Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia!

I was privileged to be able to give a lay reflection at my church, the Paulist Center in Boston, at our paschal vespers service this evening. I've copied the text of my reflections below, hope you enjoy them!

Paschal Vespers, 2006
To begin, let me remind you of three things we have heard. From our opening hymn, the Phos hilarion: “O radiant Light, O Sun divine of God the Father’s deathless face, O image of the Light sublime that fills the heavenly dwelling place.” From the Exsultet last evening: “Of this night Scripture says, ‘The night will be as clear as day; it will become my light, my joy.” From the prologue of John’s Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”

As if the big paschal candle and the candles burning here weren’t obvious enough, I remind you of these words because I want to think with you about light for a while this evening. Why did we chant “Christ our Light” last night? Why does the hymn call Jesus our “Sun divine” (with a “u”)? Why were our Elect, our neophytes now, given candles as a primary symbol of their baptism? Why now, as the day ends, as this first day of the week ends, do we come together once more to light candles as the darkness approaches?

When do we notice light? We notice it in contrast to darkness; we most often notice it when it’s gone, when the candle goes out or the power fails. As individuals and as a church we spent forty days paying attention to the darkness, not out of morbid curiosity, but to open our eyes again to the gulf between darkness and light. We paid attention to the lack of light in our own lives, to the dark corners that needed to be cleansed, to the musty shadows of our own sins, our bad habits, our failures to love, our failures to be light for others. And, while Lent officially ended on Thursday, Good Friday was the culmination of this detailed study of the dark: we saw the final result of real darkness, the Innocent One crushed by our sins, the sacrament for us of all the ways our sins, individually and collectively, crush the world.

And yet. And yet, we learn through Christ’s resurrection that the light wins in the end. We hear through the witness of Mary Magdalene and the other apostles that the candle that we thought had been snuffed out for good, has been re-lit by the Holy One, by the Mystery who declares that “the night will be as clear as day”. The disciples who recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread walked back to Jerusalem in the middle of the night, illuminated by the Risen Christ’s presence. The Easter Gospel is that, for all of its power, all of its evident power in our world, the power of darkness is not the final power. That the love with which God loves us, and by which we are empowered to love each other, is stronger than the worst our darkness can throw against it. Our Eastern Christian sisters and brothers call this week “Bright Week”; we celebrate a “week of Sundays”; tomorrow is not the “Monday after Easter”, but the “Monday of Easter”, the second day of this one day, the beginning of fifty days of light, longer and stronger than the forty days of darkness. This candle, the symbol of the “Sun divine of God the Father’s deathless face”, shines forth from now until Pentecost. Easter is the day that we remember that darkness is the intruder in a world meant to be light, and not the other way round.

But as we leave here in the evening, we cannot be naïve; the sun outside is setting. These candles will burn down. Christ our Lord rose from the dead two thousand years ago, and yet our attention to the darkness has plenty of material right here and right now; the “reign of God” we proclaim seems more like a pipe dream, an abstraction, than the “reign of death” which seems so evident around us. We cannot dare to be naïve about the darkness. Mythical words about Satan and hell is harder for our 2006, American ears to hear; but what about the word of war? What about the words of the poor who come to our doors here each week, of the raped and abused whose lives and whose pains should temper our joy? What about the words of our conscience that remind us that even we who are pious enough to go to church one more time this weekend, perhaps even especially we, turn from the light frequently, forcefully, and easily?

Celebrating Easter together as the day ends, it seems to me, gives us the chance to pray about how the light of Christ will shine in the darkness that threatens again as we leave this place. Jesus is Risen. God has spoken in his Christ, God has said in his Word that the flickering light of love, as feeble as it seems in our weak hearts, as feeble as it looks hanging from a cross, is where God enters the world and is saving the world from within. Two thousand years ago, God affirmed that love was stronger than the worst that an occupying Empire could throw at a peasant speaking the truth in love. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Last evening, five members of our community, and thousands of people all over the world, began their journey as members of Christ’s body in this world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Last evening, Christians around the world re-dedicated themselves to the difficult discipline of struggling once more to be light. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” In this place, right now, we dare not dismiss the darkness, we dare not ignore the darkness as its shadows crowd in again on our Easter joy. But our night is as clear as day, our joy is more real than our fear, Christ our light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

No comments: