I always go to the Easter Vigil. I don’t do it out of duty; I do it out of love. My own baptism happened at a vigil and my appreciation for the gift of life that was given to me brings me back every year. But more importantly, the vigil reminds me that renewal is not only for those being baptized — it is available to all of us, any time. Easter, among other things, is about what is often translated as being “reborn” or “born again,” but is more correctly rendered as being “born from above.” As Pope Benedict powerfully conveys in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, resurrection is not resuscitation, it’s “about breaking out into an entirely new form of life, into a life that is no longer subject to the law of dying and becoming.” Through baptism, he says, we are “‘raised’ with [Christ] at the Father’s right hand (Col 3:1–3).” But then it is so easy to lose our sense of His closeness.
Lent began as the preparation period for converts before their Easter baptisms; but before long it became something the whole community participated in. During Lent, we all join with the new converts in preparing ourselves for renewal. During the Easter Vigil, the priest ceremonially sprinkles Holy Water on the entire congregation: our sharing in being washed clean.
Back in January, I wrote of my own conversion and baptism: Throughout the mystical literature of many different traditions, you find the metaphors of being asleep or dead or blind, and the potential of awakening or being reborn or seeing. I have spent much of my life sleepwalking, not fully alive, lost, so to speak… I woke up; I reconnected; I found God and myself; and through this I became a new person; I was reborn.
One of my treasured possessions is a copy of an Eastern Orthodox icon, given to me by my spiritual director before my own baptism (see photo above), that depicts Jesus rousing Adam and Eve from sleep in their tombs and freeing them from the power of death.
Pope Benedict, in Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, says:
If we enter fully into the essence of our Christian life, then we really do touch the risen Lord, then we really do become fully ourselves.
Touching Christ and ascending belong together… Christ, at the Father’s right hand, is not far away from us. At most we are far from him, but the path that joins us to one another is open. And this path is not a matter of space travel of a cosmic-geographical nature: it is the “space travel” of the heart, from the dimension of self-enclosed isolation to the new dimension of world-embracing divine love.
I used to be fascinated by the parallels between religious and secular holidays in a cynical way — seeing them as proof that the religious holidays were somehow less valid. Now I am equally fascinated with how these parallels prove that Truth is everywhere. Of course Easter comes in the midst of the annual rebirth of nature. Both remind us of the opportunity for renewal. That we can wash away our sins, purify ourselves, start fresh and reconnect to Christ’s divine love — at our baptism, with all the Church at Easter, or at any time. Have a blessed Easter.
A few words about the pope’s phenomenal new book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, which I mention several times in my column. Both the first volume and this book are remarkable in their clarity and their power. Though Pope Benedict is a scholar, his writing is free of the jargon and convoluted style theologians so often use. It’s not light reading, but it is highly readable. Here is a recent interview I did about the new book. I encourage you to consider getting either or both volumes for yourself or for a newly baptized or confirmed friend or loved one.