EASTER VIGIL – B 2021

HE HAS RISEN AS HE SAID!

Gen 1:1, 26-31; Gen 22:1-18; Ex 14:15-15:1; Ex 15; Is 54:5-14; Is 55:1-11; Is 12:5-14; Bar 3:9-15, 32-4:4; Ez 36:16-28; Rom 6:3-11; Mk 16:1-8

(and/or EASTER SUNDAY OF THE LORD)

Acts 10: 34, 37-43; Col3: 1-4/1Cor 5:6-8; Jn 20:1-9

Today is the fulfillment of the passion prophecy, which the evangelist, Matthew, summarized in these words: “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21). And now, on the third day, he has risen from the dead, thereby establishing the ultimate decisive victory over death. This new beginning ushers in a new mood, a new language for believers, and a new way of living. It is a mood of joy and happiness; it is a language of “Alleliua!” From the penitential and sad mood of lent, and the Passion of Jesus, the church bursts into drums, xylophones, and joyful songs that proclaim the victory that Jesus has won. There is also a changeover of mastership from the side of Satan to the side of the Risen Jesus.

1. THE PROPHECY OF JESUS’ RESURRECTION

Today, we celebrate what we profess in our Creed: “He rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures”. Looking back to the events before Easter, when Jesus said to his Jewish opponents, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it” (John 2:19), the Jews thought that he was a joker, a dreamer of some sort, or even someone who was hallucinating. However, as we are told in John 2:21, “he meant the temple of his body”. Today, the words of the evangelist, Mark, are being fulfilled (Mk 12:10), “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” This is a literal fulfillment of Psalm 118:22-24: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Indeed, against all odds, Christians sing the joyous ALLELUIA because “he has risen as he said”.

The point of departure of the feast of Easter is this phrase “He has risen as he said” (Mt 28:6). Indeed, this phrase constitutes a summary of the predictions made before Easter and the actual events of Easter. Jesus did not rise from the dead by some accident! It was clearly in his plan of LOVE for mankind. It was the completion of his act of love. The celebration of Easter is the celebration of the HOUR FOR WHICH JESUS BECAME MAN. Nothing, as far as we human beings are concerned, can surpass the mystery by which we are redeemed. Easter is not simply one feast among others.  It is THE FEAST OF FEASTS, the Solemnity of solemnities, just as the Eucharist is the Sacrament of Sacraments.  At the very beginning of the Church, 2021 years ago, “there were no feasts in the year except Easter; not even Christmas which appears at the beginning of the fourth century. Everything was concentrated on Easter…” (Cantalamessa).

At various instances in his life and teaching, Jesus pointed out that he was going to die, but that he would also rise from the dead. For instance, coming down from the Mountain of Transfiguration, Jesus confidentially said to his disciples: “Tell the vision to no man, until the Son of man be risen again from the dead” (Matthew 17:9). He, even, knew well in advance where he would go after the resurrection. Accordingly, he said: “But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee” (Matthew 27:64). This promise is fulfilled and confirmed as Mark says in his Gospel: “He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell the disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, AS HE TOLD YOU” (Mk 16:6-7). Here, we have an announcement from an angel that reminds us of the presence of angel Gabriel during his annunciation of birth. This is what the feast of Easter is all about.

2. THE MEANING OF THE RESURRECTION

The resurrection simply means that Jesus who was DEAD AND BURIED, came back to life. Jesus was dead and was in the grave already. He had given back his spirit to his Father. HE TRULY DIED. At Easter, we preach that he is now alive. The same Jesus, who suffered and died, and was buried; it is the same Jesus who is now alive again. He is now glorified; and he has defeated death. Death has no power over him anymore. That is why in the old version of the “Mystery of Faith” during Holy Mass, we said: “Christ has DIED, Christ it RISEN, Christ will come again!” The resurrected Jesus cannot die anymore.

The resurrection of Jesus is different from resuscitation where a person who is alleged to be dead, gains his life and breaths again. The resurrection is different from the appearances of ghosts. Traditionally, we hear stories of people who are said to die in one place and reappear in other places—doing ordinary things like trading, farming, etc. The mystery of the resurrection implies a completely new life after death. Death has been completely defeated. As we sang in the ‘Exultet’: “This is the night, when Christ broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.”

Therefore, death is not the end of the story. There is one more chapter. This is the most important chapter because, as the saying goes, “they who laugh last laugh best”. In the last chapter of the story of Jesus, we see him rise from the dead in all glory and majesty. He is vindicated (He is proven right). His enemies are shamed and confused. Jesus regains his eternal glory with the Father. He is the Lord, who will prevail over all humankind, his enemies included. For us, his embattled followers, like the disappointed disciples after his death, THIS IS GOOD NEWS!

3. THE TRIUMPH OF THE TRUTH

In the Gospel of John, Jesus declares that he is “the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE” (Jn 14:6). He has spent his life showing us the “way”, teaching the “truth”, and bringing his “life” to all believers, to the point that his enemies plotted to kill the “truth”, and extinguish the “life”. Today, the good news is proclaimed that TRUTH IS IMMORTAL. We can suppress Truth, accuse it of being A LIE, condemn it, torture it, kill it, burry it in the grave but on the third day, “Truth will rise again”. Herewith, we are called to remember this and not to give up on Truth, even when everybody seems to give up on it. Do not give up on Truth; do not give up on Justice. Do not give up on doing what is right. For, what is ‘True’ will always be “true”. What is ‘Just’ will always be just! What is ‘Right” will always be “right”, even when the world around us would have it to be otherwise. We must learn to believe in the sun even when it is not shining, knowing that, by and by, it will shine again. It is the end of the story that counts. That is why the church asks us today to rejoice and be glad. Even when we are going through very difficult times: through betrayal, unjust discrimination, lies, misrepresentations; even when the enemy seems to be winning the battle in our lives; even when the world is reeling under the scare and scourge of the Coronavirus.

The joy of the resurrection could not be better described as Isaiah did in these words: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain” (Isaiah 25:6-10). (These words of hope and encouragement are often used during funeral ceremonies.)

4. RENEWAL OF OUR BAPTISMAL VOWS

From now, onwards, the central question is: DO YOU BELIEVE? The resurrection is not a hypothesis to be proved. It is an article of faith of the New Testament. IT IS ABOUT BELIEF. In other words, it is a ‘take it or leave it’, because it is not an object of proof. Simply put, it is an article of the Christian faith. Jesus has risen as he said. We are invited to believe.

For this reason, an essential element of the Easter celebration is the public Renewal of Baptismal Vows. (The creed is not recited.) On Easter night and on Easter morning, the Christian faithful are invited to make that Renewal.  In that act of Renewal, they are first of all requested to renounce Satan, the father of lies; and then to profess their Christian Faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. As a believing and a new people, they are declaring that they belong completely to Jesus, the risen Lord. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul teaches: “All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into death. We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-5). In the light our baptism, therefore, there is a total changeover of master, a changeover of sides:  from sin to justice, from disobedience to obedience, from Adam to Christ.  We are called to place ourselves and our entire lives, unconditionally, under the Lordship of the risen Jesus. This joy of Easter should have an impact in our lives by positively changing the way we live as Christian.

Therefore, as an integral part of the Renewal of Baptismal vow, the priest goes round sprinkling the Christian People with holy water (This year, the sprinkling of Holy Water may to be omitted because of the scare of the Coronavirus). This is meant to remind us of those words of St. Paul: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Rom 6:11). The ‘washing’ with water that we receive today is indicative of what is sung in the Exultet: “This is the ‘night’ (day) that even now, throughout the world, sets Christian believers apart from worldly vices and from the gloom of sin, leading them to grace and joining them to his holy ones”.

CONCLUSION

Brothers and Sisters, in the Risen Lord,

Today, Christ has won, Halleluiah!

And we know that in Christ we shall overcome. Halleluiah! Halleluiah!

Praise the Lord! Halleluiah!

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.

Death has been conquered forever. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia!

Happy Easter to everyone!

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