Easter Vigil Homily
“He is not here, but has been raised!”; "I believe, I can never be the same!" Those two phrases lead us into what we celebrate on Easter Vigil; the Vigil of all Vigils; the solemnity of all solemnities.
In the movie Risen, the burial is over, the stone is rolled over the tomb and the guards are in place 24/7. The Roman soldier Clavius (Joseph Fiennes) is summoned by Pilate and asked to make sure the body of Yeshua remains in the tomb. But mysteriously Yeshua's body has vanished from the tomb and so Pilate orders Clavius to "Find the corpse of Yeshua before it rots in order to stop the rumors of his resurrection. Clavius sets off in search, and what he finds is certainly not a corpse. He embeds himself with the disciples, and when Jesus appears to them in the Upper Room after the resurrection, Clavius is an eye witness to Jesus' resurrection as the disciples are. At first, he is skeptical of the first appearance of Jesus. The movie ends with Clavius accepting the fact that Jesus is indeed risen. In amazement, he chooses to follow Jesus and the disciples to Galilee. Clavius, who is completely transformed by his encounter with the risen Lord, removes his Roman ring (his worldly symbol of power and authority), telling an innkeeper, "I believe, I can never be the same!"
Tonight, the women going to anoint the body of Jesus in amazement find an empty tomb. Two angels announce that: “He is not here, but has been raised.” The experience of empty tomb and the good news from the angels transforms them from not believing to faith in the resurrection, confirmed by the appearances of the risen Lord. The experience of the resurrection touches everyone who encounters the risen Lord.
To help us enter into that experience, Easter Vigil celebration uses many symbols, and I simply want to highlight some of the symbols to help encounter the risen Lord and allow him to touch us deeply.
There are four sets of symbols that run through Easter Vigil:
-light and darkness,
-life and death,
-slavery and liberation,
-life-destroying water and life-giving water.
We started this celebration in darkness because darkness is the first movement of the Easter Vigil liturgy. Tonight, the contrast between darkness and light is highlighted in the fire-lighting ritual that is only a preparation for the lighting of the new Paschal Candle which symbolizes the dispelling of our spiritual darkness by Christ, the Risen Lord. The celebrant uses the following two prayers: “Make this new fire holy, and inflame us with new hope”, and then again before the procession into the Church, the presider prays, “May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds”. To underline the dispelling of darkness, our candles flicker to life in the darkness, as we process together singing the “the Light of Christ”. Towards the end of the Easter Praise (the Exultet), we hail the Paschal Candle praying that its light “mingle with the lights of heaven and continue bravely burning to dispel the darkness of this night.”
Tonight, the Church makes use of other liturgical symbols to celebrate the mystery of our salvation. The dramatic symbolism of burial with Christ and rising with him is highlighted in the blessing of the Baptismal Water, when the Paschal Candle is dipped three times into the Baptismal Font. Shortly, we will have the baptism of our candidates for the Sacraments of Initiation. This ritual is a clear expression of that mystery of dying and rising with Christ. Tonight, the message we take home is threefold. 1) Like the women and the disciples in the gospel, like Clavius in the movie Risen our lives can no longer be the same again after encountering the risen Lord. 2) The transforming effect of the resurrection is real. It makes us so convinced witnesses of the risen Lord that our lives touch others people deeply. 3) As St. Augustine in the 4th century said, “we are an Easter People and alleluia is our song!” May this be our song throughout the Easter season. “Christ is rise! He is risen indeed!”
©2016 John S. Mbinda