Seeing in a new light

Michael A. Hayes

A few weeks ago across the country and across the world, people gathered for the great Easter Vigil. The beginning of that celebration was the lucernarium or service of light when the faithful gathered around a new fire that was blessed and then, from the new fire, the great Paschal candle was lit – the candle that is the sign of the Resurrection and stands in churches everywhere, close to the ambo, as a sign of the Risen Lord. A
significant part of the Easter Vigil is the liturgy of the Word when a number of passages are proclaimed from the Old Testament, which recount the story of salvation offered to God’s people. Because the Paschal candle stands there, the readings are proclaimed, literally, in the light of the Resurrection. Scripture scholars help us appreciate just how much of the New Testament writings draw on themes, passages and references from the Hebrew Scriptures, but those passages are all re-interpreted – in the light of the Resurrection. The Resurrection for the first followers of Jesus was not just an event which changed what followed – it re-interpreted what went before also. The passages from Isaiah and the Psalms that make up so much of the Easter liturgy are seen to speak primarily, not of the events of the time of their writing, but of the events of the Paschal Mystery.

The Resurrection of Jesus changed – and changes – everything. At this time of the year the Church offers generous amounts of passages from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, and anyone hearing the account of the early Church that Luke gives will be struck by the extraordinary dynamism, attributed to the Spirit of the Risen Jesus that fuels the apparently irresistible growth of the Christian communities. The change from a small frightened uncomprehending band of Galileans to a driven movement of Jews and Gentiles alike, spreading across the Roman Empire to proclaim the Risen Lord, is startling – the witness of history bears out the extraordinarily rapid development of the growth of the Church – both in terms of numbers, but also in terms of the development of a new understanding of what God had done and was doing.

Our theological tradition tells us that the Incarnation, ministry, Passion, death and Resurrection of Jesus was not some ‘Plan B’ of God to save and retrieve some original design that had somehow gone wrong. The Exsultet – the Easter Proclamation at the Vigil – proclaims the Felix Culpa – the happy fault, the necessary sin of Adam which brought about so great an act of redemption. The eternal God lives outside of time and space and so does not need to respond in time and place to events that are part of the created world. From the earliest times, from the writings of Paul and the early fathers of the Church, Christians have recognised that while the workings of God are Mystery they are not utterly incomprehensible. Yet what has enabled the community of faithful to articulate that faith is not intellectual acumen, a cerebral working out of a great conundrum, but ultimately faith in the Resurrection and the power that is thereby unleashed in the faithful. It was – and is – because of faith in the presence of the Risen Lord that Christians can express the ways in which the Christ event gives an entirely new vision of life.

And that continues to be the reality for the community of faith today. Each year we live this time of Easter, this time of Resurrection, not as a memory of something that happened in the past to someone else, but as the present dynamism which changes everything including ourselves. Just as the early Christians were transformed, just as they were able to read back retrospectively the reality of the Paschal Mystery into the Hebrew Scriptures, so today the community of faith continues to celebrate the Resurrection, not as an event that has gone, but as an abiding presence that changes the way that everything is perceived. The liturgy constantly calls us to appreciate that, and, by participation, to see everything in a new light – which is the light of the Risen Lord. That is why – especially in this season – Christians have an extra spring in their step.