[As is my custom, I use the RSV rather than the translation used in the missal used for the Roman Catholic Mass in the U.S.]
The Easter Vigil Mass is celebrated after sunset on Saturday of Holy Week. It begins with a lighting of a fire which is used in turn to light the Easter candle. The Easter candle is carried to the altar at the front of the church in a solemn procession during which the Exsultet is sung, beginning with the verse:
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!
After the Easter candle is set in a place of honor, the mass moves on to the Liturgy of the Word, the reading and hearing of appropriate chapters or verses from Sacred Scripture. There are seven Old Testament readings followed by a reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans and then Matthew’s account of the Resurrection.
The first Old Testament reading, [Genesis 1:1-2:2], is the account considered by some to be a description of God’s Creation of this world. There’s a reason why this reading is important on this night. The Lord of Creation has been resurrected. If we don’t know what Creation is, we can’t know what that means. If we don’t know what Creation is, we certainly won’t be able to have a rational idea of Heaven. And, in this modern world, where we know the empty reaches of space from documentaries and sci-fi movies, we don’t know where we might find Heaven, the world where Christ waits for those who belong to Him.
Let’s see if a meditative journey can help us to find the world of the resurrected as our Christian ancestors once found it in the heavens that we now know as outer space. Then we’ll have rational terms for discussions and descriptions of Heaven as those earlier Christians did.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. [Genesis 1:1-2]
Stanley Jaki, a Benedictine priest and scholar with wide-ranging knowledge and credentials, has shown in Genesis 1 Through the Ages [Thomas More Press, 1992] that the word translated as ‘created’ in the above verses actually means ‘cleave’ in the sense of separate. For most purposes, we can mentally translate the word ‘create’ in the book of Genesis as ‘shape’ or maybe ‘organize’.
We Christians believe God did create from nothing all that is not Him, but we can’t see or describe that event, even in our imaginations. Science tells us the same though some individual scientists would like to find an equation to describe a creation event — logically impossible since mathematics doesn’t describe existence as such. The so-called Big Bang is not a creation event but rather a transition from some prior state of being.
God shaped this world out of some very strange stuff which He had created as the basic stuff of all Creation. That basic stuff lies on the other side of the Big Bang, though maybe far on the other side. Many other phases might lie in between the rawest levels of Creation and our universe. If God shaped this world out of that stuff, we can have faith that He can shape Heaven — the world of the resurrected out of that same stuff.
In the beginning, God shaped this world from the basic stuff of Creation. God had created the basic stuff of Creation from nothing. God has also shaped a world in which Christ and those who belong to Christ will live with Him for time without end. We know this world of the resurrected exists because the risen Christ has visited this mortal world and given marvelous signs of His perfected body, a body St. Paul called a ‘spiritual body’ in 1 Corinthians 15, a wonderful discussion of these issues. Those who belong with Christ, those who will live with Him for time without end, will have spiritual bodies, much like that of the resurrected Christ. It’s perhaps even more fitting to say that our resurrected bodies will be us in the most complete sense.
Christ is the Lord of Creation. So long as we have faith in Christ and in His God, we can be confident that Christ’s promises will be kept. But we need a vision of the world in which those promises will be kept, else those promises will become no more than feel-good illusions to us and our children. We can gain such a vision if we have the courage and faith to mediate upon Holy Scripture in light of what we modern human beings know about this universe, this phase of Creation.