Easter Vigil, Cycle B

The Easter Vigil has many readings, some optional, but since it presents a recap of salvation history it’s not surprising that it stretches from the dark, formless waste before Creation to the dawn of the Resurrection on Easter morning.

In the account of Creation (Genesis 1:1–2:2) we see the Lord creating everything we now experience and declaring it good.

  • It all began with a dark abyss and a formless wasteland.
  • Then light was created, and the distinction between night and day.
  • Then the sky.
  • Then the sea and the earth.
  • Then the plants.
  • Then the sun, the moon, and the stars.
  • Then the living creatures of the sky and sea.
  • Then the living creatures of the land.
  • Then, as a category set apart, he created man and entrusted him with the stewardship of Creation.

The Lord didn’t just give us a beginning; he gave us a good one.

In the story of Abraham being put to the test (Genesis 22:1–18) we see his faith in the face of a terrible trial, but also a foreshadowing of the Lamb who would be sacrificed: Our Lord. When Isaac asks Abraham about what was to be sacrificed, Abraham replied, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.” We may think Abraham’s act of faith ended with the ram caught in the bushes that he sacrificed instead of his son, but that’s not entirely accurate. The Lord renewed his promise to Abraham as being the father of a great nation, but that nation would need redemption. God the Father spared Isaac, but sacrificed his own Son, and, in the Son, God sacrificed himself.

In the story of the Israelites escaping the wrath of the Egyptians (Exodus 14:15–15:1) we see a foreshadowing of Baptism. The Israelites were saved from death and slavery by passing through the waters, just as we are saved from death and the slavery of sin through the waters of Baptism. Crossing through the waters not only saved their lives; it led to a new life as the People of God. Baptism has the same effect in our lives: it leads us to new life and makes us part of the People of God, destroying the chains of sin and death in the process.

In Isaiah’s vision of the new Jerusalem (Isaiah 54:5–14) we see our ultimate destination: Heaven. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and, as a good husband should, Our Lord protects her from every threat, every evil, seeking to make her eternally happy. The Church, while on pilgrimage, it still menaced and dogged by sin, but her husband watches over her and leads her to the day when they’ll be together, secure and loved, forever. On that day all the “marital” strife we’ve caused our perfect Spouse will end, and he’ll never turn his face from us again.

Isaiah’s goes on to remind us (Isaiah 55:1–11) that we should turn to the Lord for whatever we may need. He offers us the waters that will wash us of our sins and sow the seed of eternal life: Baptism. He nourishes us with the Eucharist without asking anything in return. He makes his presence known so that we can turn to him. Conversion literally means, “with a turning toward.” He shows us how we can turn back to him after we’ve sinned. He sends out his Word—Jesus—so that we can hear him, and his Word always succeeds.

Baruch reminds us (Baruch 3:9–15, 32–4:4) that the solution to all our problems is to return to the fount of wisdom. He is addressing the Israelites in exile due to their infidelity. Sin will also exile us from the Promised Land if we let it. Wisdom has been entrusted to the People of God. Wisdom comes from God, and, in the case of Our Lord, we experience Wisdom in Person.

Ezekiel reminds us (Ezekiel 36:16–17a, 18–28) that the Lord wishes to write a new covenant on our hearts. The Ten Commandments were brought down from Mt. Sinai on tablets of stone. The Israelites were as cold hearted in valuing them as a stone would be. They were scattered and, wherever they were, they gave the Lord a bad name due to their iniquity. The Lord promises to reunite them, cleanse them, and change their hearts. The People of God today, the Church, have been reunited, cleansed, and changed in their hearts by Our Lord through his sacrifice and the “sprinkling” of Baptism.

With the Epistle we pass from the Old Testament to the New (Romans 6:3-11), and St. Paul reminds us that in Baptism we die in Christ and then receive new life from him. In many celebrations of the Eucharist this evening we welcome people into the Church through Baptism. The water goes over our heads, whether by immersion or aspersion, to represent the burial in Christ that Paul speaks of this evening in the Epistle. The person who comes up out of that water comes up into new life, just as Our Lord did when the tragedy of the Cross was behind him. If we’re dead as far as sin is concerned, we need to act like it. Dying in Christ is dying to sin so that living in him leads to a new and eternal life.

In this evening’s Gospel the disciples thought they were doing one last kindness for Our Lord. They were trying to overcome an obstacle that seemed insurmountable: the stone sealing the tomb. That didn’t stop them from moving forward. In the end the obstacle was removed without them having to lift a finger, and their life took an unexpected turn. Instead of one last gesture of kindness and closure for a departed friend, they received a wonderful surprise: their friend was alive and well. They also received a new mission: they had to spread the news. In the light of Christ’s victory over death we know that if we continue along the path he’s shown us (love for him and for others), even when there are obstacles, even when we don’t understand, those obstacles will be overcome and those mysteries will be explained, because Christ overcame the biggest obstacle and mystery of all: sin and death.

This evening catechumens receive the sacraments of Christian initiation throughout the Western world and become neophytes. Born anew of water and the spirit in Christ, neophytes are taking their first baby steps in the faith. Congratulate anyone in your parish who has just come into the Church and pray for neophytes everywhere.

Readings: Genesis 1:1–2:2; Genesis 22:1–18; Exodus 14:15–15:1; Isaiah 54:5–14; Isaiah 55:1–11; Baruch 3:9–15, 32–4:4; Ezekiel 36:16–17a, 18–28; Romans 6:3–11; Mark 16:1–7. See also Easter Vigil.