Next Sunday, I will have the wonderful privilege of baptizing my brand-new niece Katie. This past Thursday, I anointed a parishioner who is very close to death. On Monday, I will preside at the funeral of my mother’s aunt who was over 90 years old. This past year has been a roller coaster of emotions for me, rejoicing here in ministry at St. Raphael’s and burying my own beloved father. I thought about all of these things this week as I prepared for this Holy Vigil. It is always so amazing for me to see Christ’s presence in all the stages of life, from birth to death, in good times and in bad.
Did you hear what we prayed at the very beginning of tonight’s vigil? Listen again: “Christ yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, Alpha and Omega, all time belongs to him, and all ages, to him be glory and power through every age forever. Amen.” And these are important, even brave words for us to offer on this most holy night. Because it is certainly the position of our world that time is to be endured, that it is fleeting, and that it ultimately meaningless. But tonight’s vigil proclaims that all time is holy, sanctified by our God who has walked with us through our yesterdays, remains with us today, and forges on with us toward our tomorrows. There is not a single moment of our life, not a single moment of our history that is not holy because every moment has been, is now, and always will be imbued with the presence of our God who is holiness itself.
As we have walked through Lent, and especially through this Holy Week, there is even a temptation, I think, to come to think that the world, and especially human history, was a creative experiment that went horribly wrong, that God sent his Son to clean up the mess only to have him killed for it, and then in a last move of desperation raised him up out of the grave. But that’s not what we’ve gathered to celebrate tonight. Salvation was not some kind of dumb luck or happy accident. The salvation of the world had been part of God’s creative plan all along. Humanity, given the grace of free will had, and has, certainly gone astray. But God did not create us simply to follow our own devices and end up in hell. He created us for himself, and so sent his Son Jesus to walk our walk, to die our death, and to rise up over it all in the everlasting promise of eternal life. That’s what we celebrate on this most holy of all nights.
Our world would have us believe that everything is futile and that the only possible way to endure this world is to cultivate a kind of cynical apathy that divorces us from our God, our loved ones, our communities and our world. We are conditioned to believe that time, and life itself, is meaningless, that there is nothing worth living for, and certainly nothing worth dying for. But tonight’s vigil debunks all of that. Tonight we are assured by our God that our present is no less redeemable than was our past, nor is it any less filled with promise than is our future.
Tonight we have heard stories of our salvation. Each of our readings has been a stop in the history of God’s love for us. God’s plan for salvation, and his sanctification of time, began back at the beginning of it all. Each of the days was hallowed with precious creation, and all of it was created and pronounced good. Then Abraham’s faithfulness and righteousness earned us a future as bright as a zillion twinkling stars. Later, as Moses and the Israelites stood trapped by the waters of the red sea, God’s providence made a way for them and cut off their pursuers, making the future safe for those God calls his own. Keeping all of that in mind, the prophet Baruch sings of the wisdom that God makes known to us, extolling the greatness of God who leads his people in understanding and splendor. St. Paul rejoices in the baptism that has washed away the stains of sin as we have died and risen with Christ, and has brought us into a new life that leads ultimately to God’s kingdom. And finally, our Gospel tonight tells us not to be afraid, to go forth into the Galilee of our future and expect to see the Lord.
We Christians have been spared the necessity of a cynical view of the world and its people. Our gift has been and always is the promise that Jesus Christ is with us always, even until the end of the world. And so, just as God sanctified all of time through his interventions of salvation, so too he has sanctified our lives through the interventions of Sacrament. We are a sacramental people, purified and reborn in baptism, fed and strengthened in the Eucharist, and in Confirmation, set on fire to burn brightly and light up our world. Tonight we celebrate these three Sacraments of Initiation, all of us recalling and renewing our baptism, Kelli being Confirmed in the faith, and all of us strengthened with the Eucharist, Kelli for the very first time tonight.
These days of Lent have been a sanctifying journey for our sister Kelli who joins us in faith tonight, but it has been no less sanctifying for all of us, as we have celebrated the Stations of the Cross together, gathered for fish fries, attended our parish mission, spent time before the Eucharist in our Forty Hours Devotion, and so much more. Christ has definitely sanctified this Lenten time for all of us, and has now brought us to the fullness of this hour, when he rises over sin and death to bring us all to the promise of life eternal.
And it is this very night that cleanses our world from all the stains of sin and death and lights up the darkness. The Exsultet, the Easter Proclamation that I sang when we entered Church tonight tells us: “Of this night, Scripture says, ‘The night will be clear as day: it will become my light, my joy.’ The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy; it casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.” What a gift this night is, not just to us gathered here in this church, not just to all the Catholics gathered together throughout the world on this holy night, but to all people in every time and place. Our world needs the light and our time needs the presence of Christ, and our history needs salvation. Blessed be God who never leaves his people without the great hope of his abiding presence!
And so, having come through this hour to be sanctified in this vigil, we will shortly be sent forth to help sanctify our own time and place. Brightened by this beautiful vigil, we now become a flame to light up our darkened world. That is our ministry in the world. That is our call as believers. That is our vocation as disciples. “May the Morning Star, which never sets, find this flame still burning: Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all humankind, [the Son of God] who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.”