hope of this messenger. Also, we are called to be the messengers who comfort our brothers and sisters who are anxious about their suffering. This is what “a new life with Jesus” is about. You and I become Jesus’ messengers to announce his good news.

We live this “New Life with Christ” in our ordinary lives. The “young man” of our Gospel asks the women to go and tell his disciples that Jesus is going before them to Galilee; there they will see him. In other words, they will find the Risen Christ in their ordinary lives back in Galilee. The disciples did nothing extraordinary to meet Jesus after he rose from the dead. They just needed to return to their ordinary everyday lives. We spent a forty-day Lenten journey in the desert with Jesus and had a beautiful celebration this holy week of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus. Now, we are called to return to our “Galilee,” where, with eyes of faith, we will see and meet our Risen Lord present in our everyday lives.

Now, I am going to bless the new Easter Holy Water. We will renew our baptismal promises, and I will bless us all with this new Easter Holy Water so that we can receive a new life with Christ. When we renew our baptismal promises and reject Satan, let us mean what we say. Let us embrace the gift of a new life that our Risen Lord offers us.

May this liturgy strengthen our faith so that we might be open to the grace of Easter and start a new life with Christ. Amen.

Happy Easter!

 

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD 

 

 

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