EASTER VIGIL 2020
HE IS RISEN! DO NOT BE AFRAID
FADA Jervis KEBEI KEWI
Today is Holy Saturday. On this night, the Church in the whole world celebrates the vigil of Easter. This is the night when Christians in the whole world gather to await the resurrection of their Lord and Master who died on the Cross on Good Friday. This is the night that Christ broke the chains of death and opened the gates of the kingdom to all mankind.
“Easter” is more than a day. Easter is a way of life for us who believe. Because of Easter, our whole lives are changed! Because of Easter, we do not fear, not even of death! We know that because of Easter, our lives here are a preparation for something bigger and better. As the Scriptures say, “Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into our hearts what God has prepared for us who love God” (1Cor 2:9). Because of Easter, our whole lives are filled with hope. We are a people of the promise, and we are a people of hope.
- THE SCRIPTURAL TEXTS OF TONIGHT
The readings of this Easter Vigil celebration recall and proclaim those mighty acts of God’s love throughout salvation history. The readings, as it were, trace the track record of God from creation to the moment of salvation.
Tonight, we heard an unusually large number of Bible readings (ordinarily, there should be 7, plus 2). These readings have a special meaning and significance. The Book of Genesis (1:1-2:2) indicated that everything that God had made was “very good”. God does not make rubbish. Seven times in that reading, we heard, “And God saw that it was good,” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). If God saw that it was good seven times, surely, his creation must be very good. All of these are serving a purpose in His divine progressive plan.
The Second reading the Book of Genesis also (22:1-18) reminds us of the event when Abraham obeyed God’s command to go and sacrifice his only son Isaac, whom he loved so dearly. This was a real test of faith for Abraham. Because he obeyed the Lord, at the last minute the life of his son was spared. In recompense, the Lord promise to Abraham that He would make his offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore (Gen. 22:17). Furthermore, by his offspring all the nations of the earth shall gain blessings for themselves (Gen 22:18).
The third reading from the Book of Exodus (Ex 14:15-15:10) recounts the great deeds of God for the people of Israel, freeing them from bondage in Egypt, with a mighty hand.
The fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh readings come from the books of the Prophets Isaiah, Baruch, Ezekiel. There, God promises to send a Saviour to save his people from Sin and the clutches of Satan.
In the New Testament reading of the Letter of Paul to the Romans (4:3, 9), we are told: “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” The same righteousness that Abraham received is bestowed upon all those, meaning all of us, “who share the faith of Abraham, for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations,’” (Romans 4:16).
The final reading from the Gospel of Matthew (28:1-10) recounts the events surrounding the glorious Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb early on the Sunday morning, an angel who told them that Jesus had been raised. He urges the women not to be AFRAID. Accordingly, the angel told the women to go and announce the good news to the disciples, telling them to go to Galilee where they would see Jesus again.
- DO NOT BE AFRAID
In the celebration of today, the announcement of the angel at the tomb reminds us of the presence of angel Gabriel during his annunciation of birth. Tthe angel declared and announced to the women: “Do not be afraid”. (Matthew 28:6). This is what the feast of Easter is all about. He has risen as he said. We are invited not to be afraid, but to believe. Jesus tells them same, “Do not be afraid”, when they meet him on the road to Galilee. The Apostles who were locked up in the room because they were afraid are also addressed here. They were afraid that what happened to Christ should not happen to them. Even when Christ was on earth, he always told his apostles and disciples not to be afraid.
Scripture scholars tell us that this phrase, “Do not be afraid”, occurs 365 times in the whole of scriptures, which means that every day of the year Christ is telling us the same thing. Every morning we get up and make our prayer, Christ is telling us at the end, “Do not be afraid”. This is because the life of man is full of fear.
The Risen Christ says to us, “Don’t be afraid”, because through his resurrection, he has shown us that there is life after death. That is the main purpose of his resurrection, to tell us that death is not the end. This message is echoed in the “Exsultet” tonight: In our every-day living we have many causes of fear: sickness (the coronavirus epidemic), the uncertainty of the future, poverty, unemployment, lack of love, being deserted by friends, fear of failure, witchcraft, etc. Tonight, our risen Lord, who is “the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, to whom all time belongs”, exhorts us not be afraid. As echoed in the “Exsultet” tonight: “The sanctifying power of this 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.” The causes of our fears have been dispelled. Christ has risen from the dead, Alleluia! Now he lives no more to die. Alleluia!
- FEAR DISPELS WHEN WE LOOK AT THE LORD RATHER THAN THE THREAT (Ps 27:13)
Here, I invite you to take inspiration from King David in Psalm 27. We do not know what fearful time of situation David was facing when he wrote this Psalm. Perhaps, like us, he wavered between faith and fear. However, when he became aware of his fear, David did something we need to do also. He reminded himself (and us also) of the character, goodness, strength and ability of the Lord. Rather than dwelling on the possible dangers that he was going to encounter, David turned his focus on the SUFFICIENCY OF THE LORD. These are David’s words in Psalm 27:1-3:
- The Lord is my light and my salvation—so why should I be afraid?
- The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?
- When evil people come to devour me, when my enemies and foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.
- Though a might army surround me, my heart will not be afraid.
- Even if I am attacked, I will remain confident.(Ps 27:1-3)
David reminds himself that God is his LIGHT, his SALVATION, and his FORTRESS. God is his light in times of confusion or uncertainty. In times of darkness, the Lord lights the way. Like a good and strong flashlight, God may not always show us the whole path, but he helps us see what is ahead of us.
David, the Psalmist, is confident because he remembers God’s character. In the times when we are afraid, it helps to remind ourselves that our Lord is ever-present. He is strong, wise, holy, good, loving and sufficient for any and every need. (This is why we often repeat the chorus: “THE LORD IS GOOD… All the time! And all the time… The Lord is good!)
- THE EASTER JOY AND PROCLAMATION
Today we can again sing the “Alleluia” that we have not sung all-through Lent. “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad” (Psalm 118:24). Alleluia! We can make this proclamation because something marvelous has happened among us. Jesus is risen from the dead! The Lord has truly risen. Halleluiah!
Christ had foretold that he would rise from the dead. He said: “The Son of Man had to suffer much. He will be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the scribes. He will be put to death and rise three days later” (Mk 8:31). His resurrection proved Him right. He is not a deceiver. If we can trust him on that score, we can trust him for the rest of his teachings as well. St. Paul tells us: “Had he not risen, our faith would be in vain, our faith would be empty” (1Cor 15:14).
Today’s Old testament readings remind us of
- i) God’s Character (a God who is always faithful);
- ii) God’s promises (His word shall always come to pass); and
iii) God’s achievements in the past (His track record).
These achievements are crowned by the fulfilment of the promise that the Christ will suffer, die, be buried and rise again, in order to free us from SIN and from the grip of the Devil. This is much reason for Jesus’ followers, not be AFRAID. This is because “NOTHING can separate us from his LOVE” (Romans 8). For, Jesus “can do immeasurably more that we ask or even imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
This is agood lesson for us. When we are filled with fear, we must remind ourselves of what we know to be true. God is faithful! He has been faithful in the past; and he will be faithful in the future.
Easter has relevance for today, not only because it offers the world a true way of life with an assurance of the resurrection of the body after we are dead, but also because it offers for all believers the hope of new life here and now. For example, every time we suffer a loss, fail in some enterprise or are disabled by an illness, we die a little bit. But, if we believe in the presence of the Risen Lord in our midst, we will discover new dreams to pursue, new challenges to take on and new reasons to try again. Every time we are overwhelmed by problems, discouraged by disappointments or besets by worries and fears, we are diminished in some way. But, if we believe in the real presence of the risen Christ, we will find that the impossible becomes possible, and the unreachable becomes reachable.
- BECAUSE JESUS LIVES, “WE CAN FACE TOMORROW”
Because of the resurrection of Jesus, our lives as Christians have changed forever, for the better. (That is why the first message addressed, by the angel and by Jesus, to the first witnesses of the resurrection was “Do not be afraid” – Mk 16:6a; Mtt 28:5) Because he is alive, we know that even the most tragic circumstance is only temporary. We know that when we stand at the grave of someone who truly trusted Christ, he/she is not gone forever but we will see him/her again. (That explains our rite of Christian burial.) We know that even when things look bleak, we are reminded that the story of life ends in victory. We know that it may feel like a dark Friday of death and heartache . . . but Sunday (and resurrection) is coming! We can be sure of it.
Today Christ has won. And we know that in Christ we shall overcome. “Come, let us praise the Lord!” Because of this victory of Christ, the expression ‘Halleluiah!’ shall resound on our lips for the next seven weeks in a very special way, and for the rest of the year, until Ash Wednesday next year. The Lord has truly conquered.
May the living flame of this Easter Night illumine our hearts and lighten our burdens throughout these difficult days that the entire world is passing through!
Let us, therefore, rejoice and be glad. The Lord is risen as He said! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!