Tonight is the night! The best night of the whole year. The night we remember Jesus and his rising from the dead. Tonight is the night that makes everything new. Tonight changes everything.
Over the last couple of days we celebrated Jesus’ Last Supper, we celebrated his death. But by themselves these events are not entirely ground breaking. People have eaten Paschal dinners before, people had died on the cross before. But, never has anyone risen from the dead like this. In fact, it is because of Jesus’ rising that his death and last supper take on a new significance. This is not simply a matter of resuscitation, this is not simply a medical advance. This is an entirely new event in the course of human history. This Jesus who died, is dead no longer. As a result, it is not simply enough to say that Jesus WAS alive; now, and forever, Jesus IS alive.
When Jesus rises from the dead he takes all of us with him. One of the things I like about this Easter Vigil are the extended readings that we hear. It gives us a yearly chance to relive the whole sweep of salvation history. We recognize that God made us, but because of the Original Sin, death enters the world. Yet, God never abandons us; rather, he guides and shepherds his people throughout all of history, culminating Tonight. Everything in the history of the world has been leading up to this night, and everything since this night is seen in a new and amazing light. For Jesus has broken the bonds of death. No wonder the message of tonight’s gospel is “do not be afraid.”
No wonder this night is not like any other. For it is this night that gives the human race new hope. It is this night that the human race receives the gift of new life. No longer are we imprisoned by death and destruction; now, all those who believe in Christ will live just like he does.
What could possible give us fear? If Christ has destroyed death, there is nothing left to give us fear. Christ has destroyed sin, he has destroyed evil, he has destroyed death. And even if we end up facing these things in this life, we know that they no longer have the last word. Evil doesn’t win! That is the story of the cross. That even though we live in a broken world, that brokenness is not the last word. The last word is that one spoken from Christ: do not be afraid.
What a great joy it is for us to gather here tonight and renew our faith in the resurrection. We get a chance to hear Christ say to each one of us: do not be afraid. What gives you fear or anxiety? What causes you trouble or concern? I want us all to call to mind some concern we face, something that gives us anxiety, causes fear. Now, take that thing and stack it up against the amazing wonder of the Resurrection and how does it look now? Pretty small I imagine… Why do we let the trials and troubles of this world cause us fear? Jesus is alive! Death has no power over us, and Jesus can come to our aid in difficult times. Our faith and the power of the sacraments help us in difficult times.
Tonight many of our community will be receiving these sacraments for the first time. Hear the words of Jesus: do not be afraid. These sacraments are the doorway to new life. They are Christ’s gift to us. They give us the power to overcome fear or anxiety; they give us the power to live lives of holiness, to grow closer to Christ.
My friends, Jesus is alive, what could possible cause us to be afraid in the light of such an awesome truth?