At my first Easter Vigil, years ago, I brought with me all the sense of confusion that had been building throughout Holy Week. A Holy Thursday Mass that did not seem to end in the usual manner but just silently ended with a procession and the stripping of the altar. A Good Friday liturgy of the Lord’s Passion that ended with the gathering darkness of the sky and Jesus breathing his last upon the cross. Lost. Our savior had died – everything seemed dark.
The Easter Vigil begins with darkness. It represents all the darkness I felt and all the meanings of darkness – devoid of light; evil thoughts, motivations, deeds; all that is hidden and secret, deceitful and dishonest, divisive and abusive, immoral and sinful. It is as though they had won. There was a darkness in the world and a darkness in my hope. Still I came to the vigil, restless, impatient, hoping against hope. Then a light was struck, breaking into the darkness. Words were prayed, breaking the spell of gloom: “Make this new fire holy, and inflame us with new hope…May the light of Christ, rising in glory, dispel the darkness of our hearts and minds.
The Paschal candle lit from the new fire was processed into the community, and we received its light and experienced the power of that light as it grew. It was a river of divine light pouring into and filling not only the church, but also the people. The darkness was slowly driven back, the night held at bay: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Then our cantor sang the Exsultet:
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes forever! …
May the Morning Star which never sets
find this flame still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star,
who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son, who lives and reigns forever and ever.
And then it was all good. Then I was ready to receive the Word proclaiming all of Salvation history, to celebrate with those being baptized and confirmed and to join them at the table of the Eucharist