The fullness of that question’s answer is revealed in tonight’s sacred liturgy, making tonight the most holy of nights. It is an answer, that has been gradual; a revelation unfolding over hundreds of years through our human history.
That is what we have heard summarized in the magnificent Exsultet sung once a year. The Exsultet in fact is like a whakapapa of faith. It recalls the wondrous events of God’s saving action throughout our history: You led our tupuna or forebears out of slavery in Egypt to freedom, you banished the darkness of sin, you broke the chains of death, you loved us with boundless mercy. Indeed your light dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy, casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride.
Little wonder that the word Exsultet, this engaging summary of wondrous praise of God, means to leap forward; our hearts are raised in awe at who God is for us and so we are carried forward in joy.
There are however moments, days, times in history, when struggles and woes seem to darken our way; yet even then we know deep in our hearts that Christ’s light prevails, indeed is it not precisely through the cracks of our faults and weaknesses that such light shines humble yet resplendent? That’s Christ’s victory; that’s his light at work in our world, borne carried reflected by us.
Christ’s light is our light. That’s powerfully symbolized when later we immerse three times the paschal candle into the font of baptism. God comes to us, God seeks us out; divinity reaches into humanity. In the early Church, Baptism was in fact also called the sacrament of illumination, underlining the idea that we are lights for the world because we share in Christ’s risen light. Thus we too dispel darkness, caste out hatred and bring peace into our homes and neighbourhoods.
Some of course say in the face of our hope: “yeah right”. It is probably the case that, at this very moment, while Christians are gathering fearful in parts of Iraq, Syria, Lybia and Yemen, the so called ISIS and other agents of destruction will be at their work. That’s easy to point out. But is it not also the case that in this country a not insignificant percentage of professionals and tradespeople and business people will go back to their offices on Tuesday and plot, if they have not already systematized, how to squeeze even more dollars out of their clients, including those least able to pay? That, for some reason, is less easy to point out.
How do we respond? Fear certainly accompanies the first example and inertia perhaps the second. They are understandable possibilities. Yet fear, and inertia or apathy, both paralyze us.
Mary Magdala, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, confronted with the empty tomb, were we are told terrified. Understandably so. But the angels and others gathered assured them: there is no need to be afraid, remember what he said in Galilee; he has indeed risen. Fearless they ran and told the apostles, and they – perhaps being reluctant learners – sent Peter off for a second opinion.
What about us? Sometimes it is hard to remain people of hope. That’s real. The revelation of who the Messiah, Christ, is, took hundreds of years through Jewish history, so for us too our gift of faith, with sure foundation in the historic events we have celebrated these days, takes time to percolate and ferment in us. In fact it’s a lifelong process or journey. But we do know that putting our faith into practice is what matures it, and deepens it; overcomes fear or reticence and banishes apathy or inertia. We become, echoing the words of our epistle: “alive for God in Christ Jesus”.
This year we have been given a particular focus by Pope Francis in order to become alive for God and for God’s world. This Year of Mercy has already been for so many a metanoia, a conversion, meaning a lifting higher – an exsultet we might say tonight – of our minds in order that we reach out to others with the feminine traits of God, for in the ancient Aramaic texts that is what mercy means, to encounter the other as though you were that person’s mother.
Marisa, Adam who will soon be baptized and Tara who will be confirmed, thank you for your readiness to join the radiance of our community of hope for the world.
May we all, in the words of the Psalmist, rejoice and be glad for this is the day that the Lord has made!
The Risen Saviour shines upon us!
Let our hearts resound with joy, as we echo the mighty song of all God’s people!