Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Vigil

“Evening came, and morning followed. . .”
This phrase, along with the refrain “God saw how good it was,”
punctuates the story of creation
found in the opening chapter of the book of Genesis.
And throughout the history of God’s saving work,
by which God seeks to restore and perfect that creation,
we see evening and morning
punctuating the lives of God’s people.

In the book of Exodus, evening comes
as the Israelites camp at the edge of the Red Sea
with the Egyptian armies bearing down upon them,
intent upon their enslavement and destruction.
But God parts the sea for them and they pass over to safety
and as morning comes God closes the sea back,
destroying the Egyptians.
Evening came, and morning followed.

In the book of the prophet Isaiah,
after the long night of exile in Babylon,
the light of God’s love dawns upon the Israelites
as they return to their homeland,
and they are invited: “come to the water. . .
come, receive grain and eat. . . drink wine and milk.”
The night’s long fast is ended as the people of Israel
return to their promised land and its abundant fare.
Evening came, and morning followed.

The word of God comes to Ezekiel,
so that he might speak to God’s people,
to tell them that though they have defiled themselves
with deeds of darkness,
God will cleanse them,
and place within them a new heart and a new spirit,
hearts of living flesh in place of their stony hearts.
The night of God’s wrath
gives way to the light of forgiveness.
Evening came, and morning followed.

Dawn follows sunset,
morning follows evening,
down through history
until we come to that morning when,
“at daybreak on the first day of the week
the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus
took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.”
Day is breaking after what must have seemed to those women
to be one of the longest and darkest nights of their lives.
This is a morning that brings with it no joy, no hope,
but only the sorrowful but necessary task
of preparing the dead body
of the one in whom they had placed all their hopes.
For them, what lies dead in the tomb
is not simply the teacher from Nazareth
but hope itself.
Though the sun may crest the horizon,
and its light fall upon the world,
for these women it seems
that an evening has come
that no morning will follow;
they are dwelling in a darkness of despair
that the sun cannot dispel.

But evening and morning,
darkness and light,
despair and hope:
these are in the hands of God.
As the prophet Baruch reminds us,
God is the one “who dismisses the light, and it departs;
calls it, and it obeys trembling.”
On Easter morning,
at the mouth of an empty tomb,
the women learn what our Exultet proclaims,
that Jesus Christ is “the Morning Star which never sets. . .
that Morning Star, who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all humankind.”
The women learn that Christ is risen from the tomb,
and their hope is risen with him.
Evening came, and morning followed,
and the hope that was resurrected with Christ on Easter morning
is a light that will never set.
As Paul says, “Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more;
death no longer has power over him.”

And we know that this is true
because this history of salvation is our history as well.
The death and resurrection of Christ
is one that we mystically share in baptism.
“If we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also live with him.”
This is the mystery into which Laura will be baptized,
the mystery of Christ’s saving death and resurrection.
This is the mystery that Dan will reaffirm
in his reception into the Church.
Of course, as all of us who are baptized know –
and as Laura no doubt suspects –
after our rebirth in Christ
evening still comes
and morning still follows.
Even for those who have died and been raised with Christ in baptism
there is the daily dying and rising,
an evening and morning,
that remains the fabric of the Christian life.

Yet in the resurrection of Christ God has given us,
like those women at the tomb at daybreak,
a rebirth of hope.
And so we live, with the alternation of
evening and morning,
woe and wellbeing,
sorrow and joy,
but always knowing that Christ’s victory over death
has changed the world forever,
so that even in the darkest night
the light is still with us,
even if we can only see it
with the eyes of faith, hope and love.

“At daybreak on the first day of the week. . . “ –
on the first day,
the day on which God said “let there be light” –
God speaks again:
let the morning of light and life
follow the evening of darkness and death.
Evening has come and morning has followed,
and it is the first day once again:
the victory of light over darkness;
the victory of life over death.
Christ has risen!
Death is defeated!
Let there be light!