Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will give you light."
The Easter Vigil is celebrated after sunset on Holy Saturday; most dioceses determine that at 8:00 pm. Usually, by the time the paschal fire is lit, darkness has settled in the neighborhood and the stained glass windows of the church provide little light to the interior.
The congregation meets outside the church where the paschal fire is already burning. The presider blesses the fire, and then the Paschal Candle; and then, following the "Light of Christ," the congregation files into the church, each person carrying a candle.
That burning taper represents many things: the light of faith, the personal testimony of the one carrying the candle, the community whose many candles illuminate the church, and so forth. The light itself is yellow-warm, not harsh but reassuring.
When everyone has settled in place, the congregation continues to hold their candles as the priest, deacon or cantor sings the Exultet:
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels! Exult, all creation around God's throne! Jesus Christ, our King, is risen! Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Today's gospel is all about light and darkness, blindness and vision. The story presents in a straightforward manner, a miracle. In this account, instead of the universal amazement and delight we have come to expect of miracle stories, bystanders are skeptical, indifferent or hostile; and the young man whose sight has been restored reacts to their suspicions defensively. This is a more realistic account of how a jaded society reacts to a clear sign of God's mercy.
The story resembles some of the late Old Testament stories as found in the books of Tobit, Esther, Ruth, and the Genesis story of Joseph. God is neither seen nor heard in those stories; rather the faithful protagonists must work out their salvation by trusting in God and acting faithfully by their moral code. In this story, Jesus, entirely on his own initiative, heals a blind man. Then he disappears while the drama unfolds, only to reappear at the end to reveal himself to the healed man and to scold his skeptical opponents.
The healed man, who seems to know nothing of the Lord except his name, models the response of the faithful Christian. He is not skeptical, suspicious, frightened or hostile like those around him. He insists upon his own experience -- "I was blind but now I see!" -- and by his testimony becomes a witness for Christ.
Hearing the gospel, we can readily identify with this unnamed new Christian. Jesus -- who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life -- effects a change in our lives which penetrates to our very core and radiates outward. He is a Light in the lantern of our hearts, shining through our gestures and demeanor, attitudes, words and actions.
Our witness begins not with a recitation of the catechism (Who made me? God made me!); or a mathematical demonstration of God's creative power (What are the odds?); but with a story about myself: "I was blind; now I see. I was lost; now I'm found."
With the Church we bring our light to shine in darkness with every confidence that the darkness cannot overcome it.