“The Easter Journey from Darkness to Light”
Homily for Easter Sunday
April 17, 2022
“On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark”. All four Gospel accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb describe it as happening on the first day of the week and early in the morning, either as light was about to arrive or was just arriving. The point is that light was on the way.
Night and Day
The movement of our Lord’s Paschal mystery from death to Resurrection is a movement from darkness to light, from night to day. He offered his life in sacrifice on the Cross just as night was falling upon the earth, his evening sacrifice. And his Resurrection comes on the first day of the week, marking a new beginning for humanity, as light was dawning. And so from ancient times down to the present, Christians have observed their weekly Sabbath on Sunday. They have also observed Easter by keeping vigil at night in anticipation of sunrise, and likewise holding sunrise services as dawn is breaking, to remind us that the light of the rising sun represents to us the light of the Son of God’s rising from the dead, which dispels the darkness of sin and death just as the sun ushers in a new day that dispels the darkness of the night.
This journey from darkness to light is, indeed, the movement of all of salvation history. We see it exemplified in that first Passover night when the Lord came to the rescue of His people Israel. You know the story well – it is the foundational point of revelation of Who God is, a saving, liberating God: it was at night that the angel of death went through Egypt striking down the firstborn, but sparing the Israelites whose doorposts were marked with the blood of the Passover lamb, liberating them from slavery in Egypt and setting them on the path to freedom in the Promised Land. And the Lord accompanied them the whole way, protecting them, providing for them, and guiding them, delivering them from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. For forty years the Lord guided His people through the Sinai desert by a pillar of fire, the sign of His providential presence.
What that slavery in Egypt represents spiritually is the “old yeast” to which St. Paul refers in his First Letter to the Corinthians, as we heard in our second reading for Mass today. Recall, the ancient people of Israel had to leave Egypt in haste, there was no time for the bread to rise, they had to eat unleavened bread, as they do to this day in observing Passover, and as we Roman Catholics do with the bread we use for Holy Communion, the Paschal banquet of the new and eternal Covenant. Yeast, then, in ancient times came to represent the bitterness of slavery in Egypt, and, for Christians, the bitterness of the true slavery, the slavery to sin. And so St. Paul exhorts us, “… let us celebrate the feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
Personal Salvation History
Unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, and pillar of fire: we persevere in the truth with sincerity when we follow the true Pillar of Fire which was prefigured in the Sinai desert long ago. The Easter Candle we keep lit throughout this Easter season is a reminder to us of that true Pillar of Fire: the light of Christ’s Resurrection, by which he conquers the darkness of death and bestows upon us the light of eternal life. Yes, this is the movement of all of salvation history, including the personal salvation history of each one of us as well. Our journey toward heaven, the true Promised Land, is one of walking from darkness into light. This means heeding the call of ongoing conversion, which is the reason the Church gives us the holy season of Lent which we have now just concluded: a reminder of the need to continually walk toward the light.
However, just like those ancient Israelites who were wandering in the Sinai desert, we, too, can regress during our pilgrimage in the desert of this world, doubting that God is guiding us there, and instead doing things our own way and fabricating our own false gods. This always draws us back into the darkness, and brings more darkness into the world. The answer is to follow the true Pillar of Light, moving away from the night of this world to the day that never ends, the day of the Son of God.
This is how we bring that light of Christ into this world, guiding others toward his light. It takes many points of light to guide people to the true light that is Christ. Just as an airport runway is lit not by one extremely bright light that would blind the pilot, but rather by many points of light to guide the pilot to a safe landing, it takes all of us serving as such a point of light to help guide people safely home to Christ. It is not so much how bright the light of each one of us is, as the solidarity of all of us together serving as such points of light.
In the World
How desperately needed this is in the world today. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by so much darkness, and certainly especially heavy on our hearts right now is the suffering of our brother and sister Christians in Ukraine. This, though, is a good example of an opportunity for us to bring light into the world, and we should take consolation from the generosity of so many people and nations that are expressing spiritual and material solidarity with the Ukrainian people.
I recently returned from a trip in Italy, where I had a chance encounter with a priest there who is working with Ukrainian refugees. He had visited the country, and spoke to me of how devastating the situation is there (that is exactly the word he used, “devastating”). But I also saw the welcome the Italian people are giving to Ukrainians fleeing their country for safety, a compassion we see extended also in Poland especially, but also in our own country and in many other countries throughout the world as well. In a situation of such profound suffering, the Lord gives us all the more opportunity to show love, to be points of light in the thick darkness that is the night of sin and death encapsulating this world.
God saved His people of old from death by the blood of the Lamb that marked the entrance to their homes. He saves us today from eternal death by the blood of His co-eternal Son, the true Lamb of sacrifice, of the sacrifice of the Cross, which atones for the sins of the world once for all. We were marked with that blood on the day of our baptism, the promises of which we will renew momentarily, as this Easter Sunday Mass prescribes (the Profession of Faith being replace by the renewal of baptismal promises and sprinkling of the assembly with the newly blessed Easter water).
Let us, then, walk always as people of the light, ridding ourselves of the old yeast of malice and wickedness, and worshiping the one, true God with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, that we might likewise guide others there, and so arrive safely to our true and eternal Promised Land: God’s heavenly Kingdom, the Kingdom of the day that has no end, the day in which, in union with all the saints, we will adore God face-to-face and be at rest in His eternal light and peace.