During this octave week of Easter, in which each day is a Solemnity of the Lord, my mind is returning to the scriptures of the Easter Vigil, the Genesis reading in particular.
For a number of years I entered the Liturgy of the Word at the Easter Vigil with some skepticism. It seemed to me that the readings started in the wrong place. Surely the people who had compiled the Lectionary for that evening meant to start us off with the second account of creation in Genesis (including the sin of our first parents), not the first. How much more logical that would be, a recounting of the sin that necessitated our salvation in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. Never mind the very ancient use of Genesis 1 at the Vigil going all the way back to the Jerusalem church, or its pre-Christian roots in the Passover celebration. Using the other creation reading would have been part of the more perfect liturgical world we’d inhabit if only I’d been put in charge.
But obedience to the rite paid off, and I eventually came to hear in the recounting of that marvelous Genesis story the essence of the Resurrection: that the heart of God desires nothing more than light and life and love. The creation narrative is the original instance of God’s spirit moving over that which was completely and absolutely dead—as was the body of Christ in the tomb—bringing it to dizzying life, a life in whose mystery we continue to live and move and have our being, a life we never come close to fully or truly knowing.
Lent, the Church’s springtime, is a time for us to re-encounter and restore the truth of creation and resurrection: that God’s love desires nothing more for us than fullness of life. The Sundays of Lent may indeed start out in that lifeless place, but they quickly move us to the glory of Transfiguration, the essential life-giving water of Christ, the sight-restoring power that is Christ our Light, and the resurrecting hand of the new creation that is life eternal in Christ. Life, not lifelessness, permeates Lent. We were born into that life through the Spirit-moved waters of our Baptism, and it is to that life we are called again and again through our Lenten celebrations. It is no accident that the General Norms for the Liturgical Year (#27) names reminders of our Baptism as the first way we are prepared to celebrate the Paschal Mystery, secondarily through our penitential practices.
“Be glad, let earth be glad!” The Vigil readings are launched with that blazing gladness (unlike me, who wanted them to start out still mired in our sinfulness). The readings and disciplines of Lent and Holy Week give us plenty of opportunity to recall and tend to our sins, and to know once again the suffering love of Christ on the cross. After we have passed through Holy Week and the first two celebrations of Triduum, the Church places in our hearts the truth that everything else is totally eclipsed by the joyous brilliance of new Paschal fire.
Be glad! Creation, it may be said, was the first act of salvation. A cause for rejoicing, generating an energy to compel us toward ever-better stewardship of the earth, showing our joy and gratitude to the Maker of all for bringing life from death at the very beginning, showing us that this is God’s first desire.
Be glad! The earth and the Church do so each and every Sunday—each one an Easter—when the resurrection in creation and the Resurrection of Christ are wed in the taking of bread and wine, fruits of the earth, and in our knowing them changed through the power of the Spirit into the very presence of the Risen Lord.
Be glad! Each and every Sunday, the union of these resurrections is the pledge of that day when the Bride and the Spirit will be joined eternally at the heavenly marriage feast of the Lamb. Each and every Sunday. What can we do but rejoice in that splendor?