Saturday, April 4, 2015

Behold, I make all things New

Easter Vigil 2015

Ever since its restoration, you would notice that the baptismal font has become a permanent fixture in the sanctuary. The baptismal font doesn’t merely sit here for the purposes of functional convenience nor is it meant to just “look pretty.” More than anything else, the baptismal font is an abiding reminder of what we once were, what we now are, and what we shall one day yet be. It would also be the focus of our celebrations this evening. If you ever get the chance to come close and have a look at our baptismal font from the top, you would realised that it takes the shape of an octagon. I think that many Malaysians would easily associate the octagonal shape to the Chinese custom of hanging an octagonal shaped mirror above their door post – it serves the dual purpose of warding off evil entities as well as channelling and welcoming good health and fortune. Well, the shape of our baptismal font doesn’t serve the same function. Thank God!

For Jews the number eight symbolised salvation, rebirth and regeneration: eight members of Noah's family were saved in the time of the Great Flood and it was on the eighth day of his life that a male child was circumcised, signifying his entrance into the covenant family of Israel, the chosen people of God.  But for early Christians eighth came to be associated with the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the formation of the New Covenant.  Jesus was raised on the day after the seventh day, which was the Sabbath, making Jesus’ Resurrection on the eighth day. Therefore, Sunday, the first day of the week, is also the day of the New Creation just as the old Creation also began on what is the first day of the week.  St Augustine called Sunday, “the Day of the Lord,” as “an everlasting eighth day.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms the significance of the number 8 for Christians in article # 349: “The eighth day.  But for us a new day has dawned: the day of Christ's Resurrection.  The seventh day completes the first creation.  The eight day begins the new creation.  Thus, the work of creation culminates in the greater work of redemption.  The first creation finds its meaning and its summit in the new creation in Christ, the splendour of which surpasses that of the first creation.”

Indeed for us, a new day has dawned – the day of Christ’s Resurrection. Therefore, everything about this Vigil points to the fact that Easter is the feast of the new creation. The resurrection is the sign, among many other things, that God’s new creation has begun, that the future has come bursting into the present. Jesus is risen and dies no more. He has opened the door to a new life, one that no longer knows illness and death. He has taken mankind up into God himself. A new dimension has opened up for mankind. Creation has become greater and broader. Easter Day ushers in a new creation, but that is precisely why the Church starts the liturgy on this day in darkness, and beginning with the lighting of the new Paschal Candle, all of us in the Church are soon swimming in a sea of lights. It is as if we hear the word God, spoken once again on the first day of creation, “Let there be Light! And there was Light!”

After the darkness of Good Friday, we now witness the light of this new creation. At Easter, on the morning of the first day of the week, God said once again: “Let there be light”. The night on the Mount of Olives, the solar eclipse of Jesus’ passion and death, the night of the grave had all passed. Now it is the first day once again — creation is beginning anew. “Let there be light”, says God, “and there was light”: Jesus rises from the grave. Life is stronger than death. Good is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Truth is stronger than lies. The darkness of the previous days is driven away the moment Jesus rises from the grave and himself becomes God’s pure light. With the resurrection of Jesus, light itself is created anew. He draws all of us after him into the new light of the resurrection and he conquers all darkness. He is God’s new day for all of us.

But the resurrection of Christ has not only brought about a new day with its new light. We too have become a new creation. How did this come about? Through the sacrament of baptism and the profession of faith, the Lord has built a bridge across to us, through which the new day reaches us. The Lord says to the newly-baptised: Fiat lux — let there be light. God’s new day — the day of indestructible life, comes also to us. Christ takes you by the hand. From now on you are held by him and walk with him into the light, into real life.

Baptism is something quite different from an act of ecclesial socialisation, from a slightly old-fashioned and complicated rite for receiving people into the Church. It is more than becoming part of a community. Baptism is also more than a simple washing, more than a kind of purification and beautification of the soul. It is a new birth. A new beginning in life. It is a new creation! It is truly death and resurrection, rebirth, transformation to a new life. Therefore, in baptism we experience what St Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me!” St Paul can say this with so much conviction because in Baptism we give ourselves over to Christ — he takes us unto himself, so that we no longer live for ourselves, but through him, with him and in him; so that we live with him and thus for others.

Baptism, then, makes us new creatures, it bestows on us the blessings promised to Abraham, it releases us from the slavery of sin and brings us into new life, it brings us into the new wedding covenant between God and his people redeemed in Christ, it quenches our spiritual thirst for God, it gives the wisdom that enlightens our path to God, it purifies us and gives us a new heart and a new spirit, it crucifies our old self and our sinful body and raises us up from the dead, and, finally, it is our share in Christ’s death, in his victory over death and in his resurrection.

This is the joy of the Easter Vigil: we are reminded that in baptism, we have become a new creation, freed from all the deficiencies and limitations that have marred the old creation. In the Resurrection of Jesus, we witness the triumph of the new over the old. We witness how love has been shown to be stronger than death, stronger than evil. Love made Christ descend, and love is also the power by which he ascends; the power by which he brings us with him.

On this night, let us give thanks to God for His Creation, for His Faithfulness, for His Mercy and His Love.  It is a time to rejoice in the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection to New Life, and that somehow, through Baptism, we share in that amazing New Life.  It is a time for some of us to be baptised, and for the rest of us to “renew our Baptismal Promises.” But for all us, let today be a reminder of what we once were – trapped in sin and darkness, what we now are – new creatures and adopted sons and daughters of God, and what we shall one day yet be – co-sharers in eternal glory of the saints in heaven. Today, is a day of new beginnings, not just for those who will be baptised, but for all of us, who will get an opportunity to renew our baptismal promises. That which is “new” will always remain “new” until the very end. As St John Capistrano, whose feast we celebrated a week ago, said with utmost conviction, “The Lord who made the beginning, will take care of the finish”.   Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) Lord, give us eyes to see this!

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