Holy Saturday is one of my favorite days. I like to arrive at The Basilica before the hustle and bustle of the Easter preparations begins. The cross we venerated the night before is still laid out on purple pillows, covered with rose petals strewn from the dome. The air is heavy with the smell of incense and the aroma of scented oil. And above all, everything is perfectly still. This silence is not a dead silence, rather it is a silence filled with the promise of new life. It is a silence rich with anticipation and hope.
Bathing in the early morning light that pierces through the stained glass windows and dances on the receptive limestone walls I sit for but a few moments and let my mind wonder, inevitably guided by an icon and a homily which is sometimes ascribed to Pope Gregory the Great .
The icon depicts the risen Christ who broke the doors of hell with his victorious cross and opened the gates to paradise. Beneath his feet the dead are slowly coming to life. Most prominent among them are Adam and Eve, the first among the dead. Jesus, the new Adam holds on to the hand of the old Adam and prepares to lead him out of Hell. Adam in turn reaches for Eve’s hand and brings her along. And everyone else in Hell reaches for Adam and Eve. Thus all those who were asleep in death now are brought to new life.
According to the author of the ancient homily, Jesus said to Adam: “for you are in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.” The old Adam and the new Adam have once again united. That was the ultimate mission of Jesus: “God became human so that humans might become like God” as so many ancient bishops wrote. This uniting of heaven and earth, of God and humans is the essence of the Easter message. We are all one because God became one of us so we might become like God. And God unites us all no matter who we are or where we are and invites all of us to be more like God.
Those who are imprisoned by poverty, addiction and prejudice are invited to break free. Those who promote the darkness of racism, sexism, religious extremism are challenged to a change of heart and to come into the light. And ultimately those who are asleep in death are called to new life. This resurrection challenge the risen Christ places before all of us on Easter is not an easy task but it is what we are asked to do as Christians: we are called to break barriers, to set people free, and ultimately to celebrate and protect all life.
The silence on Holy Saturday is short lived as our many volunteers and those who will receive the Easter Sacrament start to arrive. If Holy Saturday is my favorite day, the talk I share with those who will join the church during the Easter Vigil is my favorite talk of the year. These women and men have been on a very intentional journey for months and sometimes much longer. They have prayed, studied, and shared many things with one another. And now they are ready. Their faith and commitment, their hope for the future and their love for God and one another embody what Christ asks of us today: to believe in Him and to imitate Him. Their excitement is exhilarating. Being with them reminds me of an ancient hymn used on Easter Sunday when those who were baptized the night before enter into the church:
These are the lambs, newly baptized,
Who proclaim the glad tidings: Alleluia
Recently come to the waters,
And full of God’s light and splendor. Alleluia, Alleluia.
May God’s light and splendor which shines so brightly in the new members of our community invigorate all of us so we can go forth from our Easter celebrations with a new resolve to be the much needed light for the world. Thus we will become like God as God has ordained for us for God is in us and we are in God.
Blessed Easter to all.