Consider, dear brothers and sisters, what we have heard and seen on this vigil of all vigils, at this Mass of all Masses: It is night. We have gathered in total darkness. The darkness around us is cosmic. Certainly, our world is right now shrouded in a darkness and an emptiness that is vast and thick. It is night. The Paschal Candle, a pillar of fire emanating from the fire of the Holy Trinity now stands among us. Representing Jesus Christ, its flame seems fragile in such an immense space as it dances and flickers all alone, pushing back the oblivion that surrounds it on all sides. Indeed, we sometimes wonder, “where are you, Lord?”, amidst so much suffering. Perhaps we feel at times that our faith is just as fragile and alone as this candle.
But then, something else happened. Each of us received a flame from that one light. They represent both the light of faith in Jesus Christ, and the luminous indwelling of Jesus Christ, both poured into us at our Baptism. And as I looked around this holy building, I noticed that, together, this vast and dark place became an ocean of fire, a sea of faith, the glory of the presence of the Lord! That one flame, Jesus Christ, was suddenly everywhere defeating the vast night. You see, together, we the Church can conquer the darkness of this world. But we can conquer only with Jesus Christ, and only when we are one with him in his Church. Cut off from his body the Church, we will succumb to the abyss. We must remain together! And yet, the defeat of darkness and death comes at a price. The paschal candle is melting. It dies in order to bestow light. It must give of itself in order to destroy the darkness. Our candles too imitate Christ, they drip melting beeswax, dying with him as they push back death and give light unto the world.
Being a disciple of Jesus is costly, dear friends. Our Lord says that we too must take up our cross and follow him if we want to live. If we want to enjoy the life Christ has won for us, it doesn’t come cheap. That’s because love isn’t cheap. True love costs us our lives! And it is love, charity, the Exsultet proclaimed, that prompted our Lord to ransom us from death: “O love, O charity beyond all telling, to ransom a slave you gave away your son!” On the topic of love, we also heard from that 5th century chant, “O truly blessed night, when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human.” By the absolute love that Jesus bore for us in mounting the cross and entering the tomb, a marriage was sealed. In fact, while on the cross, among Jesus’ last words, he uttered, “it is consummated.” God’s marriage to human nature is consummated, completed, sealed by his death on the cross. It is then that the Incarnation reaches its fullness, for the human experience doesn’t end at birth, it culminates, ultimately, in suffering and in death. Now, the wedding proclaimed by the Exsultet is wonderful news indeed. For the wedding is ours! In wedding himself to our nature, the Lord bestows on us a new humanity. For the story doesn’t end with the cross. Just as the whale could no longer hold the prophet Jonah in its mouth, nor could Pharoah any more hold the people of Israel in slavery, neither could death hold Jesus Christ our Lord in its jaws! And, having been wed to him, what emerges from the tomb with our Lord is our own human nature, transformed, new, irrevocably and eternally married to the things of heaven! His body is no longer subject to suffering, corruption or suffering. It is permeated with the divinity, resplendent in glory. It is this new humanity, a humanity wed to the divinity, that Jesus bestows on us at Baptism. Jessica and Tam, our dear catechumens, this is the new life Jesus holds out to you tonight when you are reborn from the baptismal font, just as he was reborn from the tomb. Safeguard the gift he offers you at all costs!
But wait, there’s more. Our Christian life doesn’t finish at Baptism. The prophet Isaiah cries out in our fifth reading, “Come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come! Buy corn without money and eat!” He invites us to eat and drink of what the Lord freely gives. Not from what money can purchase, but from what the death of our Lord purchased by his freely given life. The saying “you are what you eat” comes true in this instance. For what is it, or who is it we are about to eat and drink? The one who said, ‘take and eat, this is my body’. ‘Take and drink, this is my blood’. The crucified and risen one gives himself to us to eat so that we might become what he is, who became what we are. In this way, that marriage, when “things of heaven are wed to those of earth, divine to the human,” takes place in us every time we eat and drink of his self-sacrifice. His flame becomes our flame, ever anew and ever increasing. My dear friends, Jesus Christ is risen from the dead! Rejoice and be glad that you personally are now called to his embrace, to be wed to the things of heaven and to taste what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor heart conceived!
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