Reflection for April 4, 2015: Holy Saturday Morning.
Alexander, Andy, S.J.
No liturgy this morning.
No liturgy this morning.
None (no mass). Year I, Easter Triduum.
None (no mass). Year I, Easter Triduum.
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On Good Friday, there was no Eucharist - simply a communion service, with the Body of Christ from the Holy Thursday Eucharist. On Holy Saturday, there is no liturgy at all. The liturgy this evening is the vigil - the preparation for and entry into the celebration of Our Lord's Resurrection. It is an Easter Sunday liturgy.On Holy Saturday we enter into the mystery. Today we contemplate Jesus, there in the tomb, dead. In that tomb, he is dead, exactly the way each of us will be dead. We don't easily contemplate dying, but we rarely contemplate being dead. I have had the blessed experience of being with a number of people who have died, of arriving at a hospital shortly after someone has died, of attending an autopsy, and of praying with health sciences students over donated bodies in gross anatomy class. These were powerful experiences because they all brought me face-to-face with the mystery of death itself. With death, life ends. Breathing stops, and in an instant, the life of this person has ended. And, in a matter of hours, the body becomes quite cold and life-less - dramatic evidence, to our senses, that this person no longer exists. All that is left is this decaying shell that once held his or her life. Death is our ultimate fear. Everything else we fear, every struggle we have, is some taste of, some chilling approach to, the experience of losing our life. This fear is responsible for so much of our lust and greed, so much of our denial and arrogance, so much of our silly clinging to power, so much of our hectic and anxiety-driven activity. It is the one, inevitable reality we all will face. There is not enough time, money, joy, fulfillment, success. Our physical beauty and strength, our mental competency and agility, all that we have and use to define ourselves, slip away from us with time. Our lives are limited. Our existence, in every way we can comprehand it, comes to an end. We will all die. In a matter of time, all that will be left of any of us is a decomposing body.Today is a day to soberly put aside the blinders we have about the mystery of death and our fear of it. Death is very real and its approach holds great power in our lives. The "good news" we are about to celebrate has no real power in our lives unless we have faced the reality of death. To contemplate Jesus' body, there in that tomb, is to look our death in the face, and it is preparation for hearing the Gospel with incredible joy. That we are saved from the ultimate power of sin and of death itself comes to us as a great relief, as a tremendous liberation. If Jesus lives, you and I will live! The mystery of death, which we contemplate today, will be overcome - we will live forever!Today's reflection will lead us to the vigil of Easter. This night, communities from all over the world will gather in darkness, a darkness that represents all that we have been reflecting upon today. And there, in that darkness, a fire is lit. That flame is shared around the community until its light fills the room. Then, a Song of Exultation is sung, proclaiming that Christ is the light of this night. And, there, in the light of Christ, we mark a vigil of waiting, as we will read the scriptures that prepare us to celebrate God's revelation. This is the story of our salvation - how God prepared to rescue us from the power of sin and death. There are 11 readings to choose from. [The link to the vigil readings above is to the New American Bible translation, from the U.S. Bishops. The following links are to the translation approved for Liturgies with Children, and includes links to the Prayers that are said after each reading at the Vigil.] We begin with the story of creation . Then comes the story of how God tested Abraham , asking him to sacrifice his own son, Isaac, but Abraham trusted God and said to his son, "God will provide the lamb." Next comes the dramatic story that prefigures our redemption and the meaning of our baptism -- the great exodus from slavery in Egypt , by the crossing of the Red Sea with divine intervention. We can read Isaiah 54 : the promise God gives that "I will always be kind and merciful to you." We are offered Isaiah 55 : God's invitation to "Come to the water" - a reading full of promise and hope, "He will be merciful and forgive your sins." We may read the Prophet Baruch , urging the people to "learn Wisdom," and to celebrate "because we are the people who know what pleases God." From the Prophet Ezekiel 36 we hear the consoling promise, that in spite of all our wrong doing, God will sprinkle us with clean water: "I will take away your stubborn heart and give you a new heart and a desire to be faithful." Having taken this journey through the Old Testament, all the lights in the church are turned on and we sign the Gloria, full of Easter faith. This is followed by the New Testament reading from Paul's Letter to the Romans , chapter 6: "Don't you know that all who share in Christ Jesus by being baptized also share in his death?". Finally, we proclaim the Gospel : the story of the women who come to the tomb and find it empty.The God who created us, who led a chosen people out of slavery, raised Jesus from death. We can rejoice that death has no final victory over us. Then we celebrate the Easter Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. Tonight we celebrate our faith -- that we have been baptized into the death of Jesus, so that we might have everlasting life with him.As we behold the body of Jesus in the tomb today, and as we contemplate the mystery of our death, we prepare our hearts to receive the Good News of life. We know that tomb will be empty and remain empty forever as a sign that our lives will not really end, but only be transformed. One day, we will all rest in the embrace of Jesus, who knows our death, and who prepares a place for us in everlasting life. Our reflection on this holy Saturday, and our anticipation of celebrating the gift of life tonight and tomorrow, can bring immense peace and joy, powerful freedom and vitality to our lives. For if we truly believe that death holds no true power over us, we can walk each day with courage and freedom, in the grace being offered us - to give our lives away in love.Brothers and sisters: Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. Rom 6:3-11