The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night
“Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified, has been raised.” First Reading: Gn 1:1 - 2:2 – “God looked at everything He had made, and He found it very good.” Responsorial Psalm: Ps 104:1-2, 5-6, 10, 12, 13-14, 24, 35 – “Lord, send out Your Spirit, and renew the face of the earth.” Second Reading: Ex 14:15 - 15:1 – “The Israelites marched on dry land through the midst of the sea." Responsorial Psalm: Ex 15:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 17-18 – “Let us sing to the Lord; He has covered Himself in glory.” Third Reading: Ez 36:16-17a, 18-28 – “I shall sprinkle clean water upon you and I shall give you a new heart." Responsorial Psalm: Ps 42:3, 5; 43:3, 4– “Like a deer that longs for running streams, my soul longs for You, my God.” Epistle: Rom 6:3-11 – “Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more". Responsorial Psalm: Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23 – “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia” Gospel: Mk 16:1-7 – “Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified, has been raised.” Communion Antiphon: 1 Cor 5:7-8 – “Christ, our Passover has been sacrificed; therefore let us keep the feast with the unleavened bread of purity and truth, alleluia.” First, on behalf of myself, as well as the staff of both the Parish and Saint Michael the Archangel Regional School, I’d like to welcome all of you to the beginning of our celebration of Easter, here at the Parish of Saint Michael the Archangel. Tonight as we celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord, this first liturgy of Easter and all those we will celebrate in the coming 50 days should lead us to believe that God loves us with such power that we are free to live our lives in response to that love. And let me begin by saying that the women were amazed … in other words, they didn’t believe what they saw. That is the bottom line, the last word, of the Gospel reading tonight. Amazement or fear may seem a strange way to close out all of these wonderful readings and the statement I just made about the power of God’s unconditional love, but perhaps fear is that touch of realism needed to bring us back from the incense and the bells to the real world. After all, the real world seems made for fear. A year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic kept us from celebrating most of Lent, the Triduum, and Easter in a church … any church. Add to that the Black Lives Matter movement, the economy, elections, the environment, terrorism, war, immigration, health care and abortion, gangs and drugs—both how to deal with illegal ones, and how to pay for the medicines and treatments so many so desperately need, the protection of children, the homeless on our streets, and a dozen other things challenge us with the gaping darkness of empty tombs. If there is anything the real world appears to provide in abundance for the whole human race, it is fear. Like those first disciples, we must decide what to do with our fear at the empty tomb. That decision is never easy. But this Easter Vigil, Easter Sunday, and the entire Easter Season invites us to make a leap of faith. If you are still here now, after all those readings, you are probably at this Mass because of faith and not by accident. Maybe you are here to receive your first Holy Communion and to be Confirmed, or to sponsor or support someone who is doing those things. The wait may seem to be getting long, but you have faith that something wonderful is coming along soon. Our wait may seem long, but think of all that God has done while we were waiting. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth,… God said, “Let there be light,” … God said, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation,” … God said, “Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures.” We get to see the stars, smell the flowers and hear the birds. God promised Abraham, “In your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing.” In Abraham’s descendant Jesus of Nazareth, that blessing extends to all of us. As we heard in the readings and during the Exsultet, God rescued His people Israel, leading them through water to escape their bondage, a foreshadowing of the waters of Baptism, which set us, God’s people, too, free from our bondage to sin. When God’s people despaired, God sent the prophet Isaiah to promise them and us, “My love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken.” We know the presence of the Holy Spirit as the sign of that love and covenant. When God’s people sinned, God sent the prophet Ezekiel to promise them and us, “I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you.” God is with us! Now is the time … this is the hour. What God has promised, God has done. The stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty. We are all standing before an empty tomb. So now we have to decide in this time … in this present moment … we have to decide for ourselves where we are in life … as children going to school … as young adults ready to make our own marks on the world … as those who have raised their families and are enjoying retirement … as those who many be suffering with the challenges of life … sickness, loneliness, old age … we have to decide in our lives what the empty tomb means. Easter invites us to make a leap of faith. If we believe that God really did create the universe, then we can believe that everything is ultimately and fully in God’s hands. If we believe God loves us, and that everything is in God’s hands, then we do not ever have to be afraid. If we believe that God promised to stay with us always, and that God loves us as we are, asking us to respond to that love by loving Him and by loving others in return, we can face the good and the bad in ourselves, in others, and in the world. We can celebrate the good. And we can work, with God’s help, to overcome the bad. Love and Easter are about being free to respond. Love and Easter are about being free to give love. We are able to do that because God loved us first. The women at the empty tomb were amazed and afraid. But more than two thousand years later, we also know that their faith eventually overcame their fear, or else we would not be here tonight. The empty tomb leaves us with the same challenge that Jesus left to all who ever heard Him. Believe that God loves you and live your life in response to that love. And so, let's move forward to the font and renew our Baptismal Promises and then let's go to the Lord’s Table where faith and Sacrament join us together in a heavenly banquet. May you all have a joyous Easter and Easter season!