Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Light which dispels all Darkness

Easter Vigil 2016

In the pre-liturgy darkness that seems impenetrable, we, the faithful, gather. It was only yesterday, but seems like a lifetime, since we joined our voices with the blood-thirsty crowds and have asked for Barabbas to be set free, and the preacher from Nazareth to hang on a cross.  The most sedate pacifist could be transformed by a frenzied mob to do the unthinkable. What hope could there be for us, for our world?  The darkness is overwhelming and pervasive. But then, a tiny spark jumps in the darkness and a flame catches.  More than a sentimental, nostalgic pyre upon which to toast marshmallows, this is the Great Easter Fire. As it casts a light that is much brighter than its size, for the first time we hear the words, “The Light of Christ!   Thanks be to God!”   As the flame is passed and the light grows, so too does the acclamation rise in crescendo, “The Light of Christ! Thanks be to God!” and the surrounding gloomy darkness is vanquished in an ocean of light. “It is true: In the solemn Easter Vigil, darkness becomes light, night gives way to the day that knows no sunset.” (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI)

This is the night, says the Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation which was intoned at the beginning of this liturgy. This is the night which contains all nights, all time, and the night by which all nights are changed. A re-enactment of creation, when God’s word named light in the darkness, and light was. When the morning stars sang together for joy at the overflow of life. A re-enactment of the night when God led a terrified band of slaves through dark water to freedom. When the bones stood up in the vision of the prophet, bone to its bone. When persons orphaned and alienated by sin are now reconnected and adopted by God as His children. The Elect waiting their baptism would soon witness this in the person.

For the one impossible thing has happened. We have come to the place of death, and found life. For this is not simply the story of a man restored to physical existence, not a resuscitation, a “miracle” of science. This is the story of God in our flesh, the light which spoke light into being, the wisdom which danced at creation, making that final, that culminating, move into the last place of loss, into darkness and death and abandonment, and making it no longer that place, but a vast space of freedom and possibility. God in our flesh has gone into death. God has gone, to use the old language, right down to the depth of Hell, and brought us up again; and as when a light comes into a room, the darkness can no longer be darkness but must be light, so death is now the great unbounded space of life.

In the words of the famous Easter homily by the fifth-century preacher John Chrysostom: “Hell is angered because it has been frustrated, it is angered because it has been mocked, it is angered because it has been destroyed, it is angered because it has been reduced to naught, it is angered because it is now captive. It seized a body, and, lo! it encountered heaven.” It is astonishing language. And we have pledged ourselves to this language, to this story; to the assertion that this is what lies at the core of reality. We have pledged ourselves to live in this light, to tell this story, to live as if love is stronger than death.

But what does it mean, here in a world where darkness has by no means vanished, where death is very real, and love often seems to be lost or wasted or destroyed? Everyday, we seem to be bombarded by news from the media reminding us of the seemingly all prevailing problem of evil and its many manifestations. Sometimes it can feel like little has changed – there is so much injustice, so much self-centredness, so much that is wrong in our society and in our world that we sometimes fail to see the bigger picture. Our hearts this Easter continue to be anxious and distressed because we find ourselves in one of the biggest economic slumps in recent history, literally, a Great Depression. We continue to witness the continuation in various parts of the world of war, social tensions, persecution and genocide of Christians and the painful hardships in which so many people find themselves. We are all seeking an answer that will reassure us. Easter offers us the answer which can calm our fears and reinvigorate our hope.

So, why do we gather every year to re-enact and to recall this great moment in the history of man, in the history of salvation? T.S. Eliot’s lines in Little Gidding, “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” And so we read the legend of creation, and we read the story of Israel’s defining historical memory, and we read the stories of the Gospels over and over, repeating them year by year, asking them to grow into us, asking us to work with them, find new meanings, new understandings, and new language. But they are not only stories. They speak of the reality which is often hidden behind the veil of darkness, human depravity and despair. But today, the lie will be exposed whilst Truth will be revealed in all its glory.

When Jesus died on the Cross on the dark mountain, he entered the very depths of human destitution and degradation. Calvary means there is no dark corner that Jesus has not entered. This is good news for us, because it means no corner of our heart or of the world is unredeemed or unredeemable. The story does not end with Good Friday. The climax of the tale is Easter - when he rises from the dead, Jesus transfigures every darkness, even the darkness of death. Christ has trounced the enemy called death. He has vanquished his foes, seizing bright hope through the darkness of the tomb! Dying, he secures our salvation. Rising, he seals our liberation. After his resurrection, there is no darkness that cannot become light. The powers of darkness remain real, but we now have the choice to die in the dark or live in the light. To choose the light is what it means to be an Easter people. It’s also what it means to be truly human.

The wonder of the resurrection is upon us once more. May we embrace God's ever-new life with every cell of our being, every yearning of our soul, and every muscle of our will. There is no denying that there is evil in this world but the light will always conquer the darkness. Yes, the dark night of our existence will be vanquished by the coming dawn. Death will be defeated by its ancient foe, life. The Devil will finally throw in his towel with the victory of God’s champion, Our Lord Jesus Christ. This is what Easter is all about! “In the solemn Easter Vigil, darkness becomes light, night gives way to the day that knows no sunset!” “Alleluia! Alleluia! Christ is Risen, Indeed He is Risen! Alleluia!”

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