Deacon Isaac Chavez preached our Holy Saturday Vigil homily. At the request of several parishioners, we asked if he would allow us to post it here on the Homely Hours. Thank you, Deacon Isaac, for your powerful message.
What words can be said about the mysterious victory of our Lord over Death? We have come to the edge of our knowledge. We must now rely on our Imagination guided by Holy Scripture and the themes and symbols the Church has constantly used to proclaim that Scripture. So now, we offer up our meager offering.
We are in the midst of Holy Saturday. Deep darkness is upon us. The last traces of light flicker away, threating to blow out forever. The enemies of God had done their best. The Evil One could not cause our Champion, our Strong Man, to fall as he caused our first parents so long ago. Sin could not gain a stronghold, proving to be the only thing that separates Christ from our humanity: that he was in all things like us yet without sin. The world had certainly done its best. It had spit upon him, blasphemed, forsook him, betrayed him, denied him, left him alone in his greatest time of need, left him to thirst, beat him brutally, mocked him, pierced the hands that had healed so many, hung him on the cross, and finally handed him over to Death.
And then, the last enemy, the strongest and final of our adversaries, Death had stepped forward to stand as the final combatant that could end this holy light once and for all. Death stepped up to the Prince of Life. Here is the final combat, the cosmic combat. Will creation fall once for all into chaos, as the source of Life is forever dried up, and death rules finally and certainty? Was all God’s work for naught? Was man simply unable to bear God’s image, because death was just too strong, even for the Son of Man? At the end of all the stories, the myths, the fairytales– could it be that after all there were no happy endings, that certainty the raw and cold reality of a godless and mindless nature will simply overtake us and all creation as we fall into a hopeless moment of nothing…
So death did its best. And perhaps, if even for one moment our Lord would have believed that death had this power over Him, maybe that is all it would have taken–this loss of faith as the Source of Hope feels true despair.
Death made its move. Unlike the other adversaries death relies on sheer force. Blow after blow death had struck and now the light was all but a dim whisper seeming at any moment ready to turn to smoke. And now here we are, at the pinnacle moment of history: The middle of the night on Holy Saturday. The deciding moment.
After all his combat, our Champion is not through yet. For his holiness had sustained him so that the world’s blows had not had the full effect they should have. The Evil One’s temptations are distant memories already long defeated. Sin’s power is now of no effect here in this realm of pure darkness. Death’s blows had seemed for a moment to be the final blows. And yet, they had not cowered our Lord as much as death had calculated they should have. In fact, the resistance and unmoving countenance of the Christ is that of the unflinching Will of Righteousness.
For Death is about to learn the final lesson: That Life and Death are after all not peers. They are not of the same kind; they are not cut from the same mold; they are not two sides of the same coin. Death is of the mortal creation. Death reigns as King over the mortal world. But death, by definition has no place in immortality. Infinity, which can hold all things, has no room for finitude.
As our Lord lay in the midst of the Dark realm called Hell, Death raised his arms to make the final blow, and suddenly the light seemed to get stronger for a moment. From where comes this mysterious energy? How can light come from an unseen source, even in the midst of this realm of sheer darkness? Death, surprised at the growing light lands another blow to the already battered face of our Lord, but death’s mortal hands crumble as they approach the heat and power of the holy eternal light that steadily continues to grow. Death again attempts another strike, but with the same result, mortality is swallowed up in immortality. Death’s usual sting cannot inflict the necessary damage, and death’s bride, the Grave, cannot gain final victory this time.
As our Lord rises to his feet, Death falls to its knees realizing only at this last moment that it was all in vain. That the Evil One had lied even to death. That from the moment death entered into the world, Life had already begun to make a way; to carve out a path that would lead to that great Day when the Eternal Light would break into creation to heal it and to vanquish the reign of the enemies of Creation.
So now, kneeling in complete defeat, death can only mutter three words to try to save itself. Three words it had vowed to take out of the mouth of every man, but now it screeches in desperation: “Christ is Lord.”
But Christ must finish what he came to do. The merciful Lord chooses this time to not be merciful to death. But rather to bring mercy to humanity, death must die. The light no longer flickers but now thrives in intensity, the Champion of Creation and Eternity is finally done with being the passive victim. It is his turn now to give his blow. With one Word from his mouth the Sword of Eternal Life shatters Death into pieces, and all the Darkness flees at the death of Death.
Meanwhile, in the realm still called Mortal, the Sun has just risen, lighting the land and revealing the scars on the battle torn earth. The Evil One declawed and desperate, having managed to cowardly slither away, still lurks for a time in the darker places of the realm. But near a small hill in one tiny region in the land, a faithful woman only wanting to finish her duty to her Lord (worn and weary from days and nights of weeping) walks towards a tomb where a stone has been rolled away. And little does she know she is about to get the first glimpse of that Conquering, Victorious Light that has begun to fill all creation.
Our Lent is accomplished. Christ is risen! The Lord is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!