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Easter Vigil

April 8, 2023

Today’s Invitation

Today, we invite you to explore the hope of new life in the face of death-dealing racism with the help of Kelly Brown Douglas; engage the Catholic Church’s concept of human dignity as a challenge to racist structures; and embody the resurrection vision of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Commentary by Mary Kate Holman

Easter Vigil

Reading 1

Genesis 1:1 — 2:2

Please note: there are additional readings for the Easter Vigil. To view them all, purchase download of the Inclusive Lectionary

In the beginning YHWH created the heavens and the earth.
But the earth became chaos and emptiness,
and darkness came over the face of the Deep —
yet the Spirit of YHWH was brooding over the surface of the waters.

Then YHWH said,
“Light: Be!” and light was.
God saw that light was good, and YHWH separated light from darkness.
YHWH called the light “Day” and the darkness “Night.”
Evening came, and morning followed — the first day.

Then YHWH said,
“Now, an expanse between the waters!
Separate water from water!”
So it was: YHWH made the expanse
and separated the water above the expanse from the water below it.
YHWH called the expanse “Sky.”
Evening came, and morning followed — the second day.

Then YHWH said,
“Waters under the sky: be gathered into one place!
Dry ground: appear!”
So it was. YHWH called the dry ground “Earth”
and the gathering of the waters “Sea.”
And YHWH saw that this was good.

Then YHWH said,
“Earth: produce vegetation
— plants that scatter their own seeds,
and every kind of fruit tree that bears fruit with its own seed in it!”
So it was: the earth brought forth every kind of plant that bears seed,
and every kind of fruit tree on earth that bears fruit with its seed in it.
And YHWH saw that this was good.
Evening came, and morning followed — the third day.

Then YHWH said,
“Now, lights in the expanse of the sky! Separate day from night!
Let them mark the signs and seasons, days and years,
and serve as luminaries in the sky, shedding light on the earth.”
So it was: YHWH made the two great lights,
the greater one to illumine the day, and a lesser to illumine the night.

Then YHWH made the stars as well,
placing them in the expanse of the sky,
to shed light on the earth, to govern both day and night,
and separate light from darkness.
And YHWH saw that this was good.
Evening came, and morning followed — the fourth day.

YHWH then said,
“Waters: swarm with an abundance of living beings!
Birds: fly above the earth in the open expanse of the sky!”
And so it was: YHWH created great sea monsters
and all sorts of swimming creatures with which the waters are filled,
and all kinds of birds.
YHWH saw that this was good and blessed them, saying,
“Bear fruit, increase your numbers, and fill the waters of the seas!
Birds, abound on the earth!”
Evening came, and morning followed — the fifth day.

Then YHWH said,
“Earth: bring forth all kinds of living souls
— cattle, things that crawl, and wild animals of all kinds!”
So it was: YHWH made all kinds of wild animals, and cattle,
and everything that crawls on the ground,
and YHWH saw that this was good.

Then YHWH said,
“Let us make humankind in our image, to be like us.
Let them be stewards of the fish in the sea,
the birds of the air, the cattle, the wild animals,
and everything that crawls on the ground.”
Humankind was created as YHWH’s reflection:
in the divine image YHWH created them;
female and male, YHWH made them.
YHWH blessed them and said,
“Bear fruit, increase your numbers, and fill the earth —
and be responsible for it!
Watch over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air,
and all the living things on the earth!”

YHWH then told them,
“Look! I give you every seed-bearing plant on face of the earth,
and every tree whose fruit carries its seed inside itself:
they will be your food;
and to all the animals of the earth and the birds of the air
and things that crawl on the ground
— everything that has a living soul in it —
I give all the green plants for food.”

So it was. YHWH looked at all of this creation,
and proclaimed that this was good — very good.
Evening came, and morning followed — the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed.
On the seventh day YHWH finished all the work of creation,
and so, on that seventh day, YHWH rested.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 118

Response: This is the day Our God has made, let us rejoice and be glad.

I give thanks to You, Adonai, for You are good, / Your love is everlasting!
Let the house of Israel say it, / “Your love is everlasting!”
R: This is the day Our God has made, let us rejoice and be glad.

Our God’s right hand is winning, / Our God’s right hand is wreaking havoc!
No, I will not die, I will live / to recite the deeds of the Most High.
R: This is the day Our God has made, let us rejoice and be glad.

It was the stone rejected by the builders / that proved to be the keystone.
This is Our God’s doing / and it is wonderful to see.
R: This is the day Our God has made, let us rejoice and be glad.

Reading 2

Romans 6: 3-11

Do you not know that
when we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into Christ’s death?
We have been buried with Jesus through baptism,
and we joined with Jesus in death,
so that as Christ was raised from the dead by God’s glory,
we too might live a new life.

For if we have been united with Christ in the likeness of Christ’s death,
we will also be united with Christ in the likeness of Christ’s resurrection.
We must realize that our former selves have been crucified with Christ
to make the body of sin and failure completely powerless,
to free us from the slavery to sin:
for when people die, they have finished with sin.

But we believe that, having died with Christ, we will also live with Christ —
knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, will never die again:
death is now powerless over our Savior.
When Christ died, Christ died to sin, once for all,
so that the life Christ lives now is life in God.

In this way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin
— but alive to God in Christ Jesus.


Mark 16: 1-8

After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning,
Mary of Magdala came with Mary to inspect the tomb.
Suddenly, there was a severe earthquake,
and an angel of God descended from heaven,
rolled back the stone, and sat on it.

The angel’s appearance was like lightning, with garments white as snow.
The guards shook with fear and fell down as though they were dead.

Then the angel spoke, addressing the women:
“Do not be afraid.
I know you are looking for Jesus the crucified, who is no longer here.
Jesus has been raised, exactly as it was foretold.
Come and see the burial place.
Then go quickly and tell the disciples
that Jesus has risen from the dead
and now goes ahead of you to Galilee.
You will see Jesus there. That is the message I have for you.”

The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.



Called to Collaborate in Resurrection

Over the course of Holy Week, we see that we cannot reflect on resurrection without first grappling with death. This involves not only our individual mortality, but also the death-dealing systems and cultures in which we find ourselves. In Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God (2015), Kelly Brown Douglas reckons theologically with the state-sanctioned murders of black people – a sinful and tragic reality of our contemporary society. 

Brown Douglas provides historical context for the “stand-your-ground” mentality underpinning laws in 38 states, which captured national attention in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder and the acquittal of his killer. The Stand Your Ground Law allows individuals to use violence to protect themselves whenever they feel threatened (as opposed to fleeing from the threat); this law is informed by a broader culture pervasive through Western history, in which white people are inculturated to perceive Black people as threatening (68). Stand Your Ground culture instills a false fear that often inspires direct confrontation, tragically leading to the murder of unarmed Black people, often but not exclusively by the police who are supposed to serve and protect our communities. 

What can Easter possibly mean to us in the wake of the senseless deaths of Trayvon Martin, of Tamir Rice, of Breonna Taylor, of countless others? It seems too trite to jump to the hope of resurrection, as if God could erase the unfathomable pain of losing a life, and having the murder justified, rather than condemned, by our legal system. We may be tempted to turn to the cross as a symbol of suffering, to find hope in the fact that Jesus suffered, too. But womanist theologian Delores Williams cautions Christians against glorifying the cross itself as a symbol of hope. The cross, she points out, is a violent instrument of state-sanctioned murder; it represents all that Jesus stood against, not what he stood for. Kelly Brown Douglas lifts up Williams’ point and clarifies that for the Black church, the cross can never be separated from the resurrection of Jesus, which is the true source of hope and salvation. 

Brown Douglas insists that the resurrection is a validation and celebration of Jesus’s life, not his death. The resurrection does not make meaning out of a senseless death; rather, it confirms the meaning of life. For example, in the wake of Trayvon Martin’s murder, it was all too common to find ourselves surrounded by media reports problematically trying to justify his death, suggesting that the hoodie he wore made him look like a “thug” or “criminal.” His death, in media narratives, became the defining feature of his life. As a response, Trayvon’s parents spoke out, telling the world what kind of person Trayvon was: He saved his dad from a burning building at age nine; he loved sports, and hoped to become an aviation mechanic or pilot when he grew up. As Brown Douglas puts it, “Trayvon’s parents have not sought to derive meaning from his death, but rather to restore the meaning of his life” (192).

Christians believe that Jesus’ resurrection promises us the hope of salvation from sin and from death. What does this mean in our concrete circumstances? Brown Douglas argues: “Salvation in the context of stand your ground requires naming and calling out the very narratives, ideologies, and discourses of power that indeed promote the culture of stand-your ground sin” (196). Empowered by the hope of God’s work of resurrection, we are called to collaborate in that work in our lifetimes, to dismantle the crucifying systems of sin and death.

Fear is a central component of stand-your-ground culture. In today’s Gospel, we hear the newly resurrected Jesus encourage the women, “Don’t be afraid!” At the core of resurrection is a repudiation of death, and of the death-dealing structures that cause and feed off of fear. As we celebrate the resurrection, let us embody this hopeful new reality, in rejecting the racist culture of “stand-your-ground” culture.

Kelly Brown Douglas is the Dean of Episcopal Divinity School and the Bill and Judith Moyers Chair in Theology at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She is an Episcopalian priest who serves as the Canon Theologian at the Washington National Cathedral and the Theologian in Residence at Trinity Church Wall Street. Her extensive scholarship focuses on sexuality and racial justice, including the books Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective (1999) and Black Bodies and the Black Church: A Blues Saint (2012).

Commentary by Mary Kate Holman

Mary Kate Holman is Assistant Professor of Theology at Benedictine University outside of Chicago. Her teaching and research incorporate questions of justice, spirituality, and what it means to be church.

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

Racial Justice

The notion of “human dignity” is at the core of Catholic Social Teaching (CST). The Catholic Church teaches that every single human has inherent dignity because they are created in God’s image and likeness. Nothing we do, and nothing that anyone does to us, can ever take away this God-given dignity. Of course, taken to its natural conclusion, the foundation of CST is antithetical to any form of racism. 

The Catechism recognizes that each human deserves “respect for the rights that flow from [our] dignity as creature[s],” most importantly, the right to life. These rights must be recognized by society, because “by flouting them, or refusing to recognize them in its positive legislation, a society undermines its own moral legitimacy” (1930). In other words, the Catholic Church insists that our laws must guarantee fundamental human rights, because all humans possess God-given dignity. The stand-your-ground laws on the books in 38 states clearly undermine the moral legitimacy of our society, because their history and practice have justified the murder of innocent people .

While social structures and governmental policies are crucial for protecting human dignity, this is also a disposition we must cultivate within ourselves in our treatment of others. As is stated in papal document Gaudium et spes: “everyone should look upon his neighbor (without any exception) as ‘another self,’ above all bearing in mind his [sic] life and the means necessary for living it with dignity” (27). Dignity is not a zero-sum game; my own dignity never comes at the expense of another. The broken logic of stand-your-ground culture suggests that my own right to feeling secure at all costs permits me to shoot, injure, even kill another person. 

In their 2018 letter “Open Wide Our Hearts,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops names the harmful legacy of racism as both an individual and structural sin. They insist that “to do justice requires an honest acknowledgment of our failures and the restoring of right relationships between us” (7). These are important steps towards racial justice, although the bishops themselves could better follow their own advice. The document goes on to recognize that harm has been done to indigenous people, African Americans, and Hispanics, but it consistently uses the passive voice, failing to name who has harmed these individuals and communities. Until we as a church can prophetically and explicitly name evil when we see it, and acknowledge our own failures explicitly, including our past as colonizers, slaveholders, and preservers of the status quo, we will be unable to live up to the lofty ideals in our social teaching . 


A Contemplative Exercise

Hear the angel address the women in the Gospel: “Do not be afraid.”

Hear Jesus repeat to them: “Don’t be afraid!”

Take a deep breath, and honestly ask yourself, where do you encounter fear in our stand-your-ground culture? Have you internalized its sinful logic, viewing those who are other as a threat? Are you a person of color who fears a violent encounter with law enforcement, or fears what will happen if you encounter someone who perceives you as a threat? Do you fear for your children, whom you cannot protect from the cruelty of the world? Do you hope for a more just world, but fear the changes this would require of you? Do you fear that our world is too broken to change?

Hear the angel and Jesus again say: “Do not be afraid.”

Ask God what you can do to create a world where others are no longer afraid. Allow the message of the resurrected Christ to banish your fear, and empower you to pursue the hope and freedom of the resurrection.

A Witness

Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi

In 2013, following the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi created the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, which has gone on to become a decentralized, international movement for racial justice. Profiled in Olga M. Segura’s book Birth of a Movement: Black Lives Matter and the Catholic Church (2021), these young women took to social media to call for a world “that genuinely valued Black women, men, and children outside of their contributions to the entertainment industry,” as worthy of “human life and dignity.” The movement gained momentum during the protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the 2014 police murder of Michael Brown.

The work of these three women, and the activists they have inspired, epitomizes Kelly Brown Douglas’s description of salvation: “the naming and calling out the very narratives, ideologies, and discourses of power that indeed promote the culture of stand-your ground sin.” #BlackLivesMatter draws attention to the many ways that Black life is devalued, even crucified, in our contemporary culture, and advocates instead for a world in which the lives of Black people are accorded the safety, well-being, and dignity that all humans deserve. To phrase it theologically, they call us to move towards a resurrected reality, from a culture of death into life. 


“Fear Not: I Got You” or “The Black Madonna” by Margo Humphrey

Margo Humphrey is a printmaker and Professor of Art at the University of Maryland. This print, titled “Fear Not: I Got You” or “The Black Madonna,” depicting Mary, the Mother of God, and Trayvon Martin, appears on the cover of Kelly Brown Douglas’s book Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God.

Image description: On a purple and orange gradient background, Mary, who is Black, is dressed in a long, blue hooded robe with a red and orange halo around her head. Three tears flow down her cheek. In her hands she holds a brown boy, Jesus, wearing an orange and purple gradient tunic, who slumps to the side with his eyes closed, a halo around his head, and one fist raised in the air. In his other hand is an open package of Skittles, which pour down below him.