The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

Tonight’s readings

We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.

We have come to the pinnacle of our vigil, this mother of vigils, focused now as we have been since our Liturgy began on Thursday night, on the Cross.  Over these past days, the Cross has become an icon of God’s love, the ladder to eternity, the linchpin of grace.  That horrible Cross was, on Holy Thursday, the threat of obscurity to a people under the thumb of the Roman Empire.  That same Cross became on Good Friday the delight of Satan, whose evil laughter we could almost hear when our Savior died.  Tonight, as we have kept vigil, we have seen that the Cross has become the altar of God’s most conclusive act of self-emptying, opening the door of grace to all of us who have already died the death of sin.  The Cross is proof that there is nothing the princes of this world, nor the prince of darkness himself, can do to thwart the salvation God offers us.  We should glory in the Cross!

As we have kept Vigil here on this Holy Night, we have heard the stories of our salvation.  We have seen that time and time again, God has broken through the history of our brokenness, has triumphed over the lure of sin, and has redirected his chosen ones to the path of life.  Salvation history has brought us to the fullness of this night, not just a memorial of the Resurrection, but a real sharing in Christ’s triumph.  This is the night when Christ makes the ultimate Passover; leading us through theRed Sea of his blood, poured out for us, holding back the raging waters of sin and death, and guiding us, his brothers and sisters, into the Promised Land of salvation.  This is the night when the fire of his love blazes for all eternity to provide an enduring light in our dark world.  This is the night when our faith tells us that we are not the same as the rest of the world; we are a people set apart from all that drags humanity down to death.  This is the night when death itself is defeated by Christ our God rising from the depths of the underworld!

This night brings our human experience into focus.  Our Easter Proclamation, the Exsultet, sung at the beginning of our time together, proclaimed: “O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!  O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer!”  Maybe it makes us bristle a bit to think that sin was necessary to merit the Sacrifice of our Lord.  But the Church has always taught that God permitted evil in the world in order to triumph over it.  Saint Augustine writes, “God judged it better to bring good out of evil, than to allow no evil to exist.”  And Saint Thomas Aquinas recalls the words of Saint Paul and the ancient text of this very Exsultet to explain: “But there is no reason why human nature should not have been raised to something greater after sin.  For God allows evils to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom; hence it is written (Romans 5:20): ‘Where sin abounded, grace did more abound.’ Hence, too, in the blessing of the Paschal candle, we say: ‘O happy fault, that merited such and so great a Redeemer!’”

God delights in the freedom of will that we possess as a natural part of who we are because it gives us the opportunity to freely choose to love him, as he freely chooses to love us.  But he knows that same free will can and will also lead us astray, into sin, into evil.  The free choice to love God is a greater good than the absence of evil, so not imbuing us with free will was never an option.  Instead, the evil of our sin is redeemed on this most holy of all nights, this night which “dispels wickedness, washes faults away, restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to mourners, drives out hatred, fosters concord, and brings down the mighty.”

And thus it is fitting that this night is the night when we focus on Baptism.  Everything is in place: the waters of the Red Sea are parted, the pillar of fire glows to the honor of God, we are led to grace and joined to God’s holy ones of every time and place, Christ emerges triumphant from the underworld and the sin of Adam is redeemed forever.  And so our Elect in a few moments will enter the waters of Baptism from the west: that place of the setting sun, renouncing the prince of darkness, professing faith in God, dying with Christ in the waters, emerging to new life,  triumphant with Christ on the east, and encountering the bright morning star whose light blazes for all eternity.  We will hold our breath as the waters flow over them, and sing Alleluia when they are reborn, crying out the praise of God with all the joy the Church can muster!

This is the night that redeems all our days and nights.  This is the night when sin and death are rendered impotent by the plunging of the Paschal candle, the Light of Christ, into the waters of Baptism.  This is the night that even the Cross, that instrument of cruelty and death, is transfigured, redeemed to the praise and honor and glory of God!

We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life and resurrection,
through whom we are saved and delivered.

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