Did you notice them?
Were you paying attention during the Exsultet? What popped out at you this year? Did you notice them?
Yes, that’s right: I said “bees.” Here we are, on this most solemn night of our Church’s year, we are proclaiming “Alleluia!” ringing the bells, swinging the incense, hearing of the empty tomb, and here I am, talking about bees!
Why are they there, friends? Why bees? Who cares about bees? They are little insects – sometimes annoying – flitting about from here to there – and now, they are buzzing around in our Easter proclamation. Why?
Well, with our revised translation of the Missal, they are actually returning, as they have been part of this ancient hymn from the beginning:
On this, your night of grace, O holy Father,
accept this candle, a solemn offering,
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands,
an evening sacrifice of praise,
this gift of your most holy Church. …
But now we know the praises of this pillar,
which glowing fire ignites for God’s honor,
a fire into many flames divided,
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light,
for it is fed by melting wax,
drawn out by mother bees
to build a torch so precious.
These bees are back for us tonight, to remind us of something simple yet very profound. These little insects, often ignored, often discounted, often avoided, are present here and now for a beautiful theological purpose. They remind us that in God’s wonderful plan of salvation there are no insignificant players. Each and every one of them – and each and every one of us – is necessary and important in this sublime drama that we recall with our liturgy this evening.
In the Liturgy of the Word, we hear of that plan that began with the creation of the world – orderly and purposefully – by a loving and creative God. We hear of God’s liberating power for His people Israel as He leads them through the waters of the Red Sea – prefiguring the waters of Baptism. We hear of God’s care and concern for His people as proclaimed through the words of His holy prophets. We hear in the Gospel of the women who come to the tomb and who return, confused and terrified, to witness to the Apostles that Jesus is no longer among the dead, but that He has risen!
And this drama of salvation continues tonight – here in this place, as sixteen of our brothers and sisters come forward to embrace the faith we all profess together. These candidates and catechumens, who are reborn in Baptism, anointed with the oil of strength and witness, and are nourished at the table of the Lord, are reminders to us that our faith is alive – just as Jesus is alive. And we, too, are called to go forth, as those women did, to witness to the resurrection – to make disciples.
St. Augustine, in one of his Easter homilies, calls the newly received members of the Church, his “new colony of bees.” Now, my “little bees,” it is your task – as it is the task of all of us – to go forth and to make disciples. No one is exempt; no one is unworthy; no one is insignificant.
Just as without those little bees we would have no Easter candle, so too, without you and your witness we would have no living Church.
So, tonight, we rejoice – with the angel choirs, with the hosts of heaven, with all the earth and with the entire Church – and, yes, even with the bees – that Jesus is risen! Now, go forth, and may our faith be fruitful!