At the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter
Reading I Genesis 1:1-2, 2
Psalm 33:4-7, 12-13, 22
Reading II Genesis 22:1-18
Reading III Exodus:14, 15:1
Reading IV Isaiah 54:5-14
Reading V Isaiah 55:1-11
Psalm Isaiah 12:2-6
Reading VI Baruch 3:9-15, 32:4-5
Reading VII Ezekiel 36:16-28
Psalm 42:3, 5; 43:3,4
Epistle Romans 6:3-11
Gospel Luke 24:1-12
For those of us who have been here Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening, if we notice, there was a very subtle experience. So subtle that it becomes powerful. On Thursday we had the 40 days of taking the road less traveled and trying to change our lives to be a better person. We came here that night and we washed each other’s feet. Hopefully during those 40 days we learned to serve a little better. After we washed feet as Jesus did in the upper room, we took the bread and the wine and we blessed it and received it, and that was food and drink for the rest of our lives. We left church in silence.
We came back on Friday. We came into church in silence. After listening to the word of God we came to this cross that hangs here 365 days a year and we reverenced that cross. At the end of that service we left in silence.
Tonight we went out into the darkness and we gathered around the fire and Jesus said, “I am going to set the world ablaze.” Our lit candle was our participation in that. “I want it. I want that light. I want that flame in me. I want that Spirit in me.”
And so we come here tonight bringing back the Alleluia, the Gloria, the water font, the baptismal font, they are all filled with water. The water is running, the Spirit is alive. And tonight we have the joy of baptizing and confirming and breaking bread and offering wine to others. We will leave church tonight ready now to take that journey and to celebrate for fifty days what we have experienced.
The liturgies of our faith are not just a brainstorm that fine people sit down and put together. They are done throughout the world in every church in every continent and in every country. We are all celebrating the very same experience.
How do we take that Spirit and make it our own? During the Lenten readings Jesus asked that “they bring him a colt and that they should untie the colt and tell anyone who asks that they are taking it to the Master.” Tonight a very unique phrase, which can give us a lot of prayer life, is “rolling back the stone.” When you roll back the stone it is kind of a disappointment, “Where is he?” Tonight we shouldn’t ask that question. Tonight we should say, “He’s in us.” It doesn’t take a genius to experience faith.
A couple of weeks ago we had a group here called Quincy Spirit and the people come and they have special needs. We all have special needs and there isn’t a person here who doesn’t have at least one special need. They were all given some symbol of Holy Week. One gentleman got up and he had a rock and he was asked, “What does that rock mean to you?” He said, “This rock means to me that it is a symbol of the stone that was rolled back from the tomb that set Jesus free — and Jesus is in me.” What a powerful insight.
The other day a young boy was honored. You may have seen this on television. His father was in the service and they showed a picture of the dad holding a young baby. The father was killed in combat and now the boy is about 12 years old and lives with his mom. What he received from his dad, and those of you who have been in the service will know, was the chain with the tags. Everybody who has been in service knows what the tags are. He was given those tags and he wears them as I wear around my neck a chain with a cross. Those tags go everywhere that young man goes. He wants the spirit of his dad with him all the time. The reason he got on national television was because of this story.
He was coming out of the supermarket and he found a twenty-dollar bill. His first reaction was like yours, or mine, “Wow. What am I going to buy with this twenty dollars?” He picked up the twenty dollars and he looked across the room and saw a man in uniform. He walked over to this man and said, “I want you to have this twenty dollars, and I want to thank you for serving our country.” The man was speechless. The boy was not. He has been raising funds ever since to take care of the men and women who served our country and who have died and whose families are like his. All you have to do is go back and look at the picture of the father holding this young baby that he will never see grow up, and then look at the photo of his son putting on the tag chain realizing, “I didn’t do anything that my dad didn’t do.”
When we think about these stories — we don’t have to have ten PHDs to open the Bible and read the Gospel. But you have to have an open heart to absorb everything going on in your life. We live fascinating lives simply because of what we have experienced in the past 40 days and, now in these sacred three days. And Jesus is saying, “If you really want to have Easter Joy, enjoy the ham tomorrow, enjoy all the deviled eggs, let the kids find all the eggs, but if you really want joy then look around and know that there is someone waiting for you to give of yourself.” That little boy was not a millionaire, he was a twelve-year-old kid. But he got the message.
And so tonight as we baptize and confirm and share Eucharist, this is what it’s all about. We all have received the greatest gift in the world and that is the God Spirit dwelling in us. The stone is rolled back. And we are being challenged to live our faith. We want to welcome those being baptized and confirmed into the fullness of faith and let them know that together the Spirit of God will be ever stronger.
But we can’t sit back and do nothing. So I invite all of us: Take five minutes tomorrow and find something in your house. Find a picture of your parents or grandparents. Or find something that was given to you by a family member and is now very precious to you. Ask yourself, “Why is this precious to me?” And you answer, “Because there is a story behind it. And that story is what makes me realize I am never alone, I have always been loved, and all I have to do is — just let it go.”
That’s Easter joy. May you and I not hold on to anything. It is only given to us to survive. We need groceries, we need a place to live, we need clothes. But most importantly — we need each other and if we have each other we can cling to the tags, we can cling to the rock, we can cling to grandma’s picture. We can cling to some thing. And, we can cling to the man on the cross who died and rose and said, “Please come. I furnish a meal all the time. It’s free of charge. All you have to do is come. And if necessary, I will wash your feet. If that is not enough, I will take you down a road less traveled. If that’s not enough, just know that if I have twenty dollars it’s yours. My name is Jesus, and I am with God.”
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Monsignor Michael Kuse is pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Quincy, Illinois.
(TASCAM DR 40 file 0038)