Last Saturday I served the Easter Vigil at my parish in Chesapeake, Virginia. As we began, the new flame, representing the Light of Jesus Christ, was lit outside.
Then, I joined Catholic Deacons around the world in carrying that Paschal candle into the dark sanctuary proclaiming The Light of Christ in an ancient and beautiful chant. The faithful drew light from that new Paschal candle inside a dark church and spread it to one another.
The entire sanctuary was soon clothed in light as, one by one, men and women and children received the one light from the Paschal Candle which symbolizes Jesus Christ, the Light of the World.
The symbolism speaks of our mission as Christians in the world. Candle by candle, the light of the Resurrection illuminates the world around us as He who is the Light of the World fills it with His radiance.
As the Liturgy progressed, Deacons around the world sung that ancient hymn of the Church which captures the depth of the mystery we celebrate on Easter, the Exultet, Here is the beginning:
Exult, let them exult, the hosts of heaven. Exult, let Angel ministers of God exult. Let the trumpet of salvation sound aloud our mighty Kings triumph! Be glad let earth be glad as glory floods her. Ablaze with light from her eternal King, let all corners of the earth be glad, knowing an end to gloom and darkness. Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of His glory, let this Holy Building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples!
The words to this ancient hymn offer us deep insights from the early Church into the meaning of what is called the Paschal mystery – the saving conception, nativity, life, death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ.
The Easter Vigil Liturgy readings walk us through creation, salvation history, and the new creation in Jesus Christ. The Hebrew Scriptures and then the New Testament unfold for us the great plan of a loving God. The Father who loves us did not leave us in sin – but sent His only Son into the world to save us. Jesus has set us free from the chains of sin and the ravages of death!
God still loves the world He created. (John 3:16)
He still sends His Son, Jesus Christ, through the Church, His Body, of which we have all become members by our Baptism. We now live in the Church and go into the world in order to bring all men and women back home to the Church, which is the new world. Christians are not just saved from (sin and death), but saved for a New Way of Living. We are saved for participation in the ongoing ministry of Jesus Christ.
The redemptive mission of the Lord Jesus Christ continues!
This world which God created in love, through the Word, is now being re-created from within – through the Word which was made flesh. Through His Incarnation – the Saving Life, Death and Resurrection of that Word made Flesh – everything begins again, transformed by grace. That includes each one of us who bear the name, Christian.
Jesus Christ is Lord! The One whom the Scriptures proclaim as the first born of a new creation has burst forth from the tomb to begin the New Creation.
Throughout the world, the elect, those prepared through instruction in the faith for Baptism and the Easter sacraments, were Baptized, Confirmed and received the Holy Eucharist; the three Sacraments of initiation.
Then, the candidates, Christians of other communities, whose Baptism the Holy Catholic Church already recognizes, have been prepared for the Sacraments of Confirmation and Eucharist, and are incorporated into the full communion of the Catholic Church.
We are all joined together now, in the Risen Body of the One who conquers death and bathes the world in light! This beautiful Liturgy calls all who are present to renew their own baptism and give themselves afresh to the Lord Jesus Christ in an evangelical encounter.
The Joy of Easter
Joy fills Christians during this celebration. With the eyes of living faith, we witness the power of God, mediated through the Sacraments. Through the saving waters of Baptism, the pouring of the Oil of Chrism and the reception of the most Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we see and experience Jesus continuing His ministry among us.
The cold hearts of many faithful are set ablaze in the great Easter Flame. In parishes around the world as the baptized came out of those saving waters, the entire Church erupts with Easter joy. As our priests and Bishops confirm them, pouring the Sacred Chrism on their Head – we are all reminded of the utter beauty and treasure of our own Christian faith!
The celebration of these Easter mysteries always make the meaning of life so clear. I am profoundly moved by the beauty of the ancient yet ever new Catholic Christian faith as it is expressed in its Liturgical fullness during the Easter Vigil Liturgy.
Jesus Christ is Alive!
These new brothers and sisters we welcome into the Church know that Jesus Christ is not dead. They know that He has been raised from the dead and lives among us. That He walks among us now, in His Body, the Church. That gives Himself in love for the sake of the world. Do we know this?
With hearts open to the Holy Spirit, we can know, deeply within us that nothing can separate us from that Love incarnated in the Crucified, Risen Son of the True and Living God. The light which filled that once dark cave fills the entire world with hope. The debt has been paid, the last enemy death has been defeated. Hell itself has been conquered.
The captives have been liberated, Love has triumphed. Heavens gates have been opened wide. Jesus is Alive! Those who stand at the Altar of the Cross, in the light of the empty tomb, believing in His promise, shall live forever in Him, beginning now.
The Octave of Easter
With the Mass of Easter day we begin the Octave of Easter. Eight days of feasting on the readings which Holy Mother Church sets out on the table of the Ambo – and receiving the Risen One in the most Holy Eucharist. We are invited to become what we hear and consume.
We hear the marvelous post Resurrection accounts in the Gospels. We follow the extraordinary change which occurred in the early Apostles – as the power of this Resurrection fashioned them into a living witness for the faith. We are reminded of our own calling to be the disciples of Jesus today!
The Easter Season
We celebrate Easter for fifty days – until we celebrate the next great Feast, the Feast of Pentecost. Alleluias will permeate our worship. They are meant to inform our lives. That is because, in the words of the great western Church Bishop, Augustine, We are an Easter people and alleluia is our song.
Everything is different now because that Tomb is empty. We have been raised up with Jesus Christ. We have been made capable, by grace, through faith in the power of the Resurrection, to begin living our lives in a new way – beginning right now!
Have you heard the old adage, He is so heavenly he is no earthly good. I suggest it misses the mark. We are called to be so heavenly – to live our lives so attractively – that we bring Goodness Himself to the earth and move the earth toward its eternal recreation in Him.
Easter is more than a day; it is a way of living our lives in Jesus Christ, and with one another, for the sake of the world.
Because Jesus has been raised!
Heaven has come to earth and earth can now come to heaven. Because He has been raised, the new creation has already begun. The seed of the kingdom is manifested in the Church which is His Risen Body, the sign of the new heaven and new earth.
His Church is the Holy Place of Habitation where all men and women can be set free from the Law of sin and death. In that Church, we live and graze, being fed on His Word and nourished on His Body and Blood, healed by His Oil of Mercy and prepared for eternity.
As we follow Peter and John, whose story we hear proclaimed in our Gospel lesson for Easter Sunday Liturgy, we witness the power of the Resurrection at work in the lives of ordinary men and women who become extraordinary by living their lives in Him.
No longer afraid, these witnesses of the Resurrection, in the words of the Acts of the Apostles, turn the world upside down with their preaching. They became so configured to the Lord that they lived and died like Him, for the sake of the world which is being re-born now, because he has been raised.
So we are reminded that we can turn our own world upside down, right now, today, because the Resurrection makes all things new, beginning now! The implications of the Resurrection unfolded for them as they reflected on His saving life and death and yielded to the work of the Holy Spirit in their own lives.
More than a Day, a Way
They lived a New Way.
So can we – as we come to realize that Easter is more than a day, it is a way. Time became for them a tutor, no longer a tyrant. They learned its lessons at the school of faith. Because the sting of death, sin, had been defeated, death was no longer to be feared but became for them a portal into eternal life and communion with the One who has been raised.
So it is meant to be for each of us who now bear His Name. We are witnesses to the same Resurrection. Time invites us into a field of choice where we can progress in freedom and become configured to Jesus Christ, every day of our lives. The key is encountering Jesus.
He awaits us, daily. The Victorious One whose Holy Resurrection we are celebrating, has taken up residence within us and wants to live in us as we learn to live in Him. He wants to live his life through us, reaching out to a world that is waiting to be born again! We are His messengers and missionaries.
Easter is more than a Day, it is a Way; A Way of living our lives differently now in Him because we have been set free. We are invited to do that by living them daily in His Church. The Church is His Body. The Church is the new world, the world in the course of transfiguration. That world created through Him out of love, but which was lost due to sin, is now being made new!
He came among us and began creation anew. That is why we celebrate this Feast of Feasts. Death has been defeated by His Saving Death. In His Resurrection, we now live no more to die. Darkness has been scattered by the Light which still breaks forth from that empty tomb and is meant to infuse our daily lives with the radiance of Resurrected love.
Live the Easter Way! The Same Holy Spirit which Transformed the Early Church Can Transform You – and me – and all who Yes to the invitation of Jesus Christ the Lord. Let it happen and watch what the Risen Lord can do in you and through you, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Easter is more than a day. It is a Way. Choose to Live it today!
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.