THE EASTER VIGIL (Vigil 2)
For the people of ancient Israel, the Feast of the Passover was one of the most solemn of all their feasts. It was celebrated every year with great joy and solemnity. As we have seen, it was celebrated by Christ on what we now call Holy Thursday. Because it commemorated so many events in their history, the people of Israel had every reason for joyfully celebrating the Feast of the Passover.
(a). Freedom From Slavery In Egypt
First of all, the Feast of the Passover celebrated their delivery from slavery in Egypt. Tonight's 2nd. Reading (Ex. 14:15-15:1) describes how the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea and so escaped the hands of the Pharaoh. Ever afterwards, the Israelites retold & celebrated all these different events by having a Feast.
As they feasted, they first of all retold & relived the events which led to their freedom from very in Egypt. They recalled that it was, because of the blood of the lamb sprinkled on their door posts, that the Destroying Angel passed over their houses.
Centuries later, when the Israelite people looked back on this night, they called it the Night of the Pasch: the Night of the Passover. The destroying Angel passed-over their houses and spared their first-born because of the blood of the lamb.
Because the Israelites were saved by the blood of the lamb sprinkled on their door posts, the Paschal Lamb became the symbol of their freedom from slavery in Egypt.
(b). The Sinai Covenant: The Feast of the Passover also commemorated the Covenant which God made with the Israelites on Mount Sinai. On Mount Sinai, God became their God & they became God's chosen People.
(c). Return From Exile in Babylon
During the Feast of the Passover, the people of Israel also celebrated their return from exile in Babylon. Tonight's 4". Reading tells us of God's promise to bring home his people from exile to the Promised Land. He promised that he will again be their God and they will again be his special people.
Thus, it is easy to see why the Feast of the Passover was so important for the people of ancient Israel, and the Jews at the present time.
(1). It celebrated their deliverance from slavery in Egypt & their entering the Promised Land.
(2). It celebrated the events on Mt. Sinai, where God became their God and they became his Chosen People.
(3). And, it celebrated their return home to the Promised Land from exile in Babylon.
(i). Tonight My dear brothers and sisters, tonight we too are recalling & celebrating our own freedom from slavery. Tonight, we too recall how God, through Christ's death and resurrection, has transferred us from the Kingdom of darkness to the Kingdom of His Beloved Son.
Tonight, we are remembering & celebrating how Christ, through his death and resurrection, reconciled all mankind to God, the Father. Christ is our Paschal lamb the shedding of whose blood saved all mankind. Heaven is our Promised Land. As St. Paul reminds us - our true homeland in Heaven.
(2). Sacrament Of Baptism
Because there are so many references in tonight's ceremonies to freedom from slavery: returning home from exile: entering the Promised Land: becoming God's chosen people, The Church has always seen the Easter Vigil as the most appropriate time for conferring the Sacrament of Baptism.
(a). Rom. 6:3-11 Following St. Paul, the Church has always closely associated Baptism with Christ's death & Resurrection. In the Reading, which we had from his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul tells us that, just as Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose to a new and glorified life, so we too, through Baptism, die to sin with Christ: are buried with Him & are raised to a new life in union with the Risen Christ.
In the Early Church adult catechumens were baptized in a special Baptismal pool. The catechumen 1) entered the pool at one end, 2) was baptized and 3) came out of the pool at the other end.
As he enters the Baptismal pool, the catechumen as it were, leaves all sin & selfishness behind him. He is baptized in the pool symbolizing his burial with Christ. He comes out at the other end of the pool, symbolizing his rising to a new life in union with the Risen Christ.
Even though we no longer use a special Baptismal pool, all of us, through Baptism, have died with Christ to sin & selfishness: have been buried with Him and have been raised to a new life in union with the Risen Christ.
(4). The Paschal Candle
I've discovered, from doing infant baptisms, that many of our young people do not know the symbolism of the Paschal Candle. The Easter Candle symbolizes the Risen & Glorified Christ.
The Risen & Glorified Christ is the source of the new life we receive at Baptism. He is also the source of our eternal life. St. John exhorts his readers to believe that as the Messiah & Son of God, the Glorified Christ is the source of our eternal life. (In. 20:31)
APPEARANCE TO A GROUP OF WOMEN
One of the basic facts of the Easter traditions is that some women went to the tomb of Jesus early on Easter Sunday morning and discovered that it was empty.Although they differ with regard to whom and how many, all 4 Evangelists describe the presence of women at the tomb of Jesus, very early in the first day of the week.(Mk. 16:1-8, Mt. 28:1-10, Lk. 24:1-10, Jn. 20:1-2)
Because all 4 Evangelists speak of women present at the tomb of Jesus on Easter Sunday morning, their presence at the tomb would seem to be based on a very solid historical basis. (Osb. p.37).
(C). In this evening's Gospel, St. Matthew has 2 women -- Mary Magdalene and the other Mary. (Mt.28:1). An Angel of the Lord appears to them & says: "I know that you are seeking Jesus, the Crucified. He is not here for He has been raised from the dead". Then the Angel tells them to go quickly & tell the Disciples that "he has been raised from the dead" & will go before them to Galilee.
The Risen Jesus appears to these two women, as they were on their way from the empty tomb, to report to the disciples what the Angel had told them. (Mt. 28:9-10).
I'm sure you have already realized that these women, whatever their number, were the first ones to be told that Jesus has been raised from the dead. They were also the first ones to whom the Risen Lord appeared. In St. John's Gospel, the Risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalene before He appears to His Disciples. (Jn. 20:11-18).
Since a woman's testimony had no credibility in the eyes of Jewish law, these faithful women could not be official witnesses to the Resurrection. That is why the empty tomb was confirmed by St. Peter We can not but ask: Is the Risen Lord rewarding them for their devotion & loyalty to Himself? I'll leave the answer to yourselves! But it is interesting to note that Christ appeared to these faithful women, before He appeared to St. Peter & the other Disciples. (Matt. p.363).
In St. John's Gospel the Risen Lord appears to Mary Magdalene before he appears to the Disciples.
(3). A Night Of Gratitude
My Dear Brothers and Sisters, I feel that tonight is a night for gratitude. First of all, how grateful we should be to God for sending his Son to be our Saviour. As St. John tells us -- God loved us so much that He gave us his only Son to be our Saviour,
Secondly, how grateful we should be to Christ for his great love for us. St. John also tells us that Christ loved his own and loved them to the end. Christ loved His own, not only to the end of his life, but even to the extent of laying down his life for them.
Also, how grateful we should be to God for our faith & the hope for the future that it gives us. We are all familiar with the words of Christ at the grave of Lazarus: "I am the resurrection & the life;, whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live & everyone who lives & believes in me shall never die". (In. 11:25-26).
Starting with myself, I think that most of us do not fully appreciate what God has given to us, through the gift of faith.
And since we don't fully appreciate our faith, we don't thank God for it as often as we should,
Tonight, let us say a special "Thank You" to God for the gift of faith & the hope for the future that it gives us.
As we thank God for the many blessings which are ours, because of our faith in the Risen Lord, let us pray for all those who do not yet know Him. As a former missionary, I am very conscious of those who do not yet know Christ. Let us pray that they too may some day come to know the Risen Lord Let us pray that they, too, may come to celebrate his Resurrection as we are doing tonight.