The Easter Vigil in the Holy Night: The Triumph of the Cross

Tonight’s readings

“You shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:28). I love that last line from the last of the Old Testament readings we heard tonight. There is a covenant, there has always been a covenant, there always will be a covenant. God created us in love, and he loves us first and best. No matter where we may wander; no matter how far from the covenant we may stray, God still keeps it forever. We will always be his people and he will always be our God. If I had to pick a line that sums up what we’re here for tonight, that would be it.

Over the past couple of days, as we have observed this Sacred Paschal Triduum, which comes to its denouement tonight in this Vigil of vigils, I have reflected on the Cross. I did that because it is the Cross that Holy Mother Church sets before us during the Triduum, from the lines of the Entrance Antiphon way back on Holy Thursday Evening:

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

On Thursday, I reflected on the scandal of the Cross, rejecting the idea that going to the Cross made our God any less, and instead acknowledging that the real scandal was the reason he went there, which was for my sins. Yesterday, on Good Friday, I reflected on the Way of the Cross, noting that our Savior willingly took up the Cross so that you and I might have life, and I reflected on the reality of our own little crosses and the way that we disciples have to travel. Tonight, I would like to conclude that reflection on the Holy Cross, which is our glory, by celebrating the Triumph of the Cross. We actually celebrate that on September the 14th each year, but the reason for its Exaltation is what we come to experience tonight.

It might seem a little odd to reflect on the Cross – triumph or not – on this holy night. I mean, surely we’ve moved on, haven’t we? We came here for resurrection and want to get on with our lives. Just like we tend to rush through our grieving of loved ones – to our own psychological and spiritual peril, by the way – so too we want to rush through our Lent and particularly our Good Friday and Holy Saturday, so that we can eat our Peeps and chocolate bunnies and call it a day.

But we disciples dare not let it be so. Because certainly we know how we got here to this moment. We know that we don’t get an Easter Sunday without a Good Friday, that we can’t have resurrection if there hasn’t been death, that we can’t have salvation if there hasn’t been a sacrifice.

And there sure was a sacrifice. Our Lord suffered a brutal, ugly death between two hardened criminals, taking the place of a revolutionary. He was beaten, humiliated, mistreated and nails were pounded into his flesh, that flesh that he borrowed from us. He hung in agony for three hours and finally, when all was finished, he cried out in anguish and handed over his spirit. Placed in the tomb, he descended into hell. Collecting the souls of the blessed ones of old, he waited while earth mourned and disciples scattered and everyone wondered what happened to this Christ.

And then came the morning. The Sabbath was over, and the sun was rising in the east on the first day of the week, and the women came with spices to prepare our Lord for burial. But they couldn’t: he has been raised! He is not here! Our Lord is risen and death is defeated! The menacing, ugly Cross has become the altar of salvation! The Cross, that instrument of horror, has triumphed over every darkness thrown at it, and we can do – should do – no less than praise our God!

We have journeyed with our Jesus for three days now. We ate with him, we prayed through the night with him, some of us at seven churches. We saw him walk the way of the Cross and tearfully recalled his crucifixion. We reverenced the Cross, joining our own crosses to his. Now we’ve stayed up all night and shared the stories of our salvation, with eager excitement at the ways God has kept that covenant through the ages. A roaring fire shattered the darkness, and a candle was lit to mingle with the lights of heaven. Then grace had its defining moment as Christ shattered the prison-bars of death and rose triumphant from the underworld.

Our birth would have meant nothing had we not been redeemed. If we were born only to live and die for this short span of time, how horrible that would have been. But thanks be to God, the sin of Adam was destroyed completely by the death of Christ! The Cross has triumphed and we are made new! Dazzling is this night for us, and full of gladness! Because our Lord is risen, our hope of eternity has dawned, and there is no darkness which can blot it out. We will always be God’s people, and he will always be our 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.

He is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!