Thoughts for the Easter Vigil

At some point tonight, God raises Jesus high and gives him a name that is above all names.

We light a fire, we light a candle, we light up the church. We sing the great hymn of resurrection joy Rejoice, heavenly powers; sing, choirs of angels. For Jesus Christ is risen. Easter joy bursts from every moment in this Mass, we rejoice with the host of Heaven in the work of salvation brought by God through his Son.

The readings, tonight, take us right from the beginning of time all the way through salvation history. We begin with the beginning of Genesis. There are two stories about the creation of the universe in Genesis, and we read the first one, the one that starts, appropriately enough, in the beginning

In the second reading, we pick up the story with Abraham and the sacrifice he was asked to make. We saw this story a few weeks ago during Lent. Here, the emphasis is on the promise God makes to Abraham at the end of the reading: “All the nations of the Earth will bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.”

Skipping over Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and his coat with long sleeves, the flight of Israel’s sons to Egypt to escape the famine, and 400 years of slavery, we come to the people of God sandwiched between the Red Sea and the army of Pharaoh. God begins by suggesting that his patience is already running thin and the Exodus hasn’t even begun yet “Why do you cry to me so?” He rescues his people from the army, however, and they march through the Red Sea dry-shod. They are free.

But not for long. By the fourth reading, the Israelites are in exile again. Through Isaiah, the Lord addresses the people telling them that his anger is abating and he is making a promise to them as he did in the days of Noah: “the mountains may depart and the hills be shaken, but my love for you will never leave you.”

Isaiah again in the fifth reading: a pastoral poem of God’s desire to nourish his people, to give them all that they need. God calls his people to abandon their wicked ways and return to him, so that he can give them his abundant gifts.

The sixth reading, from Baruch, is from about the same time as Isaiah. Baruch was Jeremiah’s scribe and shared much of Jeremiah’s work. He has been excised from Protestant bibles, but we are able to benefit from his words. He calls the people to wonder what they are doing, being carted off away from the promised land once again. He is sure that the Lord will, once again, call to his people and gather them to him again. Turn back to the Lord and he will call us home.

The final Old Testament reading is addressed, once more, to the House of Israel in exile. Ezekiel is rather more forthright in his criticism than Baruch was. God reminds Israel that they defiled his land and defiled his name. It is for the sake of his name that the Lord will gather up his people. In so doing, he will give a new heart to his people, infuse them with a new spirit. God’s people will live in his land; they will be his people, and he will be their God.

St Paul expounds on the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection. Christ died and, having been risen, can die no more. We join in Christ’s death at our baptism, and die to sin such that our sin no longer has power over us, we are no longer slaves: we are free and we shall share in Christ’s resurrection to be with God in eternity.

The end of Mark’s Gospel is quite sudden. His first words in chapter 1 are “the beginning of the Good News…” At the end, chapter 16, he concludes with an empty tomb, an angel and the women, the first witnesses of the resurrection, stunned into silence. Mark prefers to let the rest of the story live within us, within the life of the church. Jesus is risen, it is up to us to proclaim that to the world. Jesus told the disciples to meet him in Galilee but Mark doesn’t tell us what they found there. He lets them do that for themselves and on, down the generations, through us.

Christ is risen! Alleluia!

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