In the 2016 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 (played by 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 without a trace. 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 had supervised the crucifixion and so he knew exactly what Jesus looked like. When he finally discovers the Upper Room where the disciples were hiding, Clavius is shocked to see Yeshua the man he had seen die on the Cross right there, showing the marks of nails on his hands and the wound on his side. Clavius becomes an eye witness to Jesus' resurrection just as the disciples are. At first, he is skeptical of the resurrection, but 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. On the eve of the Ascension, Clavius is completely transformed by his personal encounter with the risen Lord. On his way home at a guest house, Clavius removes his Roman ring (his worldly symbol of power and authority), telling the innkeeper, "I believe, I can never be the same!"
Tonight, the women going to anoint the body of Jesus, are shocked on finding 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 the women from not believing to faith in the resurrection, confirmed that evening by the appearances of the risen Lord. The experience of the resurrection touches everyone who encounters the risen Lord. 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 prayer before the procession into the Church: “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 walk in procession together singing the “the Light of Christ”.
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 dying and rising with Christ. Tonight, dear friends, the message we take home is threefold. 1) Like the women and the disciples in the gospel, like Clavius the Roman soldier in the movie Risen, our lives can no longer be the same again after encountering the risen Lord. 2) The transforming power 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!”
©John S. Mbinda