March 26, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Easter Vigil
Reading (Romans 6:3-11) Gospel (St. Matthew 28:1-10)
Today the Church celebrates the holiest of all the nights of the year, the night on which Our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead; and in so celebrating, the Church also celebrates the beginning of a new creation. When we came into the church this evening, everything was dark. We began by lighting the new Ester fire, and from that fire the new Easter candle was lit, signifying the light of Christ – Jesus Himself, Who said, I am the Light of the world. In a few moments, we will bless the new water for Easter. And if we look at the first reading in the very beginning, from the very first chapter and first verse of Scripture, we hear first that it was darkness and that the Spirit of God hovered over the waters. The darkness and the waters were the two things that were present at the very beginning. They are signs of death and they are signs of sin. It was out of darkness that God made His first point of creation; the first element in the created order was light. And the second thing from which all the rest of material creation came was the order that came from the chaos of the water. The two things that life requires are light and water, and these are the two things that we see at the very beginning of creation.
So tonight as we continue with this Easter vigil, we have before us the Easter candle, which in a few moments will be plunged into the Easter water to bless the water, to bring forth new life, the new life which is ours in baptism, of which Saint Paul wrote in the reading that we heard in his Letter to the Romans, that all of us who are baptized into Christ Jesus are baptized into His death and into His Resurrection. We enter into the waters, we are buried with Christ in the waters of baptism, and we rise with Him to new life from the waters of baptism.
As we ponder these two elements and we look back again to the first chapter of Genesis, we see that it is the Spirit of God that is upon the water. In the Gospels, the Holy Spirit is defined by two different things – fire and water – the two things that we see this evening. Our Lord tells us that He is the light of the world and anyone who follows Him will have the light of life in them. He speaks about that light, and He tells us that we must be baptized by water and the Holy Spirit. Saint John the Baptist, recall, said that he baptized with water but one is coming after Him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. And when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples at Pentecost, it was in tongues of fire. Our Lord also spoke of the water. He spoke of it to the woman from Samaria who was at the well, and said, If you knew who it was that was speaking to you, you would ask him, and he would give you living water. Later on in Saint John’s Gospel, He spoke again about this living water and about those who would follow Him, and that this water would well up within them and become springs welling up to eternal life. Saint John tells us that He was speaking of the Holy Spirit.
We see, then, that there is life on two different levels for us. There is our natural life and there is supernatural life, the natural life which we receive from our parents, and the supernatural life which is given to us in baptism, which is the grace of God that was won for us in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. These elements tell us then that we are a new creation. If we have been buried with Christ, we have gone down in death with Him already. Christ, as the Apostle’s Creed tells us, descended into hell, not the place of condemnation, but rather the place of the dead, the underworld or the netherworld (Sheol, as the Hebrew people called it). He went there to bring the light into the place of darkness. He came into this world as the light in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
And so in our lives, when we see what has happened to us, we are conceived in sin and we are reborn into life. We go from darkness to light. We go from being plunged into the waters of death to rise in baptism, to having that new Water, Who is the Holy Spirit, welling up in us to eternal life. In our lives, we go from our sins – the choice of darkness and of death, the very things that we see before God brought order into creation – and when we come forth, whether it be in baptism or from the confessional, once again we have within us the light of Christ and the grace of God welling up to eternal life.
Therefore, Our Lord speaks to each one of us and says, You are the light of the world. He is the light of the world, and yet He tells each one of us that we are the light of the world. He also says, If the light is in you, then everything is bright; but if your light is darkness, how dark it is. On this night of the Resurrection, Our Lord has dispersed the darkness. He has broken through the chaos of death, and He has won for us the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He has called each one of us then to choose life, to choose supernatural life, to reject sin and to live according to the grace of God given to us through the Holy Spirit, Who is the gift of the risen Christ. Each one of us baptized into Christ shares already in His Resurrection, and we are called to live in this world of darkness as the light of the world, to live holy lives, to live Christ-like lives, to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us, to inspire us, to fill us with His light and with His love. Even in this world, as all of the pressures surrounding us tell us that we are to give in, that we are to be like everyone else, that we are to sin, the Holy Spirit within us tells us that we are to rise above death and darkness, that we are to shine like a brilliant light, and that the life which is given to us through water and the Holy Spirit is to help us to reject death and to spring up to life everlasting.
That is the gift Our Lord has won for us. It is the gift that we already share. It is the dignity that is ours: the call to be saints, to be children of the light, to reject darkness, to reject death, to reject sin, and to live lives of holiness, to be the light in the darkness of the world in union with Jesus Christ raised from the dead.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.