Words which I spoke at the beginning of this night’s liturgy sum up our experience together. On this most holy of nights, our Lord Jesus Christ passed over from death to life: this is the Passover of the Lord. On this most holy night, the Church invites us, her faithful people, to come together to keep a solemn vigil of prayer. On this most special night, we want to be with one another and share our common belief in the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, to express our profound gratitude to our Heavenly Father for his great gift to us of eternal life. On this most holy of nights, we want to celebrate our joy in the risen life of Jesus Christ.
The Gospel tonight tells us that when dawn came, the women found the tomb opened and empty. God’s angel broke open the grave that held the whole human race in the grip of death. Death, as we had known it, is forever destroyed. When every one of us attains our allotted time on earth and our bodies release our souls, we know we will pass from this world to the new and everlasting life that Christ tonight reveals to us. His tomb lies empty. Why do you seek the living one among the dead? He is not here; he has been raised. The living one could not be contained by death. And where Christ is now, in the Father’s glory, we also shall be, along with him, sharing in the everlasting glory of God. We carry this deepest of longings in our souls.
We believe that Jesus came from God and dwelled among us for a brief thirty years. While he lived among us, he shared our joys and sufferings, and he experienced human death, his free sacrifice of death on a cross. Having known personally all that we experience, our Lord taught us to believe his promise to us that we shall share what he now experiences: I go to prepare a place for you. Where I am, you also shall be.
As the resurrection accounts in the Gospel proclaim in the coming week during the Easter Octave, Jesus assured his eleven apostles hiding behind locked doors, Why are you disturbed?…Touch me and see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as I do. Saint Luke’s Gospel expressly states that Jesus showed them his hands and feet, his nail wounds that remained in his body. He took a piece of grilled fish and ate it in front of them–he was really alive! The Lord had died and now he lives anew. He was determined to prove to the Eleven that human life continues after our death. You are witnesses, he declared to them. And he blessed them and was carried up to heaven. All this is found in the rest of the chapter from which tonight’s Gospel is taken. Before Jesus left them and returned to his Father in heaven, he promised that he would remain on with us: I am with you always, until the end of the world.
This most holy night of the Lord’s resurrection, we behold the burning flame of the Easter Candle. This flame, the liturgy proclaims, is Christ our Light. This burning flame we shall hold again when we renew the promises we made at our own baptisms. The flame of the candle expresses the light of Christ and the fire of the Holy Spirit, an outward flame that is a sign of the inward light that now fills every Christian soul.
We ourselves are the light of Christ, his living light. We have not touched Jesus’ hands and feet, as did the eleven Apostles on that first Easter evening. Far more intimately than that, we personally touch Christ’s Body and his Blood, his divine Person, his glorified flesh when we receive him in Communion during this Easter Mass. We know that Jesus has been taken up to heaven where he now abides in the new life of the resurrection; yet he remains truly with us as well. Christ is the light of our souls, his Spirit fills our spirits. We are his witnesses.
We share with each other our risen Lord. On this most holy of nights, we renew once again our experience of Christ in us–our hope of glory. We are one in Christ and by baptism we share his risen life. Death inevitably awaits every child of Adam but eternal life is assured to everyone who is in Christ.
We rejoice on this most holy night. This is a joy that the world cannot take from us. Christ is risen; he is risen indeed! And we all share his life within us. Christ’s holy light burns within our souls. We are his witnesses.