My dear sisters and brothers, the last time the Church gathered was to enter into the celebration of the Lord’s Passion, yesterday, on Good Friday. Along with our brothers and sisters in faith all over the world, we left the church yesterday in silence. We had listened to the telling of Jesus’ suffering and death. In awe of its magnitude we went forward to touch the wood of the cross in veneration; as we touched the cross with our hands, in our hearts we adored Jesus who saved us by the total giving of himself, this perfect sacrifice offered to God. Jesus’ body was laid in the tomb and the darkness of night came upon us.
We gathered again tonight and began our worship surrounded by the darkness. I don’t know how this experience affects you, but when the last of the lights are put out in the church and total darkness immerses us, it is always makes me feel uneasy. We cannot see and so we lose our sense of being in control. The blackness hems us in and confines us in a way. We are uncomfortable. And then the light of that one candle enters and everything changes. The light changes everything. Soon the whole church is filled with light and we have a sense of joy, and liberation, yes even a sense of salvation.
The first reading of the Word of God in this solemn Easter Vigil also begins in the dark. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.”When I listen to these words, and this description of this vast darkness, everything covered with the dark turbulent waters, the earth a formless void, everything swirling in a black chaos, I feel the immensity of this dramatic image.
And I find it unsettling: here I see expressed all the darkness that is found in our human lives: all the chaos that upsets our lives and inflicts us with fear and hopelessness, all the disorder that causes so much pain, all the meaninglessness that brings about despair and heart-break, all the fear that imprisons us and robs us of our freedom. This dark chaos has deep roots touching our very beginnings.
Then God speaks His Word: “Let there be light”; and there was light. The darkness was dissipated and out of the dark chaos came the harmony of creation, and with creation life and a deep friendship with God for the people who were the summit of all that was created. It is a powerful story of transformation: from darkness to light, from chaos to the beauty of the cosmos, from pain to joyful life, from meaninglessness to knowing our true identity and our future – we are God’s people and our future is life with God in all its fullness forever.
We know well that our first parents destroyed this creation with their rejection of God’s love. Darkness entered the world again and once more people were afflicted with chaos and pain, meaningless and fear and above all, death became a part of what it means to be human. And now our future was the dust of death.
But once more God spoke His Word, a word that said again “Let there be light.” And that Word became flesh – Jesus, Son of God, Son of Mary. And Jesus was the light of the world which drove out again the darkness that fills our lives with pain and fear and he conquered the darkness, he overcame death and has given to us the light of life. And so we began this Vigil of Easter with the light of one candle dispelling the darkness of the night and we proclaimed Jesus as the light of our lives. We sang: “The Light of Christ.” And in gratitude we joyful responded: “Thanks be to God.” “Thank you God!”
The battle that Jesus waged with the powers of darkness was also a battle with death itself. The light that fills this night is the bright promise that our future is not to end in the dust of death but in eternal life. We will live forever with God. As we stood on Good Friday and heard the telling of Jesus entering into death, we were aware that by his death he destroyed the power of death over us and by his rising from the dead he has given eternal life to all who believe in him.
This is the reason why we are Catholic Christians. Do people ever ask you “Why are you a Catholic?”, “why are you a Christian?” I get asked that. And the reason I give is that I have only one life, and I don’t want that life to have no meaning or purpose. I don’t want to live my whole life and have it end in the dust of death, in the nothingness of eternal death.
To use the images we have seen tonight, I don’t want my life ruled by chaos and darkness. I don’t want my life to be meaningless with no purpose. I am sure that in one way or another all of us who are here tonight share that desire.
And we also share a belief. I am a Catholic, a Christian and I believe in Jesus who said:“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”So I follow him in my life. When I do that I find meaning for my life. I believe, as you do, in Jesus, that Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.” And I know what my future is. I know that my life will not end in nothingness but in the fullness of eternal life because I will share in the resurrection of Jesus. And I am not alone in those beliefs. They are beliefs all of us who believe in Jesus hold.
That is why, as a part of this great celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord, we celebrate the sacrament of baptism. People continue today to see in Jesus the light and the life for themselves. People continue to be drawn to Jesus for the fullness of life he holds out to them. Jesus who is our light and our life calls us to be one with him. This oneness with Jesus, this being united with Jesus takes place when we are baptized. Baptism fills us with the life of the Risen Jesus and makes us members of his body, the Church.
St. Paul spoke about that in the words we listened to in the Epistle of this Mass. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life...For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
In the waters of Baptism we are united with Jesus and buried with him as the water pours over us. We are reborn and become a new creation and rise from the waters of the baptismal font with the life of the Risen Jesus shining within us. At Confirmation we receive the fullness of God’s life in the Holy Spirit and in Communion that new life is nourished in us with the very body and blood of our Risen Saviour.
How much God has loved us do this for us. We can be so grateful to God for these wondrous gifts. How truly we can pray again the prayer we used on Good Friday, the words of Psalm 18, offering it in praise of God, our Father, in praise of Jesus, God’s Son and in praise of the Holy Spirit who pours into us the life breath of God:“I love you God, my strength, my rock, my shelter, my stronghold.” Amen.