Easter Vigil

“This is the night...” Night is the time of darkness. Night is the time of evil, the time when  people do wicked things. Night is the place of death: we imagine that when we die we will go out into the night. Yet into this night comes a small spark of light. We saw it in the lighting of the fire: a spark of light, a flame. The flame grows and spreads from candle to candle until the whole church is alight. Jesus has returned out of the deepest darkness and brought back the light.

It is very hard to explain what Resurrection is about; words defeat us because we are trying to explain something that happens outside this world of time and space, beyond the experiences which we know. It is not just that Jesus has come back from the dead, he has somehow passed into a whole new way of life and yet it is human life – or it is the life that we human beings can now look forward to, a life which is still completely human but has been somehow joined to God. Words defeat us but the image of light coming out of the darkness tells us more than words can ever do.

Jesus went out into the dark and found there the spirits of the dead whom Satan had imprisoned and set them free. Jesus bursts out of death, pushing back the dark, turning death from a place of darkness and despair to a place of light and hope. Death itself has been transformed. Before we feared death; now we look forward to it. Death is the place we shall finally meet Jesus and find what a wonderful person he is. Death is the place we shall be taken up into God and find how what it means to be loved completely and wonderfully by the loving creator of all things. If we loved this world, we shall love the world beyond death even more. Colours will be brighter, joy will be greater, beauty will be infinite. Jesus will be there. That is the hope of the Resurrection which has changed our lives.

It has changed our lives now. Resurrection is not just something for the future, a hope we have when we die. That hope changes the way we live. It changes the whole meaning of our life. It also means that Jesus is with us even though we can’t see him. When you read the New Testament – Acts and the Epistles, you see disciples of Jesus who are full of joy. Why are they so full of joy? Jesus has gone away from them. They will never see him in this world again. However, they know he isn’t gone. They feel his presence always. The next world which we call heaven has broken into this world that we call earth. We have so much more to look forward to and that makes life now ever so much more exciting.

Recently a friend of mine died of cancer. She was about my age and really loved life and feared death, until she found her cancer was terminal. Instead of plunging her into despair, it filled her with hope. She suddenly found she was free – free of the sorrows and baggage of the past, free of the fears of the future. She could live entirely in the present. She could be amazed by the sheer beauty of this world she was shortly going to leave and filled with joy as she came to know God better and better. She found him, loving, caring, compassionate, gentle, beautiful and full of joy. She couldn’t wait to meet him. That is rather how we should be, on this night, this Easter night.

When the women discovered the tomb was empty they ran to tell the disciples. When the disciples met Jesus they rushed off to tell others. When Jesus left them finally he said “Go out into the world...” and that is what they did – in Acts we see Peter, Paul, Silas, Mark and a host of others go out into the whole of the known world to tell people about this Jesus who had changed their lives. We have a message to tell other people about but we don’t just tell them; we show them. We have watched Jesus walk through the horrors of passion week. We saw the false triumph of Palm Sunday when people seemed to welcome him but quite soon turned on him. We saw him rejected, betrayed, beaten and crucified. We entered into the darkness of his death and now he has returned out of that dark, the light shining in the dark, growing stronger and stronger. Death is no more; death has been swallowed up in victory. We do not need to fear death. Instead we can look forward to it with growing excitement. For as CS Lewis puts it at the end of the Narnia stories: “You have come to the place which men call death. The term is over; the holidays have begun. The night is ended; this is the morning!”

 

            Nicolas Stebbing CR