BIA Benedict XVI Institute for Africa
Fr. Tegha A

Fr. Tegha A Nji

Meditations on the Paschal Mystery through the Eyes of Mary (PART III: THE GREAT EASTER VIGIL)

Topic: Alleluia! Jesus our Savior, the Son of Mary, has risen! Alleluia!

Today’s texts: To help us ponder the profound mysteries of this most solemn night, there are seven Old Testaments readings (Genesis 1:1-2:2; Genesis 22:1-18; Ex 14:15-15:1; Is 54:5-14; Is 55:1-11; Baruch 3:9-15,32-4:4; Ezekiel 36:16-17a,18-28) detailing the story of creation, the Fall, and the promise of salvation through the prophets; and Romans 6:3-11; and Mt 28:1-10.

Beloved, in one of the visions of John in the book of Revelation, played out in pre-historic times, we hear of the victory of God and of a “woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” (Rev 12:1). As her time to give birth approached, the ancient battle of “evil against good” was at its climax, as that ancient serpent, the dragon, aware that its rival and destroyer, the offspring of the woman was nigh, sought to destroy him at his birth. Here, we find a direct reference to the events of Genesis 3:15 wherein the Lord God cursed the deceptive serpent in these words, “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” This woman is Mary. The serpent/dragon is the devil. The seed of the woman is Christ Jesus who, in the fullness of time, would come to make final batter against the devil. 

Already, in this pre-historic vision of John, as soon as the woman gave birth to her son (Jesus), he was snatched away by God, and she (Mary) fled to a place prepared for her by God. Michael, emboldened as it were by the power of that victory of Mary and her baby, fought back against the dragon and defeated him. (Rev 12:1-9). And then came the cry of victory, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Rev 12:10-11). 

In this vision, and also in another text (Rev 13:8), we see that the baby of Mary, Jesus, was the “Lamb of God slain from the very foundation of the world.” This victory cry in the heavens both anticipates and consummates the cry of victory with which the Church resounds on this most holy night of the resurrection of the Lamb, who in the fullness of time, took flesh in the womb of Mary, suffered brutally, died, and was buried – events we commemorated on Good Friday. The good news is that death could not hold him. Having been raised, he opened the minds of his disciples to understand what the Scriptures said in this regard. “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Lk 24:45-46). 

Christ, by his rising, has made us an Easter people! As Pope St. John Paul II would say, “We are an Easter people, and Alleluia is our song!” An Easter people are a people who have come to share in that singular grace of the Blessed Virgin Mary – her immaculateness, her total freedom from every stain of sin. In Mary’s sinlessness, God has shown us from the very beginning the icon, the perfection of the new people he is forming for himself, that is, the Church, the Communion of Saints. It is by Christ’s dying and rising that Mary was freed from sin, and that we too have received the grace holiness that was given to Mary in a preeminent way at her immaculate conception. Indeed, today, the whole Church, joint to Mary as both mother and model, rejoices: Alleluia, the Lord is risen! 

If there be any doubt that tonight’s victory is likewise Mary’s victory, one only need turn to the wise words of the blessed Cappadocian Father Gregory of Nazianzus: “What is not assumed is not redeemed.” That is, had Christ not assumed our human nature, our flesh and blood, we would never have been saved by his dying and rising. Thanks be to God, that Mary said “Yes,” and by her fiat, gave flesh to the Son of God in her womb, that the world might receive a Savior and Redeemer! And in him has our life been restored! Alleluia! In him have we been made pure (fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel 38)! In him, our old selves have been crucified and we now live in him forever (Rom 6:3-11)! In him, the great victory of the Israelites from Egypt (Ex 14–15) has become the victory of all God’s children over sin and death!

As the apostle John proclaims, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. … The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Jn 1:1-5, 14).

On this most holy night, we rejoice and are glad, that the Light, Christ Jesus, that dawned upon the human race at his incarnation has defiled the darkness of death and has arisen never to be deemed again. We rejoice and are glad, that the very Word of God, come-among-us to reveal to us the love and life of God, but who fell completely silent in the sleep of death and the isolation of hell, because he took upon himself the curse of our sin and the punishment of hell we had deserved, has now arisen from the dead, defeating the loneliness and isolation of death and hell (hades). He has spoken, definitively, the life-giving word of God’s love into the isolation of hades. With Paul, therefore, we acclaim, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:55-58 – NKJV). No longer do we fear death. Death is now only a necessary “pause,” a hiatus, as we transition from earthly life to eternal life, for in Christ we have received the forgiveness of sin and the gift of eternal life.

At the very beginning of the public ministry of Jesus, as recorded in John’s gospel, it was at Mary’s behest that Jesus performed “the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.” (Jn 2:11). This sign, however, was preceded by Jesus’ words to his mother, “Woman, why do you involve me? My ‘hour’ has not yet come.” (Jn 2:4). That is, the hour to reveal his glory. However, the “hour” did come at his passion, and Mary endured all the pains and the profound grief of beholding her dead son. She waited in grief at the sealed tomb, until, at last, the shout of joy ascended from the glorious mouth of the angel, who said to the searching women, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” (Mt 28:6). Behold, they looked, and the tomb was empty! 

Yes! That was the hour of the definitive manifestation of the glory of the Son of Mary, Christ our Savior. Just as his birth had been announced by the angel Gabriel, so now the angel announced his resurrection. This is no mere coincidence or stylistic arrangement of the evangelist. No! Angels are messengers of God, and the great angels appear during great and major announcements – at the Annunciation, to proclaim a truth never heard of before, that God is coming in the flesh; and today, on this most sacred night, to announce the greatest news ever, that Jesus Christ, the God-man, the baby of Mary, has risen from the dead. No human testimony could make sense of any of these events. For what human mind could have imagined what “God-becoming-man” meant, or what “rising from the dead” meant? Thus, humanity needed the special help of angelic ministry. Even, recall that the disciples of Jesus, as they came down from the mountain after the Transfiguration, where Jesus showed them a foretaste of his risen glory, and commanded them to tell no one until the “Son of Man rises from the dead,” they puzzled over that, wondering what on earth “rising from the dead” meant. (Mk 9:9-10). 

The Resurrection is something totally and completely new. We must approach the resurrection with no preconceived ideas as though we knew what it was/is. If we do, then, we shall get it all wrong. The resurrection of Jesus was no resuscitation of a corpse back to an earthly life, like Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44), or the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:22-24), or the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17). It was not a giving back to Mary her Son in the exact form in which she had conceived him. No! “Jesus’ Resurrection was 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, but lies beyond it – a life that opens up a new dimension for human existence.” (Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, vol. 2, p. 244). For as Christ proclaims of himself, “I am the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Rev 1:18 – ESV).

In the previous meditation, we entered the silent and sorrowful wait of Mary at the entrance of the sealed tomb. Tonight, today, we rejoice with that sorrow-stricken mother, who now rejoices, for the waiting is over, the silence is broken, the tomb is unlocked, the gates of paradise are thrown open, and the cry of victory is chanted for all eternity, “Victory (salvation) belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb. … Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!” (Rev 7:10, 12). 

Today, Mother Church participates in Mary’s Easter joy, proclaiming, 

Regina caeli laetare, Alleluia,
Quia quem meruisti portare. Alleluia,
Resurrexit sicut dixit, Alleluia.
Ora pro nobis Deum. Alleluia.

Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia:
For He whom you merited to bear, alleluia,
Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

And with Pope Saint John Paul II, we turn to Mary in prayer, “Christ, whom you bore is risen! Pray for us! (…) Every narrative is incapable of recording that moment of the resurrection of the son in the mother’s heart. Yet we fix our gaze on you. The whole church shares in your Easter joy, Mary; the whole church knows that on this day the Lord has, in a singular way, made you “go before” in the pilgrimage of faith in the paschal mystery. Pray for us, Mother!” (“Urbi et Orbi” Address of April 3, 1988). And I add, “Mother, teach us to rejoice as you rejoice! Help us to believe with all our heart in the mystery of your son’s dying and rising! Grant that, like you, we may follow Jesus as faithful disciples through the changing phases of human life – in sorrow or joy, in sickness or health, in pain or ease, in plenty or poverty, in death or life. And by your prayer, conduct us at the last to the joys of heaven. Amen.

The Lord is risen as he said. Alleluia! 

And may God bless you and keep you, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

The end. Have a blessed and fruitful Easter!