A reflection by Fr. Ron MacDonell, S.F.M., on the Easter Vigil Mass.

CD077-089“Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here, he is risen.” Angels spoke these words to the sorrowful women disciples who sought to anoint the body of their beloved Lord. And on Easter Sunday, the angels address each one of us: Are we looking for the living among the dead? Do we opt to stay in the tomb or do we choose new life in Jesus, the Risen One?

We start off the evening welcoming the light. In the reading from Genesis, we hear that God first creates the heavens and the Earth. Then God creates Light and “God saw that the light was good.” The greatest light of all is God’s son, Jesus. He tells us, “I am the Light of the world.” We are drawn to fire and light, especially in our cold Canadian climate. But what about the fire we are creating on our Earth with climate change and the effects of a warming planet? Are we aware and active?

We can choose to stay in the tomb or we can choose new life in the Risen Jesus.

This Easter we use the symbol of water. We hear Isaiah speak God’s invitation, “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters!” The living water is Jesus, God’s son, and he tells us that if we drink from the water he offers us, we will never thirst. What a wonderful gift! This Easter we renew our baptismal promises, our commitment to follow Jesus, the Living Water, the Light of the world. We can ask ourselves, do we respect the gift of water? What about Toronto’s polluted harbour and rivers? What about safe drinking water in places like the First Nations community of Kashechewan in Northern Ontario?

We can choose to stay in the tomb or we can choose new life in the Risen Jesus.

Jesus is the Word made flesh. In Genesis, the Creator speaks and things come into existence. The Word was made flesh in Mary and dwelt among us. Jesus speaks his Word to us in Scripture and in our prayer. What things come into existence in our hearts? Certainly patience, joy, compassion, mercy, and love. Can we be even more open to the Living Word? Words can be used to hurt and to kill. We have ways of hurting others with snide remarks or sarcasm or gossip. We see most clearly in politics how words are used to attack and to insult.

We can choose to stay in the tomb or we can choose new life in the Risen Jesus.

We celebrate the Eucharist—our thanksgiving—with bread and wine. Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life.” In the Eucharist, the bread is transformed into his body. When we eat his body, Jesus becomes part of us and transforms us. We receive the grace to be merciful, to be kind, to be patient, to love one another. But what is our response to world hunger? What about the impact of trade agreements? What about those who hunger for justice and peace? What about Syria?

We can choose to stay in the tomb or we can choose new life in the Risen Jesus.

The wine of the Eucharist reminds us of the wine at the wedding at Cana. Jesus transforms the water into wine, he transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. The wine of the Last Supper is transformed into the blood of the cross, the life-giving blood that is Jesus. He freely offers his life for all that he witnessed to and lived in his mission: announcing the Good News to the poor, curing the sick, freeing the imprisoned, and announcing a time of grace for all. Because Jesus lived a life of Love, God who is Love raised him from the dead. He lives! And we, too, can choose this new life of love.

We can choose to stay in the tomb or we can choose new life in the Risen Jesus.

Pope Francis, too, urges us to choose a life of love. In his Papal Bull on this Year of Mercy, the Pope reminds us that love “indicates something concrete: intentions, attitudes, and behaviours that are shown in daily living.” He urges us to open our hearts “to those living on the outermost fringes of society…we are compelled to hear their cry for help!” This echoes the reading from Exodus, the first Passover, as the people of God walked through the Red Sea.

The other day I had an interesting experience on the subway: I met a Syrian family who arrived two months ago and are being settled here in Toronto. They were Armenian Syrians. Armenia was the very first kingdom to convert to Christianity. I imagined that they must feel the same sense of freedom that the people of God felt in fleeing a situation of violence and oppression. Of course, it is good to welcome refugees in need, but we are called to go more deeply and ask about the root causes of war in other lands and the situations that create refugees.

Pope Francis also denounces corruption in society “because its tyrannical greed shatters the plans of the weak and tramples upon the poorest of the poor.” In this Year of Mercy, the Pope calls us to consider the relationship between justice and mercy. “Justice is a fundamental concept for civil society…Justice is also understood as that which is rightly due to each individual.” It was the corruption of religious and political authorities that brought about the execution of Jesus.

Every Lent, the Brazilian Catholic Church offers a spiritual and educational program called the Fraternity Campaign. This year the theme is “Our Common Home is our Responsibility.” The Fraternity Campaign speaks of another of Pope Francis’ letters, Laudato Si. All of us are invited to look towards our planet as our home, to care for our world, to respect both nature and humankind. The Fraternity Campaign finds inspiration in the words of the prophet Amos (5.24): “…let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Light, water, Word, bread, wine: these are signs of resurrection, of New Life, of mercy and love. This Easter let us live these signs with great joy. Let us choose new life in the Risen Jesus.