Sunday, 5 May 2019

Easter Vigil 2019

A theme central of Easter is creation. For Christianity, creation is “creatio ex nihilo”—that is, God created out of nothing. Many of the pre-Christian religions hold the idea that God and creation are identical. That is pantheism. If not, God must have created the world out of existing matter which He Himself did not create. Like a sculptor carving out a statue, God must have found a slab of marble and carve out of it, the universe.

The first reading presents the panorama of creation spread over a span of six days. On the seventh day, God’s rest became the basis for the Jewish Sabbath.

Tonight we are also celebrating creation but this is not creation ex nihilo. Instead this is recreation or creation anew. Not long after God shaped the universe, sin entered the human condition. This was not premeditated as if sin was intended to be but it was not unexpected either. Why not unexpected? Short answer: Freedom. To be truly free, it must include the possibility of rebellion against the God who created us.

Thus, the readings that followed after, summarises the long history of man’s betrayal which culminated with God’s ultimate act of faithfulness. He did not spare His Son but gave Him up to ransom Adam’s debt. Through Adam, man has become death. Through Jesus Christ, death lost its eternal grip over us. Death has been overpowered by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As the Exultet reminds us, “O felix culpa, O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam that gained for us so great a Redeemer”. This happy fault brings us to what we are doing now at the Vigil as we enter into Sunday.

In the old schema of things, God rested on the seventh day—the Sabbath. Christians, however worship God on Sunday. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, ”The Church celebrates the day of Christ's Resurrection on the "eighth day," Sunday, which is rightly called the Lord's Day” (CCC2191) Sunday is our Dies Domini (the Lord’s Day) which happens to be Dies Christi(Day of Christ) for our Creed professes that Christ rose on the Third Day. It is the day of creation’s rebirth inaugurated by the Resurrection of Christ. In turn, it becomes the Day of the Church, the Dies Ecclesiae for the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles on Pentecost.

Sunday is truly a day of the new creation of grace. And understandably, we have our elect baptised for soon they will be recreated new by water and the Spirit. The message of the Epistle before the Gospel is important because it describes what it means for us to be this new creation in Christ: We must realise that our former selves have been crucified to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin.

Since, we have been purchased by Christ to live a new life, Sunday is therefore an important day for us. 49 Christians died in the year AD304. The record of their trial is still extant. They disobeyed Emperor Diocletian’s edict and when asked by the Proconsul why they had defied Imperial prohibition, the answer given was: “Sine dominico non possumus”,that is, without Sunday we cannot live. If we do not join together on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist, we would lack the strength to face our daily problems and not to succumb. Sunday is life for them and they would rather die than be deprived of it.

Sunday is not merely a day of obligation. It is truly a Dies Homini, the day of man given so that we may remember the Creator through our rest and recreation. The problem we arises when we reduce Sunday to a day of obligation. Any obligation, when it is forced upon us, “weakens” our autonomy. Nobody likes his or her faculty of choosing to be curtailed. But, this obligation is not an imposition as it is a protection of a value. It is not just any day but the Day of the Lord. Worship rises up from the depth of who we are—created anew in Christ Jesus, we give Him our time—to be fair, His time actually—to be sanctified by His presence—through the Eucharist. (BTW, every second we have is borrowed time).

If I were to say something rude, like a four letter word, many will be disturbed and feel that it should not be uttered in Church. Instuitively, we know that there are boundaries. This is inbuilt into us, for inherent in our nature is a sacrality with regard to time and space. We acknowledge this sacredness when we wish someone on his or her birthday itself or celebrate it on the day rather than any other day.  It does not make sense for me to wish you “Happy Birthday” when it is in December. This sacrality of time is exhibited in the Church’s preference for Mass on Sunday.

What is so important that we attend Mass on Sunday? For example, in the matter of rest, if Sunday’s holiness is kept by resting, what if my rest-day is on a Tuesday? It is a rest day after all. However, the assumption is that everyday is the same as long as it is a rest day. True? Thinking along the same logic, every surface is the same as long as it is a surface. So, if you use a bowl to drink soup, why not a toilet bowl, after all both are bowls? The very suggestion to lick and lap your soup from the toilet bowl is abhorrent and it proves the point of sacrality in both time and space.

This evening, the Church is packed and those who find no place inside here are seated in St James’ Hall or St Paul’s Room. I mentioned last Sunday that the Church should be packed like this every Sunday. The truth is, we will return to “normalcy”—a Church barely full. Why? Perhaps we have failed to appreciate the newness of who we are brought about by our baptism.

Some of us come because Catholics have this homing device to come twice a year—Easter and Christmas. Perhaps, the newness of creation is not enough to keep them coming every Sunday. Or, simply no time for God. Life is stressful and God is a hassle—so let the weekend be a holiday elsewhere. Or maybe, just maybe, a deep sense of unworthiness before God? Keeping away on Sunday because of this sense of failure before God is just one way of telling God, “Hey, you are not worthy of me”.

If we give God the time that belongs to Him, we will definitely be transformed because He is the Lord of time. To paraphrase Benedict XVI, “Return Sunday its soul by giving the soul its Sunday”. We need Sunday for our sanity, sanctity and salvation. As St John Paul II reminded us, “Time given to Christ is never time lost, but is rather time gained, so that our relationships and indeed our whole life may become more profoundly human”.