Easter Vigil, 2008, Sacred Heart Cathedral

Ex 13:15-15:1; Rm 6:3-11; Mt 28:1-10

Holy Week, from Palm Sunday to Easter is the most meaningful act of Christian faith. The Church relives the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, His passion, death and resurrection – a divine act that saves the world. There are very many important themes that run through this event: from chaos to order in the world (story of creation in Genesis, the first reading), slavery to freedom (deliverance of Israel from Egypt or our deliverance from the slavery of sin to freedom as children of God), from darkness to light which sums up the whole plan of God from the very beginning of creation till Jesus Christ came to bring light Himself to the world. To avoid confusion with the many themes, I shall concentrate on one small but very important idea: Jesus Christ brings us the joy through His resurrection.

Fear is a fundamental animal and human instinct. It can either help or hinder us from growth. It can help us not to fall into danger, e.g., fear of walking in a dark jungle because of the pitfalls and wild animals; but it can also, but should not, paralyze us into inaction or run away from reality. Many passages in the Bible recount the messengers of God, angels, uttering their first words in “Do not be afraid.” When Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce to her that she would be conceived with a child, his first words were, “Be not afraid.” In today’s Gospel reading according to St. Matthew, the angels appeared to the shepherds and told them not to be afraid and gave them the great news of “great joy.” At the tomb, the guards collapsed with fright and the women who came to see Jesus in the tomb was fearful when an angel appeared to them. Again, they were told not to be afraid but to go back to the disciples to announce the good news of Jesus’ Resurrection.

Fear and Joy are twin  themes that run through the Bible. Humans are afraid not only of physical danger but also of the unknown, unforeseen, the dark, of failure, of mistakes, etc., etc. I can come up with a whole string of them but of little use to you. All I want to say is that fear is very much a part of our lives and God has purposely come to be with us in Jesus Christ to cross the darkness of fear to go into the light of joy. This is EASTER.

The first two readings tell us of the Jews walking across deep the Red Sea chased by the Pharaoh and his army. God drowned the Pharaoh and his army and saved the Jews from their slavery and gave them a freedom which they had to fight for till they reached the promise land. Many a time, the Jews wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt where they had water and food in abundance compared to the difficult lives in the desert. They rebelled against Moses and Aaron. But God, at the intercession of Moses forgave them and saved them. In the second reading, in a similar way, St. Paul applies the Christian baptism to the crossing of the Red Sea. We are saved from sin (slavery) to walk along the road of freedom to love and serve one another as God Himself served and serves us in Christ Jesus. Hence, the Church tells us that our lives on earth is a journey in which we have still to fight but this time with Jesus Christ to reach our promise land, Heaven. We have to go through trials, tribulations and suffering of all kinds. However, united with Jesus, our trials, tribulations and sufferings are turned into saving graces for ourselves and others. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans chapter 8, verse 28, writes that God “works out everything for the good of those who love Him…”

When I was in PJ, I baptized of a good number of people to be Catholics. I asked a few of them what was their greatest experience when they got baptized? Inevitably they told me that they felt freed from so many fears. The feeling of freedom from fears is such a great joy that they keep praising God. To give just one example: A man, who was practicing Budhhism-Taoism, whom I baptized said to me, “Although I feel so free and happy, I cannot bring  myself to throw away the “sun-toy”,  the shrine in his house to the spirit, because there is still the lingering superstition of “what if anything were to happen?” I replied, “I will come to throw away the “sun-toy” and take upon myself anything that would or could happen. I was and am afraid of no spirit; Christ is in me.” His face lit up.  I went and took the “sun-toy” from his house and when I was out of his sight I dumped it in the dust-bin. Nothing happened to me. No feeling of fear but of joy that I have brought Christ’s freedom to someone.

Easter, the resurrection of Christ, is the guarantee of this freedom to experience joy of God in our lives. This does not mean that we do not have to cross valleys of darkness to come out into the beautiful warm light. We do. As I have said above, the valleys of darkness are found in physical suffering, the unknown and unforeseen, mistakes and failures, the dark side of us that haunts us, etc. But our consolation is that the Resurrected LORD is here, which is the meaning of Emmanuel – God with us – holding our hands as we walk through darkness. Although pain and fear are still here, there is also a deep seated assurance of Christ’s presence to guide and fill us with a silent joy. I emphasize SILENT JOY because it is quite different from expression of a bubbling  happiness after a drink or after achieving what one has set out to attain. It is a deep peace of God in us that expresses itself in silent joy. I can’t explain more. You will have to taste it yourself as the goodness of the pudding is in the tasting.