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Easter Vigil

April 8, 2023

Today’s Invitation

Today we invite you to explore Jesus’s death through our own grief and loss; engage death as life through the Roger LaPorte and Daniel Berrigan; and embody the idea that “death does not have the last word” with the help of LaPorte, Berrigan, and Aaron Bushnell.




Commentary by Liam Myers

Easter Vigil


Reading 1

Genesis 1:1 — 2:2

Please note: there are additional readings for the Easter Vigil. To view them all as a PDF, click here.

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.

Gospel

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.

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Living in the death of Christ, dying in the life of Christ


“Do you not know that when we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into Christ’s death?” (Epistle: Romans 6:3) This seemingly rhetorical question from Paul’s letter must be taken seriously for us today. Do we, as Catholics, know that we were baptized into life and death? 

The entire triduum, which culminates in this night, the Easter vigil, is a time when the Church Calendar slows itself down to move in real time with the life of Jesus Christ. It allows us to align ourselves wholly with Christ’s passion in his final days on earth. The profundity of moving with Christ in these final days as a church cannot be understated. 

My ‘home’ church, in Grafton, Wisconsin is called St. Joseph Parish. In this place my understanding of who God is was shaped. I particularly remember the special nature of the Easter vigil Mass; how we began in darkness and together brought the light, how the full choir would sing with a handful of soloists, and how each year there was a baptism. We are also each called to remember our own baptism, as the priest comes around sprinkling us with holy water. 

“In the beginning, YHWH created the heavens and the earth.” From the start of this celebration we recognize its grandeur as we call back to the story of the beginning of time. At St. Joseph’s, the creation narrative from Genesis was intermixed with singing, as after the narrative of each day we would all sing together “and God saw that it was good, and there was evening, and morning.”

The very first thing God creates is light, and I’m struck by the simplicity of the inclusive translation simply stating “Then YHWH said, “Light: Be!” and light was.” All God had to say was “Light: Be!” 

This creation, this birth of light indicates the partial death of darkness. God had to separate the light from the darkness, and here we see how new creation, that is good, can also indicate death. Obviously darkness did not die completely, maybe it would be better to say that it went away at certain times, or had to share space in a new way, or changed its way of being in the world. Is death not more expansive than our typical view? 

Again Paul asks: “Do you not know that when we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into Christ’s death?”

The Easter Vigil mass itself can not begin until the sun has set, until we are in darkness. This marks the significance of our light, the kindling of a new fire, and the spreading of this fire with our candles. It is as if God is saying through us “Light: Be!” as we are called to continue to summon the Light that God created. 

The natural world can help us attune ourselves to the mysterious, paradoxical relationship between life and death. Each day the sun sets, the moon rises. Each season we are greeted with new blossoms and old leaves dying. The cyclical rhythm of nature seems to praise God by its very being, by its living and dying. 

At the end of the vigil Mass at St. Joseph’s, we would always sing the hymn “We are marching in the light of God” as if to carry life forward from the church. This hymn always brought me back to a time in my life when I was confronted with death. 

I lost my mother, Nancy, when I was in high school, to ALS, and at her funeral we sang this same hymn, We are Marching. While I take solace in embracing a broader view of death, losing a loved one is certainly more messy than Jesus’s death and resurrection through the Triduum.   

Of course Christ’s death, at the hand of the Roman empire, does not have the final say, but in the depths of grief it feels like my mom’s death was the end of her life. The non-linear nature of grief returns and returns at different points. Grief can feel like a burden, but it can also feel like a joy and source of connection to mom. Some moments it feels like she is right here next to me, encouraging and witnessing me in my journey.

Is this not the same grief we carry for Christ? Certainly His own mother did carry this. For Jesus’s mother, and Mary of Magdala, were the first to witness His empty tomb in our gospel. At this particular moment I wonder how they felt. When both Marys came to inspect the tomb they were greeted with a “severe earthquake, and an angel of God descended from heaven.” They must have been filled with shock, confusion, and sadness as they were no doubt in a state of grief. 

While our own grief from losing a loved one is not lightened through their bodily resurrection, I wonder how we can take consolation in knowing that grief is a part of our ongoing witness to the life of those who have died. Our grief, just as the grief of the Mary’s, can allow us to re-live not only within God incarnate, but also to allow those who have passed to live within us. 

Again Paul asks: “Do you not know that when we were baptized into Christ Jesus, we were baptized into Christ’s death?”

For my own mom, I continue to allow her death to live in me. I continue to live my life in response to all the love that she poured into me. She has become one in the cloud of witness of whose light I march in, the very light that God created. 

Can we sing together? 

We are living in the death of Christ.
We are dying in the life of Christ. 



Commentary by Liam Myers


Liam Myers is a freelance writer, an adjunct professor of religious studies, and member of the Catholic Worker Maryhouse in NYC. Liam finds beauty in the everyday; in a slow walk through riverside park, in a good bowl of potato leek soup, and in playing his saxophone with friends.
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Engage Catholic Social Teaching

Peace and Justice

In order to consider a concrete witness to the threshold between death and life, let us remember Roger LaPorte. LaPorte was involved with the Catholic Worker in NYC, and self-immolated in 1965 in protest of the Vietnam war. This extreme act was not without precedent, there were a number of people including Buddhist monks in both Vietnam and the U.S. who self-immolated to protest the war in Vietnam, and the complicity of the Catholic Church at the time. 

 

While the Catholic Church officially “prohibits” suicide as being against God’s will for our lives, perhaps we can sink into a more nuanced understanding of this act, and subsequent actions, alongside Catholic theologian/poet/activist Daniel Berrigan. Berrigan (1921-2016) was a Jesuit priest committed to peacemaking most notably involved in draft resistance in opposition to the Vietnam war. 

 

In his sermon given at the funeral of Roger LaPorte, Fr. Berrigan shares the grief that he and the Catholic Worker community felt, having lost LaPorte, while also linking LaPorte’s life to the life of Christ. “Is not the death of Roger illumined by this Eucharist, by the meaning of the death of Christ?” (Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings, “Death Does Not Get the Last Word”).

Ultimately, Berrigan’s homily offers us possibilities for bearing witness to acts of extreme protest responding to inexplicable suffering. He stated: 

“In the deepest sense, what we remember is not a death at all. It is a resurrection… Indeed, if Christ died, it was in order to rise again. It was to assert that death does not have the last word… It means that we have the power of putting death itself to death, of declaring war on war, of offering to others the pure and uncorrupted waters of their love.” 

It feels inadequate for those of us still living to say anything in response to such an action, especially any judgment that would explain away the action rather than take it seriously. This is why I find it important, in light of such tragic death, to instead attempt to learn from the message that the person sought to teach us. 

As Berrigan said in reference to LaPorte. “His death says, in a voice louder even than his life, ‘No more death! Death never again!’” He asks us to consider the forces of death ever present in our violent world. Speaking on LaPorte’s action, Berrigan said, “A man has allowed the history of violence to enter his own flesh.”

Engage

A Contemplative Exercise


In order to enter into contemplation, I invite you to spend 30 minutes away from technology, away from your computer screen. Perhaps you could go on a walk, reflecting on what I’ve offered today and on your prayers for this day. Or perhaps you could sit in your backyard, or a garden for the time.

Below are a few questions that you can take or leave in order to deepen your reflection: 

  • How can I die today, in order to live tomorrow? 
  • How did my lenten practice help me to live in greater communion with my neighbor? How can I carry this practice forward? 
  • How do those I have lost live in me? 
  • How do I process grief in my life? With my family? How does my context allow me, or not, to share my grief with others? With Christ? 

A Witness

Aaron Bushnell

It is not possible to write about death and resurrection in our present moment without considering the ongoing genocide in Gaza. Particularly, let us remember the witness of Aaron Bushnell, who self-immolated in front of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. in protest of genocide. 

Before self-immolating Bushnell said this on a live stream: 

“I will no longer be complicit in genocide. I am about to engage in an extreme act of protest, but compared to what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers, it’s not extreme at all.”

In his will, Bushnell wrote that he was sorry but felt he had to do this because the “machine demands blood” This echoes Berrigan’s remarks of how LaPorte’s witness was in essence “declaring war on war.” 

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he develops an understanding of death that is “powerless over our Savior.” Death does not have the final say, rather it is a part of the mystery of Christ. The reading concludes with the following: “In this way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin — but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” 

In our modern world, wherein multiplicities of complicities abound, can we ever be fully dead to sin? Among Bushnell’s last words: “This is what our ruling class has decided will be normal.” This being constant death in Gaza, and growing indifference in America. This being Palestinian children constantly under siege of bombs, while being censored from American children. 

Certainly Jesus did not mean this when he broke bread with the apostles and asked them to remember Him. 

In reflecting on how we can move forward in life from the witness of Aaron’s death, Nathan Dufour, a friend of the Catholic Worker, raised an important question: “What are the limits of what one should do, when one is as radically committed to the wellbeing of others as one is to oneself?” 

In the midst of all this suffering, even on a celebration of Christ’s resurrection, we must not answer our questions only in words. We must answer our questions through our ongoing action and care for those least among us. At our vigil can we allow the pain of the world to enter into us?  

Let us sing together. 

We are crying in the light of God.
We are grieving in the light of God.
We are marching, we are marching, we are marching. 


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