“The Easter Journey from Darkness to Light”
Homily for Easter Vigil Mass
April 16, 2022
The liturgy of the Easter Vigil which we celebrate tonight is characterized by a journey from darkness to light – and rightfully so, for this is the essence of the very mystery of Easter itself.
Night and Day
Our ceremony tonight began in darkness, with the lighting and blessing of the Easter fire and then the lighting of the Easter Candle from that fire. From there, the individual candles of all of you in the assembly were lit, gradually increasing the light in the church. And then, with the singing of the Easter Proclamation, the lights in the church were turned on as a sign of the light of Christ’s Resurrection dispelling the darkness of sin and death. Finally, at the singing of the Gloria, which had remained silent throughout Lent, the altar candles were lit, thus completing the illumination of the church.
The very idea of a vigil is, in fact, the same thing: meaning, traditionally, the faithful literally keeping vigil, staying awake throughout the night in anticipation of the break of dawn, bringing with it the light of the rising sun which scatters the darkness of the night, reminding us of that glorious Resurrection of the Son of God. This journey from darkness to light is, indeed, the movement of all of salvation history. We see it exemplified in that first Passover night when the Lord came to the rescue of His people Israel, liberating them from slavery in Egypt and setting them on the path to the Promised Land.
It was at night that the angel of death went through Egypt striking down the firstborn, but sparing the Israelites whose doorposts were marked with the blood of the Passover lamb. And the Lord accompanied them the whole way, protecting them, providing for them, and guiding them, as we heard about in the third reading for this Easter Vigil Mass, which gives us the account of the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. For the next forty years, the Lord would guide His people through the Sinai desert by a pillar of fire, the sign of His providential presence – the “column of the fiery cloud” through which “the Lord cast … upon the Egyptian force a glance that threw it into a panic,” as that third reading from the Book of Exodus relates to us.
Personal Salvation History
This, though, was a pre-figuring of the true Pillar of Fire represented by the Easter Candle: the light of Christ’s Resurrection, by which he conquers the darkness of death and bestows upon us the light of eternal life. Yes, this is the movement of all of salvation history, including the personal salvation history of each one of us as well. Our journey toward heaven, the true Promised Land, is one of walking from darkness into light. This means heeding the call of ongoing conversion, which is the reason the Church gives us the holy season of Lent which we conclude this night: a reminder of the need to continually walk toward the light.
However, just like those ancient Israelites who were wandering in the Sinai desert, we, too, can regress during our pilgrimage in the desert of this world, doubting that God is guiding us there, and instead doing things our own way and fabricating our own false gods. This always draws us back into the darkness, and brings more darkness into the world. The answer is to follow the true Pillar of Light, moving away from the night of this world to the day that never ends, the day of the Son of God.
This is how we bring that light of Christ into this world, guiding others toward his light. It takes many points of light to guide people to the true light that is Christ. Just as an airport runway is lit not by one extremely bright light that would blind the pilot, but rather by many points of light to guide the pilot to a safe landing, it takes all of us serving as such a point of light to help guide people safely home to Christ. It is not so much how bright the light of each one of us is, as the solidarity of all of us together serving as such points of light.
In the World
How desperately needed this is in the world today. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by so much darkness, and certainly especially heavy on our hearts right now is the suffering of our brother and sister Christians in Ukraine. This, though, is a good example of an opportunity for us to bring light into the world, and we should take consolation from the generosity of so many people and nations that are expressing spiritual and material solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
I recently returned from a trip in Italy, where I had a chance encounter with a priest who is working with Ukrainian refugees. He had visited the country, and spoke to me of how devastating the situation is there (that is exactly the word he used, “devastating”). But I also saw the welcome the Italian people are giving to Ukrainians fleeing their country for safety, a compassion we see extended also in Poland especially, but also in our own country and in many other countries throughout the world as well. In a situation of such profound suffering, the Lord gives us all the more opportunity to show love, to be points of light in the thick darkness that is the night of sin and death encapsulating this world.
God saved His people of old from death by the blood of the Lamb that marked the entrance to their homes. He saves us today from eternal death by the blood of His co-eternal Son, the true Lamb of sacrifice, of the sacrifice of the Cross, which atones for the sins of the world once for all. We were marked with that blood on the day of our baptism, the promises of which we will renew momentarily as we are sprinkled with the Easter water, reminding us of that sacrament by which he washed us clean of our sins.
Let us, then, walk always as people of the light, worshiping the one, true God, and guiding others there, so that we may arrive safely to our true and eternal Promised Land: God’s heavenly Kingdom, the Kingdom of the day that has no end, the day in which, in union with all the saints, we will adore God face-to-face and be at rest in His eternal light and peace.