As we heard sung during a hymn called the Exsultet this is the most blessed of all nights, a night chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead- a night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth and we are reconciled to God- the power of this night dispels evil, washes away guilt, restores lost innocence and brings mourners joy.
The glorious message tonight is Christ is risen and we too have been raised in him to live a new life for God. Easter is the foundation feast of the Church. As St Paul says, if Christ be not risen we are still in our sins – we of all people are the most to be pitied for Good Friday was for nothing. But Christ is risen, love has conquered hate and life has conquered death.
We began our journey to this holy night on the first Sunday of Lent. The gospel of that day was from the gospel of Matthew telling of the temptation of Jesus in the desert after his 40 days of prayer and fasting. Before his desert experience Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist and in that event heard within the depth of his being a voice that said “this is my son, the beloved, my favor rests on him.” In those 40 days of desert stillness Jesus tried to sort out what those words meant and came to a deeper, unshakable sense of his identity, he is the Beloved of the Father. The Tempter tried to entice Jesus away from his identity with the allurements of success, popularity and power. Jesus had the final word: “be gone Satan, I know who I am.”
Tonight through the water and the words of the Sacrament of Baptism we will be welcoming men, women and children into the family of the church. They will celebrate, as we all will celebrate, their identity as sons and daughters of God. St. Paul tells us that before the world began – our universe began some 15 billion years ago – before that, in the mists of the timelessness of eternity, God chose us – each one of us – chose us in Christ to be his adopted sons and daughters, such was his will and pleasure. God chose us to be holy and faultless in his sight. That is what we celebrate tonight, the realization, the recognition of God’s choice of us and these good people who will be baptized at this Vigil.
We know from life’s experience it is not easy to hold on to our identity of being the beloved of God. Other voices, sometimes our own voice, tell us we are no good, worthless, failures. We’re told we’ve disappointed parents or friends. We wonder ‘how could God love me after all the things I’ve done.’ We may even fall into the trap of self rejection, we see only our faults and failings and fail to appreciate the good we are and the good we do. We forget we are good people who do make mistakes.
Our celebration of these holy days is meant to help us remember who God says we are, chosen and beloved before the world began. As chosen and beloved we are to seek the things that are above, we are to put on Christ, live Christ-like lives so that the Father can see and love in us what He sees and loves in Christ. This is not easy. It is a day by day effort to think as Christ would think, to love as Christ would love, to forgive as Christ would forgive. It would be wonderful if each one of us could say with conviction, “for me to live is Christ.”
As we continue this celebration of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist, we recognize and celebrate our core identity, the chosen and beloved of the Father. We commit ourselves to live our lives in such a way that, like Christ we always do the things that please the Father.
May God bless us all with a holy and happy Easter Season.