by Fr. Dan Kassis
“St. Jerome refers to an early tradition of the Church according to which Christ would return in the middle of the Easter night.” Therefore “it was wrong to dismiss the faithful from the Easter Vigil before Midnight of the Easter Vigil”.The thought was that “there was a chance that Christ would return in glory before the midnight hour, just as he said he would (Mt 26:6; :Mk 13:35).” Lactantius, (great latin scholar under Emperor Dioceltion who persecuted the Church, a convert) “was the first to record this most ancient tradition in his work Divine institutions (VII, 19,13):” ‘This is the night that we shall celebrate the watching for the Advent of our King and God. It has a double meaning: on that night he regained life after his passion, and on that night he will gain kingship of the earth.”’(cf. Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, Easter: Meditations on the Resurrection, pp. 30-32.)
The earliest perspective of the Christian community was a focus of Easter associated with the future; the expectation of the coming of Christ at the end of time, the Parousia. This shifted to a focus on the incarnation in opposition to a couple of early heresies (Docetism and Gnosticism – but that’s another story). Then there developed a “realized eschatology” in which we are living in the time of sure hope rooted in the resurrection of the Lord, living and looking forward to full realization of what God has done for us in Christ’s life, death and resurrection/glorification. Hope is the keystone of the existence of the Christian and the Body of Christ. Hope is at the core of the Easter Vigil and the entire celebration of the Paschal Mystery (the passion, death and resurrection of Christ). (What was said in this regard about the Easter Vigil of old can be said by extension to all of the Easter masses we have today.)
The act of being vigilant, joyfully waiting for the coming of the Lord in sure hopeful preparation, is the hallmark of the Christian – it must characterize the entire life of the Christian:
“In the Vigil we do not wait for the Lord as though he still has to rise from the dead, but rather we solemnly renew each year the memory of the resurrection. However in this celebration we recall the past so that by means of our vigil we may give expression to what we do in life through faith. All this time in fact, in which the current age passes like a night, the church waits with the eyes of faith focused on the Scriptures as on torches shining in the dork, until the day of the coming of the Lord” ( Augustine)
Questions to ask ourselves might be ”Do I really believe that Christ is risen from the dead and is now glorified at the right hand of the Father and He will come to claim his Kingdom in full at the end of time? Do I believe that there will be a new heavens and a new earth? Do I live my life as though this really matters? And do my life and hope convey joy and Good News to my world?
For the Christian Community, the Body of Christ, the Church, the joyful celebration of Easter Sunday is not just a day in which I come to church, spend time with family, have a good meal and relax. (These are all good things.) Rather it is the beginning of the celebrating of the 50 days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost Sunday, a “Pentecost”- 50 days of joyful expression of gratitude for the Christ conquering death (our death) and His victorious resurrection and glorification in heaven, our common goal. In the words of Tertullian, it is the “latissimum spatium”, the ‘most joyful period.’(de Baptismo)
A Christian without hope or joy is an empty shell; but a follower of Christ whose hope and joy are based on what God has done for us and is doing for us and will do for us in Christ is the heart of the hope of the world.
Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia, Alleluia! (He is risen as he said, Alleluia, Alleluia)
Fr. Dan Kassis is the pastor of St. Rita Church in Show Low, Arizona.
Featured Photo: Wikimedia Commons