Our ancestors, the first human beings, would end their days around a fire telling stories. The fire provided light and heat for them in the cold, dark night. The smoke kept biting insects and wild animals away. Around that fire, they would sing, dance and recall their history. Learning how to use and control fire was a turning point for the young human race. It brought people together and, through the power of song and story, it helped create bonds of friendship and community.
Tonight, as a community of faith, we gather with millions of other Christians throughout the world to celebrate the pinnacle of human history - the resurrection of Jesus. Like our earliest ancestors, we began this celebration around a fire. The fire we set and the candles we hold flooding this church with light are a symbol now of the victory of Jesus. By rising from the dead he set sin and death on fire, destroying them forever. And the light emanating from that great blaze - the light of faith and hope - has been leading and guiding us ever since.
Like our ancestors, we gather to sing and tell our story. It is a history that spans the centuries. We recall how God created us from the dust of the earth and gave us dominion over the world. However, we rejected His love, choosing to disobey Him. Though we lost that intimate friendship with God, He did not abandon us. Again and again God revealed Himself to His people by acts of power and love. He rescued the Israelites from slavery, establishing them in a land flowing with milk and honey. He sent prophets to teach us how to live in peace. All His words and actions, however, were pointing to a future event, something even greater which He had in store for us, a Messiah who would save us. After centuries of hoping and waiting, that Messiah has come to us. He is Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, is the Savior of the world. His resurrection has changed the world forever. It would take the rest of this night well into tomorrow to tell the story of how the history of the world has been transformed by the resurrection. We would have to talk about the apostles who spread the good news throughout the earth. We would have to tell the story of countless followers of Jesus who began the hospital system by caring for the sick, elderly and homeless. It would be women and men of faith who would work tirelessly to educate the young and so make the Catholic Church the largest private provider of education in the world. Inspired by the resurrection, Christians would seek out the lonely, the lost and the poor to provide for their needs making the Church the largest charitable institution in the world. Billions of people throughout history have had their lives changed for the better because of the love and care shown to them by those who called themselves followers of Christ. The resurrection of Jesus has changed the world and saved it in more ways than any one of us can begin to fathom.
Each of us knows this personally. That is why we are gathered here on a spring evening. We have been touched by the Risen Lord. He has led each of us out of darkness into light. By His power, we have crossed over from slavery to sin into the freedom of faith. We once were steeped in fear and despair, but now we live with confidence and hope. God was once a distant Being, now we know Him to be our loving Father. We have been changed by the resurrection of Jesus. We are being saved. The fire continues to burn within us, consuming our sins and enlightening our hearts.
The journey that led us to this night began over five weeks ago on Ash Wednesday when we committed ourselves to prayer and self-denial. It passed through our commemoration of Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem, Last Supper and death on the cross. Now, bathed in the light of His victory over sin and death, we will renew our baptismal vows. We will proclaim boldly that Jesus lives. In a loud voice and with conviction we will reject sin, proclaiming that it no longer has any power over us. And we will renew our joy in knowing that we now live in freedom as sons and daughters of God.
There are many who have chosen not to gather with us tonight. We cannot know or judge why. But if they will not come to the light, we will take it to them. We will carry our candle of faith into a world that has lost its way and continues to stumble blindly in the dark. With a renewed baptismal faith, we will go out and set this world ablaze so that everyone will know that Jesus is truly risen! Alleluia!