‘Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water. Then God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light.’ And when the Deacon brought in the Paschal Candle, he sang out: ‘Lumen Christi!’
This liturgy is running over with symbols. But light is the first. One rule for this liturgy is that it must take place during the night, beginning after nightfall and ending before daybreak. We began with a fire that became light. Then the light of the single candle lit our own and filled the darkness of the church. Then the Priest sang the Exsultet and light was praised again. Then the readings began, and the first had: ‘God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light.’ Famous words from the beginning of the creation account in Genesis! They define the first day of creation. Light is what God makes first. Everything else – even the sun, the moon and the stars – come after.
Light does indeed come first. I remember a village in Ghana. It was near the time of elections, and this particular village was not on the grid. It had no mains electricity. And it was full of signs saying, with true West African spirit: ‘No light, no vote!’ Indeed, no light, no anything. Above all, no life. Plant life, animal life, human life all depend on light. Our brains depend on it. When we’re deprived of light, we suffer neurologically, emotionally, psychologically. We become depressed and unmotivated. We wither. But where there’s light, we live. We can act. We can see one another. We can communicate and relate. Our whole human life unfolds. There is light for our eyes and light for our mind. ‘To say that God created light means that God created the world as a space for knowledge and truth, as a space for encounter and freedom, as a space for good and for love’ (Benedict XVI).
And God does not take back his word. Every morning reminds us of this. But tonight he says again, in a second, fuller sense, ‘Let there be light’. And there is. Over the darkness of Jesus’ tomb, over the darkness of a city which had just snuffed out the Light of the world, over a world living in darkness and the shadow of death, God said, ‘Let there be light’. And there was. Jesus rose. To quote Pope Benedict again: ‘The night on the Mount of Olives, the solar eclipse of Jesus’ passion and death, the night of the grave had all passed. Now it is the first day once again – creation is beginning anew. “Let there be light”, says God, “and there was light”: Jesus rises from the grave. Life is stronger than death. Good is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Truth is stronger than lies. The darkness of the previous days is driven away the moment Jesus rises from the grave and himself becomes God’s pure light.’ And Pope Francis, just the other day speaking of the Paschal Vigil, sang the same song: ‘At times, the darkness of night seems to penetrate the soul; at times we think, ‘there is no longer anything to be done’, and the heart no longer finds the strength to love. … But it is precisely in that darkness that Christ lights the flame of God’s love: a gleam that breaks through the darkness, presage of a new beginning. .. This is the great mystery of Easter! On this holy night the Church gives us the light of the Resurrection, so that we no longer have inside us the regret of saying ‘by now…’, but rather the hope of one who opens up to a present full of the future.’
Did you notice a beautiful thing to the sequence of readings? Creation begins on the first day of the week, our Sunday. And Jesus rises on the first day of the week. It’s a sign that a new creation has begun. That’s familiar. But notice another connection. At the end of the Gospel, the angel says to the women: ‘Go and tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.”’ So, our first reading begins with God creating light and our last ends with the disciples being told: ‘you will see’. You will see the risen Christ. This is the light of faith. St Paul puts it beautifully: ‘For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness”, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ’ (2 Cor 4:6).
And in a few moments, the faithful and merciful God is going to say it yet again, in a third way: ‘Let there be light’. And there will be. He is going to say it over Nathalie and Nimarta and Clouzel and Ebubechi. He says it as they profess the faith and are baptized. Faith is a light and baptism is an illumination. The Lord is going before them. He has been doing so already, taking you by the hand. And like Peter and the disciples, you will see him. And your hearts will rejoice. Any darkness in you will be scattered, and you will be light in the Lord. God said, ‘Let there be light’. That light is the risen Christ, and tonight it becomes you as well. Tonight, those old, old words in Genesis, those words for the beginning of things, become young, new and true in you! And when Namsi, James, Melissa and Alison are received into full communion, that light will grow still more. And again, when Henny, Michael and Talent are confirmed, with the others. Still more, when the candles of us all are lit and we renew our baptismal vows. ‘No light, no vote!’, said the villagers. But there is light, this other light, and we will vote. We will say, ‘I do believe’.
So, brothers and sisters, let’s put away the deeds of darkness. Let’s live as children of light. And let’s be realistic: for some of us here, this may be our last Easter Vigil. By the time the next one comes, we may have entered the darkness of death. Let this encourage us to keep the light alive. And if we do, as the angel said, ‘There is no need for alarm.’ In that last darkness too, God will say it again, ‘Let there be light!’ And there will be. And we will see. We will see Jesus gone before us into heaven. And we will live!