This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. I want to, for myself and I know for Father Mech, for Father Deters, I want to wish all of you a very blessed Easter, and I especially offer my congratulations to the catechumens who are soon to be reborn in the water of baptism. Your presence with us, our sharing in your baptism tonight, is certainly one of the great graces of our presence together for this Easter Vigil.
In the liturgy, there’s a certain sense that the people of God, the congregation, is gathered in a certain place, a kind of a station, standing at a particular position. So that as the liturgical year moves through its cycle, the differentiation of feast days and holy days, it’s always the same mass, but we look at them, we celebrate from a different perspective through the year. We really in that sense stand in a particular place.
We celebrate the mysteries of Advent and Christmas, Ascension and Pentecost, saints days, and holy week like this week. And each day in the liturgy there’s singled out one saving deed or a set of saving deeds God has performed, and that’s what we celebrate. It’s part of where we stand, where we’re stationed. And there’s a special grace given at each station. All of the past and future gifts that Jesus won by those saving deeds are made present, offered here and now on the liturgy of Christmas or Ascension or Pentecost.
See the sacraments are mysteries in that way. Through these actions today, sacramental actions, Christ brings the past and the future to the present. And we’re there. And what I’ve said about the liturgical ecology is true particularly in the sacred Triduum. On Thursday evening here, those of us who were gathered received especially graces that came from the upper room. We were stationed there if you will. And on Good Friday, where were we stationed? At Calvary. Mystically there, through the liturgy. Present for the gifts that God wanted to give us from the cross.
And tonight, our special station is in the night itself. To be on watch. Perhaps to be in prayer at the very hour when Jesus rose from the slab of his tomb in the garden grave. The Exultet that the deacon sang makes this point very clear. You remember, he sang ‘This is the night when Christ broke the prison bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld’ — not that was the night. What a great night was that. This is the night of the Father’s grace, a truly blessed night. This night, when we stand on watch. Because as the Exultet says, that blessed night was the one worthy alone to know the time and the hour when Christ rose from the underworld.
No one saw Christ rise except the night itself. And so our vigil, our being in prayer in the nighttime stations us on watch to receive our portion of the great graces of the Lord’s Resurrection. And what we receive, now, at this hour, in the night, is even yet more marvelous because on this night, all the graces that were foreshadowed by Christ’s rising, all of the things that anticipated and predicted this night were made present. What we heard about in the third reading, the escape of the Israelites from Egypt, passing dry shod through the Red Sea — that grace is given this night. That’s what the deacon sang, “This is the night, when once you led our forbearers, Israel’s children, from slavery in Egypt and made them pass dry shod through the sea.” Mystically, sacramentally, tonight this happens because we’re on watch tonight.
This is the night that with a pillar of fire he banished the darkness of sin because this is the night when Christ rose from the dead, and in Christ rising from the dead the Exodus and the pillar of fire have reached their truth, their fulfillment.
You heard in the last reading from the New Testament Ezekiel prophesy that there would come a time when the children of Israel would return from exile and by a sprinkling of clean water be given clean hearts and clean spirits. The covenant would be renewed. This is the night when that prophesy is fulfilled. In this night. Because it is by the death and rising of Jesus that the new covenant is established. As the deacon sang, the sanctifying power of this night, Easter night, vigil night, dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty. Now don’t you all want to be awake when that happens?
This is the night! And what we heard about in the first reading, the account of the creation of the world by God — that was a promise. A promise about this night. Because it says in the book of Genesis that God rested on the 7th day. And that resting reached its fulfillment and its truth when Jesus was resting in the tomb on the 7th day. And on the 8th day, in this night, God rose from the dead and began to remake the world even better than when he looked at it and saw that it was good. Because now the world is a new creation. A lump of clay that was the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth is risen from the dead and filled with God’s glory, and the world is more splendid than it was on the day it came fresh from the hand of God. And so to, we, lumps of clay that we are, we have been baptized and are filled with the spirit of God. And we will rise from the dead. And that’s the grace of this night — to celebrate and know this truth. Because we have been baptized — and you will be baptized along with us. We have been confirmed, filled with the Holy Spirit — and you will be confirmed as we are. And we have the Eucharist, Christ our Passover sacrifice, the eating of whose flesh and the drinking of whose blood makes us immortal. Because in this night, seen only by the dark of night itself, he rose from the dead.
And so I suggest then that it’s time for us to ask ourselves the question that the angels put to Mary Magdalen, Joanna and Mary the mother of James when they came to the tomb: Why are you looking for the living among the dead? We are the possessors of all of these great graces that come from the Resurrection. And yet is it not the case — it’s certainly the case for me and I’m not all that different from you, I’m sure — is it no the case that we continue to stumble from time to time and look for life where there’s only death? But the living one is Jesus Christ. And so tonight he invites us to renew our confidence in him and in the power of this night and in the gifts he gives us in this night, this sacred night.
You catechumens, I will ask you what you reject and what you believe. And in doing that you will give the Church, me, this assembly, your answer about what you think and where you are looking for life. And we praise God that you have this faith. And then there will come a moment when — because in some sense the Easter Vigil is everybody’s baptism holiday, anniversary — I will ask all of you to renew your baptismal promises. And that’s a way to say, “I know where I will look for life from now on — not among the dead, but to Jesus Christ, the living One. He is my life.” And that is only a preparation. For then comes the consummating moment of this night. Because we will celebrate the Passover sacrifice. Christ risen from the dead will be made present on the altar through the descent of the Holy Spirit. And we will join him in offering himself to the father, and then he will be our Passover banquet. And by this we will once more be fully reconciled to God our Father and the Christ life will be reignited and enflamed within us. And we will have strength to unleash the Gospel. Strength to share this truth with the world that is looking — in the cemetery, among the dead, among useless things, dead things — for life. And we will announce to the world that Christ is life, immortal life, victorious life. And indeed, then, what the deacon sang will be true — we will in this night live what is written. That the night shall be as bright as day, dazzling that night for us, this night, full of Grace.
This is the day — this is the night — the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.