The Easter Vigil is the night of “keeping vigil” for the Lord. “Vigil” means “keeping watch” – being “on the look-out” – “looking for” the Lord. We light our Easter candles to be like the faithful servants who wait with lighted lamps, looking for the Lord when he returns, so that at his coming he may find them awake and have them sit at his table. In the extended Liturgy of the Word for this celebration, we hear the story of our salvation and reflect on the wonders the Lord has done for us from the beginning. We see how all of history finds its fulfillment in Christ, is preparing us for Christ, and pointing us to Christ. We see how God keeps his promises in unexpected ways. What we need to know and to see more than ever at this time is that we are part of this story. We are part of the chosen people – a people on a journey together. We are part of a story – a narrative – in which the Lord is the author and we are active participants. We are on a journey of fulfillment – with the Lord and to the Lord. It is a story of salvation – our salvation. We have a history and a future. Why is this important for us to see? Because without this understanding and perspective, we cannot face reality. We become mere bystanders in life. It is easy then to disengage or be afraid of the circumstances of life, or to think that we are just here accidentally. Everything that is happening today is part of that story of salvation, and, therefore, has a meaning and a purpose. God does not will a bad thing to happen to punish us or even to rescue us to prove that he exists. Rather, he responds to the bad things that are the result of the Fall and human sin in a way that brings about our salvation in an unexpected and surprising way. He works good out of evil. And this changes the way we even look at the bad things in our life. As we heard in the Easter proclamation, “O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!” Our prayer at this time that has awakened our deep need for salvation, opens our hearts so that the Lord may complete the paschal work of salvation in our lives today.
We renew our baptismal promises this night because baptism is the event in which God took us to himself, chose us as his own, and incorporated us into the story of salvation and united us to the saving event of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, his Son. At baptism, we entered into that mystery and the life of God entered into us so that the work of salvation can play out in our lives. In baptism, an unbreakable bond is formed in us that is stronger than sin and death, and this belonging to to Christ generates in us a new life. St. Paul reminds the Romans of this fact: “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” What defined Christ is that “he lives for God”. Consequently, says Paul, because of the fact of our baptism into Christ, we too must think of ourselves as living for God in Christ Jesus. Our life has a purpose and a direction.
The announcement of the resurrection, as we hear in the Gospel, is, “Do not be afraid!” What defines these women who become witnesses of the Resurrection is that even in the face of death, they seek Jesus. The promise is that if we go where Jesus asks us to go, we will see him. He goes before us. He has walked this path before us, opening a way for us, and returning to accompany us on the journey. The invitation of Jesus is always, “come, follow me.” Jesus met the women on their way and greeted them.
Who are the people in your life that seek the Lord and witness to his resurrection in the way they live these circumstances? A friend of mine is the director of a parish outreach center that serves food and provides services for the poor. In this situation, most of the elderly volunteers at the center as well as the volunteers with school-aged children are staying home. So she is left operating with just a small skeleton crew when their services are in even greater demand. What she observed is that the need to live the life of Christ that we’ve been given is enormous. People, otherwise restricted by these circumstances, are finding creative ways to give and to serve. She’s found bags of groceries and packs of diapers at her front door and donation checks taped to the statue of Our Lady in her garden. People who would normally prepare meals and bring them in are ordering meals from local restaurants and having them delivered. In the midst of darkness, life and love is bursting through. This skeleton crew doing the work Christ has asked them to do is seeing Christ appear before their eyes “in the flesh.” Like the women in the Gospel, they experience a certain fear yet at the same time are overjoyed by the Presence they recognize. My friend said that she feels chosen by Christ and surprised by this new life in her. But she also said that she and the other women need to say “yes” every day to Christ’s invitation in order to walk this path and for their life to be renewed.
My friends, as we face these challenging circumstances, may we be renewed in the grace of our baptism, seek the Lord always, and be not afraid. We are part of God’s story, and it is a journey to life. May we go where the Lord is asking us to go, because saying “yes” to his call is how that story comes to fulfillment in our life. Happy Easter!