The Easter Vigil Mass is described as the mother of all liturgies. The headline of most news websites yesterday was: US drops the mother of all bombs on IS; the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used by the US. It was dropped on Holy Thursday and President Trump described the hit on Afghanistan as “another successful job”. A bit like doing the dishes. What’s the connection between our liturgy tonight and that act?
For Mary of Magdala and the other women, especially for Mary the mother of Jesus, the crucifixion of Jesus (Good Friday) must have been the mother of all grief-stricken experiences, and the rolled back stone at the tomb, the mother of all wonders. And then the angel’s response – “he is not here, for he has risen, the mother of all reassurance and joy”.
Deep angst was part of their experience. They hurried to the tomb, confused and worried, driven by a kind of yearning-impregnated angst which trumped all doubt, all despair, all darkness.
Hope-filled seeking is the feeling we experience on Holy Saturday. All our usual rhythms and routines are suspended. The shops are closed and work and school too, so we find time to notice and reflect on signs of hope and goodness penetrating through the disasters and doom that colonize our news screens.
The BBC news site I read, dominated by the headline about the mother of all bombs, also carried within its first page – almost hidden – a clip about a Principal of a kindergarten in eastern Ukraine where Putin backed separatists lob mortars everyday. The woman interviewed explained that she and her husband had evacuated their own family to safe territory but she has remained. Why? Because, she said: “I cannot abandon the children of parents whose economic situation means they have no choice but to stay”.
Such stories remind us that the magnificent words sung in tonight’s Exsultet are not just of the past – recalling the saving events of God’s presence in our human history – but are also real for today because we are sharers in Christ’s light, as symbolized by our earlier lit candles. Shining his light, it is we who today: banish the darkness of sin, break chains of death, love with boundless mercy, dispel evil, caste out hatred, bring peace and humble earthly pride (cf. Exsultet).
That sense of God at work among and through us today, and in particular through te māramatanga o te karaiti, Christ’s light, is very powerfully symbolized later on in our liturgy when I immerse three times the paschal candle into the font of baptism: God comes to us, God seeks us out, divinity finds its home in humanity in order that we can be at home with God, in order that we gather here at Church, in order that we belong. That is our Easter joy.
That dynamic is at work all the time in every generation in all places. I was reminded of that in a beautiful way on Holy Thursday after our servers practice. I noticed a young adult was hovering at the back of our Church alone. I said hello and asked her where she was from. She’s at the Ohakea airbase and she went on to say I went to a Catholic school in another town, I enjoyed RE, my own family never go to Mass, but I liked Mass at school and so I decided to come here. She had sought out this place. Because – maybe feeling a little bit domestic home sick during those days of suspension of our usual busy rhythms and routines – she knew in her heart that here she would feel at home.
What a wonderful for gift for her and what a wonderful gift for us. That’s why after our reading from Isaiah which says: come to the water all you who are thirsty and seek the Lord (cf. Isaiah 55: 1-11), we prayed: almighty ever-living God graciously increase the longing of your people for you (and your place, here), because at the outpouring of your grace we grow in virtue and holiness.
Neophytes and Candidates tonight marks a solemn step in your journey of seeking, of longing, and now of belonging. This is home, we are one whānau whakapono. It is Jesus the Lord who has brought you here. Christ’s light gives you vision, it kindles your mind and heart, it fuels your imagination, draws you ahead, and stretches your horizons from the earthly tomb to the eternity of heaven.
So let us all in the words of the Psalmist, rejoice and be glad for this is the day the Lord has made! The Risen Saviour shines upon us! Let our hearts resound with joy, as we echo the mighty sound of God’s people.