Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Vigil

When I was growing up, and even as an adult member of the Catholic faith, I never paid any real attention to the Easter Vigil Mass until two years ago.  Two years ago, I learned the meaning of that Mass and have not failed to attend one since.  That is because two years ago, my husband and son were received into the Catholic Church and it was the first time that I saw the absolute beauty of that particular Mass.

At Easter Vigil, we begin the celebration in darkness, just as the Apostles did while waiting for the Sabbath to end so that they could give a proper burial to their friend and teacher, Jesus.  The darkness, for them, was more than just the literal darkness of night.  They were unable to see the truth about Christ, they didn't understand why God had allowed Him to die nor did they grasp what it really meant.  Their hopes, their dreams, their faith was all locked up in that tomb with Christ.  So it is when we live without Christ, we live in the dark.

As the Mass moves forward, the Baptismal candle is lit.  From this one candle, a symbol of Christ, each member of the congregation lights a candle of their own and then everyone processes in to the Church. It is a truly breathtaking thing to watch the church slowly light up as each member of the Body of Christ carries His flame inside.  Christ's light dispels our darkness, renews our hope, and reveals the truth - we are not alone, were never alone, and do not have to be alone unless we choose to be.

As Father Dan pointed out during his homily, tonight is also a celebration of Christ's empty tomb. That empty tomb represents our sin and our slavery to that sin. He invites us to join Him in leaving the tomb behind and in living a new life as a member of His body. He invites us to leave our past behind, as He left behind the burial clothes, and begin anew.  It's significant to note that in every gospel account, the disciples did not recognize His new body at first so radically changed was He. That's how much He promises to change our lives if we will give them over to Him - so radically that those who knew us in the past will no longer recognize the person we've become.

This is not an empty promise. I have witnessed first hand the power that giving your life to Christ has to change the person you once were into someone new and different. I am no longer a slave to my vanity, needing to reassure myself of my worth by the number of men I can cause to desire me. I no longer need to test my husband's love for me by seeing how many times he can forgive me before giving up on me. I no longer measure my worth in terms of my bank account, my possessions, or the number of men who desire me. I only need to look upon a crucifix to know what I am worth.

Our family was once so broken that my eight year old son told me not only that he was going to kill himself, but exactly how.  Now 15 years old, he is healthy and healing thanks to Christ. He has been through some incredibly difficult times these past six months and has remained hopeful and happy in spite of it all, able to find reasons to thank God even when we were homeless and living out of our van for three days. He is liked at school, respected by his peers, and makes friends every where he goes.  He is certainly not the same child he was at age 8.

For as long as I have known him, my husband lived in a deep depression that left him unable to see any goodness in the world around him.  He would go years between jobs, and often threatened suicide. Those were dark days for us, when our marriage was often held together by our inability to afford an attorney and our conviction that the vows we had taken which stated until death do we part were not meant to be broken. Two years after his conversion, this man that was so grouchy and grumpy is rarely so anymore. He works hard and puts in more hours than he is paid to put in. The same man who used to believe in a "nuke, pave, and repopulate" solution to the world's problems now values every human life.

We are not perfect. We are still growing in our understanding of and our ability to adhere to Christ's teachings, but we are making progress on that journey.  The closer we come to Christ, the more we are changed by His presence. As I think about it, though, it's not really so much that we change anymore than it is that Christ was changed by His death.  I think what would be more accurate to say is that the closer we come to Christ the more we truly become the people we were meant to be, just as Christ's true nature was revealed by His death.  We shed the fear of rejection, the pain of past wounds, the pride that digs into our heads, the heavy burdens of guilt and shame, and the slavery to sin.  These things cover over the person we are on the inside, the truth is revealed, and suddenly people see us for the first time for who we truly are.

I thank God that He loved us enough to send Christ, and that Christ loved us enough to give His life for us so that we might be freed from the empty tomb of sin.  Alleluia! He is risen!

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