Readings: Romans 6:3-11; Luke 24:1-12
The Easter Vigil celebration is not really the proclamation of Jesus' resurrection. Rather it prepares us to experience the empty tomb. Resurrection remains a mystery at the heart of our lives. It is such a mystery that we find it difficult to express it in words. So on this Easter Eve we gather to experience the inexpressible. We do so by drawing on a wealth of images that take us back to our sacred roots.
Images abound in this service. We ring bells to prepare our hearts for resuming the joyous shouts of “Alleluia!”. We have held back that exuberant proclamation of praise during these past forty days. Now we shout it out, all the while ringing our bells proclaiming the good news of the Resurrection. The water of baptism, incense lifting our prayers to God, the Paschal candle, darkness, light.
Perhaps the most obvious image on this night is fire. One of the earliest expressions of mystery for humankind must surely have been that of sacred fire. Dating back more than three hundred thousand years, it was the beginning for us of becoming separated from the animal kingdom, of becoming truly human. It speaks to us from the very depth of our being.
That is no doubt why so many cultures have traditions related to sacred fire. It was sacred to the ancient Celts. The domestic hearth fire was never allowed to die except during the fire festival of Beltane, when it was ritually rekindled from the royal fire. Indeed, the hearth fire was the centre of Celtic family activity. Cooking, eating, storytelling all took place around the fire.
For thousands of years our indigenous people have held council fires. The Sacred Fires are kept from one generation to another, the wisdom passed on by Elders to children and grandchildren. The Elders, who speak the wisdom, are revered and cared for, as they are the very heart of the people.
So tonight we begin this celebration by lighting the new fire. From the fire we light the Paschal candle and then pass the flame from one person to another. We come into the darkness of the church bringing light with us. By its light we tell the story of our faith.
The storytelling too connects us to our sacred roots. We recount the story of creation. We tell how God led the people of Israel out of Egypt. We hear of the people of Israel wandering in the desert, of times of exile, of times of deliverance. We hear the Christian message. “Do you not know,” Paul asks us, “that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” We are reminded that we are new people, focused on new goals, compelled by new motives, committed to new objectives, reborn, free to love and accept ourselves and to dedicate our lives to loving others. It is a fitting time to renew our baptismal covenant, to remember the promises made at our baptism.
The story continues at the empty tomb. The women go to the tomb to see how Jesus' body is laid. They prepare the spices and ointments for his burial. What turmoil is going on within them? So much has happened since they came from Galilee with Jesus. They remember the excitement of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Could it be such a short time ago? How exciting it had been to be in that throng, jostling, joyfully waving palm branches, cheering Jesus on. They had not in any way guessed what the outcome might be. For just as suddenly as the crowd had appeared to wave him on, so they turned against him. The days that followed would always remain a blur. Now he was dead, brutally murdered. His followers felt the terrible emptiness that invariably follows the death of a loved one. The hope they had once felt, was gone.
After the Sabbath, they made their way back to the tomb with the spices they had prepared. But when they arrived at the tomb, to their surprise the stone was rolled away from the entrance. As they entered the tomb, they realized that the body was missing. They no longer had a sense of purpose. As they stood there perplexed, wondering what to do next, they were asked an important question. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
And there in the emptiness of the tomb, they encountered the risen Lord. There was no need to see him. They remembered. They remembered what Jesus had told them; that he would be crucified, and on the third day he would rise again. In remembering, they experienced the joy of the resurrection. In that encounter, their fears and perplexity were gone. They left immediately to tell the eleven of their experience. They became messengers for the risen Lord.
The empty tomb is an image for us at this vigil. It is a symbol to each of us that Christ's resurrection is much more than mere survival. In the resurrection, death has been vanquished. Our destiny is opened up beyond death and the grave. We are able to proclaim: "He is risen! Alleluia!" The Jesus who lived and walked and taught on earth is not in the tomb. He is not to be sought in the far distant past. His saving work is a present reality in the community of believers.
God’s Spirit moves us to faith in the resurrection. We like the holy women at the tomb, discover that Christ is alive in us, through us, and forever. We are able to proclaim: "The Lord is risen! Alleluia! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!"
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