31 March, Saturday – Easter Vigil

31 March – Easter Vigil 

Dear Readers,

The Easter Vigil Mass features a total of nine readings. It is an Oxygen tradition to have a reflection for each of these readings. This Easter, together with our regular contributors, we welcome back Steven and Rebecca, as well as guest contributor Kristel. It is a long read, but we hope that it will be an enjoyable and inspiring one!

Blessed Easter!
Desmond (on behalf of the Oxygen Team)
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FIRST READING

Genesis 1:1-2:2

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God’s spirit hovered over the water.

God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. God called light ‘day’, and darkness he called ‘night.’ Evening came and morning came: the first day.

God said, ‘Let there be a vault in the waters to divide the waters in two.’ And so it was. God made the vault, and it divided the waters above the vault from the waters under the vault. God called the vault ‘heaven.’ Evening came and morning came: the second day.

God said, ‘Let the waters under heaven come together into a single mass, and let dry land appear.’ And so it was. God called the dry land ‘earth’ and the mass of waters ‘seas’, and God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants, and fruit trees bearing fruit with their seed inside, on the earth.’ And so it was. The earth produced vegetation: plants bearing seed in their several kinds, and trees bearing fruit with their seed inside in their several kinds. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the third day.

God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of heaven to divide day from night, and let them indicate festivals, days and years. Let them be lights in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth.’ And so it was. God made the two great lights: the greater light to govern the day, the smaller light to govern the night, and the stars. God set them in the vault of heaven to shine on the earth, to govern the day and the night and to divide light from darkness. God saw that it was good. Evening came and morning came: the fourth day.

God said, ‘Let the waters teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth within the vault of heaven.’ And so it was. God created great sea-serpents and every kind of living creature with which the waters teem, and every kind of winged creature. God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the waters of the seas; and let the birds multiply upon the earth.’ Evening came and morning came: the fifth day.

God said, ‘Let the earth produce every kind of living creature: cattle, reptiles, and every kind of wild beast.’ And so it was. God made every kind of wild beast, every kind of cattle, and every kind of land reptile. God saw that it was good.

God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in the likeness of ourselves, and let them be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all the wild beasts and all the reptiles that crawl upon the earth.’

God created man in the image of himself,
in the image of God he created him,
male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth.’ God said, ‘See, I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the whole earth, and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food. To all wild beasts, all birds of heaven and all living reptiles on the earth I give all the foliage of plants for food.’ And so it was. God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good. Evening came and morning came: the sixth day.

Thus heaven and earth were completed with all their array. On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing. He rested on the seventh day after all the work he had been doing.
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Responsorial Psalm 103:1-2,5-6,10,12-14,24,35

R/: Send forth your spirit, O Lord, and renew the face of the earth.
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God’s Creations

How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you have made them all.

The first reading brings us back to the beginning of time, how God created the world out of nothing. For me, being in nature is one of the most basic, yet greatest reminders of God’s amazing creation.

I had the opportunity to climb Mount Rinjani a couple years ago. It is known to be a difficult hike, but one that is well-rewarded with beautiful views. I thought I had trained hard and prepared well for it, but we cannot always predict and plan everything to the detail; especially when dealing with the elements, we just have to go with the flow and adapt to the best of our abilities, and trust in God’s plan.

It was a very humbling but edifying experience for me. I was one with nature during that 3-day hike – camping outdoors, no toilets nor showers, no electricity. Amidst all that simplicity, you learn to appreciate the little things even more. The guides and porters whose livelihoods depend on this mountain were like superheroes to me. Their loads and responsibilities were far greater than ours, yet they carried it all so effortlessly. They were completely selfless and generous, and their primary concern was just making sure we were well taken care of, and helping us reach the summit.

By God’s grace, I made it to the top. Standing at 3,726 metres, my breath was taken away by the sheer beauty of this mountain. Basking in all that glorious majesticness, you can only marvel at how amazing God’s creation is. This was 100 per cent nature, nothing man-made about it. I was completely overwhelmed and filled with wonderment and gratitude.

But I had also struggled a lot, especially while trying to summit; without the help of these guides I probably might not have made it. At one part of the journey, one of them saw I was shivering and took off his jacket for me, leaving himself with just a thin long-sleeved shirt and a blanket in the freezing temperatures. He had selflessly insisted, “If you are okay, then I am okay.” These are moments when I see Jesus in people, and a great lesson for me to try and be like Jesus to others too.

The beauty that surrounded me in the mountains was not just in the amazing views, but also in the people. This is exactly God’s creation, the earth and mankind. I was initially worried that I was not prepared enough for the hike or that I was not fit enough, but God had sent me these angels to guide me and carry me. We often fear that we are not good enough. But we are God’s creation, and He has a plan set out for each and every one of us. We just have to trust in Him. And no matter what, we are always enough for God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Kristel Wang)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that we will grow in faith and learn to place our trust in You. We pray that we will always be appreciative of all the little things, and never take anything for granted.

Thanksgiving: Dear Lord, thank you for all your wondrous creations, the beautiful earth and all its creatures you have entrusted unto us.

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SECOND READING

Genesis 22:1-18

God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’

Rising early next morning Abraham saddled his ass and took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. He chopped wood for the burnt offering and started on his journey to the place God had pointed out to him. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. Then Abraham said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there; we will worship and come back to you.’

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering, loaded it on Isaac, and carried in his own hands the fire and the knife. Then the two of them set out together. Isaac spoke to his father Abraham, ‘Father’ he said. ‘Yes, my son’ he replied. ‘Look,’ he said ‘here are the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?’ Abraham answered, ‘My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.’ Then the two of them went on together.

When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there, and arranged the wood. Then he bound his son Isaac and put him on the altar on top of the wood. Abraham stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he said. ‘I am here’ he replied. ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy’ the angel said. ‘Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son.’ Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt-offering in place of his son.

Abraham called this place ‘The Lord Provides’, and hence the saying today: On the mountain the Lord provides.

The angel of the Lord called Abraham a second time from heaven. ‘I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.’
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Responsorial Psalm 15:5,8-11

R/: Preserve me, God, I take refuge in you.
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Journey Mercies

“I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

We will never understand God’s ways. I was on a snowboarding trip recently and was riding really well. Really well until I attempted to jump off a ramp and sufferred a nasty fall which kept me out of action for the next few days. That was the first time that I had ever gotten injured; I had made it through National Service and a lifetime of sports and physical activity without any such incidents.

During my recovery, I had plenty of time to reflect on what God was trying to teach me through this experience. Was I overconfident? Probably. Had I taken my good health and fitness for granted? Quite likely so. Was I prideful with regard to my snowboarding ability? Yes I was. Was there a good outcome to all of this? Absolutely. Upon reflection, it dawned on me that God was showing me my limits, and teaching me how to act in a sensible and deliberate way. I believe that God was protecting me from further injury as I was planning to attempt even more reckless runs and jumps during our trip.

My injury also provided an opportunity for God’s love to be manifested through others as my friends took care of me and nursed me back to health. Allowing others to care for me and letting God work through their hands gave me a deep sense of peace and contentment in spite of my weakness. Sometimes it is in our weakness that God shows his greatest power.

This Holy Week, let us recall Jesus’ immense suffering and sacrifices for us as we go through our own trials in life. May we always see the good in every situation, and bloom powerfully beyond our wildest imagination.

(Today’s Oxygen by Anonymous)

Prayer: Heavenly God, we pray that you will give us strength in our weakness and hope for our futures.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Jesus, for the instruments of your love scattered all around us. May we never lose sight of your unwavering care.

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THIRD READING

Exodus 14:15-15:1

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Why do you cry to me so? Tell the sons of Israel to march on. For yourself, raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and part it for the sons of Israel to walk through the sea on dry ground. I for my part will make the heart of the Egyptians so stubborn that they will follow them. So shall I win myself glory at the expense of Pharaoh, of all his army, his chariots, his horsemen. And when I have won glory for myself, at the expense of Pharaoh and his chariots and his army, the Egyptians will learn that I am the Lord.’

Then the angel of God, who marched at the front of the army of Israel, changed station and moved to their rear. The pillar of cloud changed station from the front to the rear of them, and remained there. It came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. The cloud was dark, and the night passed without the armies drawing any closer the whole night long.

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove back the sea with a strong easterly wind all night, and he made dry land of the sea. The waters parted and the sons of Israel went on dry ground right into the sea, walls of water to right and to left of them. The Egyptians gave chase: after them they went, right into the sea, all Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen.

In the morning watch, the Lord looked down on the army of the Egyptians from the pillar of fire and of cloud, and threw the army into confusion. He so clogged their chariot wheels that they could scarcely make headway. ‘Let us flee from the Israelites,’ the Egyptians cried. ‘The Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians!’

‘Stretch out your hand over the sea,’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘that the waters may flow back on the Egyptians and their chariots and their horsemen.’

Moses stretched out his hand over the sea and, as day broke, the sea returned to its bed. The fleeing Egyptians marched right into it, and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the very middle of the sea. The returning waters overwhelmed the chariots and the horsemen of Pharaoh’s whole army, which had followed the Israelites into the sea; not a single one of them was left. But the sons of Israel had marched through the sea on dry ground, walls of water to right and to left of them.

That day, the Lord rescued Israel from the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. Israel witnessed the great act that the Lord had performed against the Egyptians, and the people venerated the Lord; they put their faith in the Lord and in Moses, his servant.

It was then that Moses and the sons of Israel sang this song in honour of the Lord: …
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Canticle of Exodus 15

R/: I will sing to the Lord, glorious his triumph!

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The Desert Journey Is Really Hard

The Lord is fighting for them against the Egyptians

In preparing the reflection for today, I watched Ridley Scott’s Exodus, which was released in 2014. For 90 odd years, Hollywood has produced various movies depicting Moses’ parting of the Red Sea to free the Israelites from the clutches of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. Over the years, CGI and animation techniques have improved. I was reading up on the technicalities of how this scene was created over the years. Can you believe that in a 1923 version, the effects were made by 2 slabs of jello?!

Today, as I read the verse and watch the film, what stood out for me was when the Israelites lamented and blamed Moses for bringing them out of Egypt. Though life in slavery was intolerable, but faced with dark clouds, a tumultuous way ahead and with no rainbow in sight, they felt that being in Egypt was better. “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Like us today, the Israelites saw and felt with their own human eyes and hearts, and they were afraid and unsure of what was ahead of them. ‘It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!’

Slavery was bad but the eating was good. Who can blame them? They were in slavery for 400 years. They may have been so numb to the hardship that they simply gave up. As the saying goes, ‘better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.’ We can get so comfortable with our pain and fears that we are too paralyzed to move on. Or are we so cosy in our comfort zone that we never think about making things better? Yes, change is never easy, change is not fun, change is downright scary but in this case, there is a ‘guaranteed return on investment’ — God’s promise.

I ponder on my life — my own journey to the Promised Land, I recognize that even as I make the journey forward, many a time I cast an eye back and wonder if I should have left my ‘Egypt’. I have often questioned if life would have been different had I stayed there. Things would not have been great but perhaps, it won’t be as dry and painful as it is now. The journey ahead to my Promised Land is certainly no shady, tree-lined boulevard either. The desert journey to get there is truly hard. And hearing the homily last weekend by my parish priest kept bringing home the message about dying to self – the true essence of the Christian life, in which we take up our cross and follow Christ. Dying to self is part of being born again; the old self dies and the new self comes to life.

And so I plod onwards on my journey, dying each day to myself, and looking ahead to God’s covenant with us.

As we await the coming of Easter in just a few moments dear brothers and sisters, draw strength from knowing that though things maybe a bit bleak now in your lives, though you may not understand why God has led you to where you are in your life journey today, know that God is with us and for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Geraldine Nah)

Prayer: Lord, getting through the pain of the cross is possible only by going hand in hand with You. As you lead us out of the parched dryness of our own deserts, give us the courage to not look back, and the hope to keep moving forward. Amen.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for clearing the way ahead of us and leading us to where we are today. We may not understand your ways, but we trust that it is the better way.

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FOURTH READING

Isaiah 54:5-14

Thus says the Lord:
Now your creator will be your husband,
his name, the Lord of Hosts;
your redeemer will be the Holy One of Israel,
he is called the God of the whole earth.

Yes, like a forsaken wife, distressed in spirit,
the Lord calls you back.
Does a man cast off the wife of his youth?
says your God.

I did forsake you for a brief moment,
but with great love will I take you back.
In excess of anger, for a moment
I hid my face from you.
But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you,
says the Lord, your redeemer.

I am now as I was in the days of Noah
when I swore that Noah’s waters
should never flood the world again.
So now I swear concerning my anger with you
and the threats I made against you;

for the mountains may depart,
the hills be shaken,
but my love for you will never leave you
and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken,
says the Lord who takes pity on you.

Unhappy creature, storm-tossed, disconsolate,
see, I will set your stones on carbuncles
and your foundations on sapphires.
I will make rubies your battlements,
your gates crystal,
and your entire wall precious stones.
Your sons will all be taught by the Lord.
The prosperity of your sons will be great.
You will be founded on integrity;
remote from oppression, you will have nothing to fear;
remote from terror, it will not approach you.
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Responsorial Psalm 29:2,4-6,11-13

R/: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me.
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You Are Never Alone

His anger lasts a moment; his favour all through life. At night there are tears, but joy comes with dawn.

 My baby has just hit a developmental leap. His level of awareness of his surroundings has surged and he now realizes there are things, situations, and sounds he feels afraid of. One of the major changes to him now is the awareness that I have left the room or space that he is in. This separation anxiety can strike even when he awakes suddenly from a nap. So he cries with an urgency that shocked me initially.

I began to reassure him of my presence by calling his name, speaking to him, and popping in his line of sight as I buzzed around the house doing my chores. I found myself telling him “You are not alone my darling” every now and then.

As I said this to him, I reflected on the readings today. In it, God tells his people in Isaiah that He is ever with them.

“I did forsake you for a brief moment, but with great love will I take you back.

In excess of anger, for a moment I hid my face from you.

But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you, says the Lord, your redeemer.”

Being a mother to my son has been a humbling journey and a process of unlearning the old ways I thought about love. As imperfect humans, we cannot help but operate on the duality of rewards and punishments, giving and withholding. I unconsciously love this way sometimes. But with my beloved son, there is never any withholding of my love and tenderness. Even in my exhaustion; my frustration with decoding his cranky and clingy needs; the external stressors of work-family balance, with God’s grace, I still manage to find the energy to attend to him. Even if it should mean forgoing my own needs, my me-time, or delaying my rest. What more of our heavenly Father who is perfect and all Love?

“my love for you will never leave you and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken…”

Of course, this cannot be a one-time lesson in love. Many of us have been loved imperfectly in our lives and relationships. We have been angered, hurt and short-changed of our affections. But deep within us, I believe we all have a ‘dark memory’ of how perfect love feels like and should be. This subconscious awareness is the seed that triggers our lifelong search for what we call ‘true love’. Perhaps, like me, you have found human relationships tried and wanting. Perhaps, you are still trying to forgive and mend, or forget broken relationships. Maybe you think you have waited too long to be loved properly and are on the verge of giving up. Maybe you feel too broken to hope for more.

Do take heart that there will always be onward growth in your life. This is God’s promise to his sullied ‘bride’ Israel. God’s pity over his people is his great sorrow and sympathy for the mistakes you and I have made in our search for love and fulfilment. And His swift and immediate action is forgiveness and redemption.

Just as I will never leave my baby’s side, just as he is constantly on my mind as I buzz about the house doing a million things for the family… God is whispering gently to you “You are never alone my beloved.” Every now and then, He checks in on you by calling out your name, sending angels to encourage and journey with you, tugging you into his embrace with a longing and ache that you find impossible to be filled by the world’s distractions. This is your Abba Father who says, “Come back to me: I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

 (Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord, I pray for the courage and grace to love myself as you have loved me.

Thanksgiving: I will praise you, Lord, you have rescued me. In my ignorance I have neglected you, but you never forget me.

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FIFTH READING

Isaiah 55:1-11

Thus says the Lord:

Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty;
though you have no money, come!
Buy corn without money, and eat,
and, at no cost, wine and milk.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
your wages on what fails to satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and you will have good things to eat
and rich food to enjoy.
Pay attention, come to me;
listen, and your soul will live.

With you I will make an everlasting covenant
out of the favours promised to David.
See, I have made of you a witness to the peoples,
a leader and a master of the nations.
See, you will summon a nation you never knew,
those unknown will come hurrying to you,
for the sake of the Lord your God,
of the Holy One of Israel who will glorify you.

Seek the Lord while he is still to be found,
call to him while he is still near.
Let the wicked man abandon his way,
the evil man his thoughts.
Let him turn back to the Lord who will take pity on him,
to our God who is rich in forgiving;
for my thoughts are not your thoughts,
my ways not your ways – it is the Lord who speaks.
Yes, the heavens are as high above earth
as my ways are above your ways,
my thoughts above your thoughts.

Yes, as the rain and the snow come down from the heavens and do not return without watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating, so the word that goes from my mouth does not return to me empty, without carrying out my will and succeeding in what it was sent to do.
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Canticle of Isaiah 12

R/: With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
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Fully connected to God

Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live

We live in a world where internet connectivity is important. Indeed, it is almost inconceivable for a person to own a phone without mobile internet. We look for places with strong wifi signals and for each other to be in touch with one another. I remember once when my friends were totally completely clueless as to what to do when the hotel which they were living in did not have wifi. If we, who are so dependent on internet connectivity, can become so clueless in its absence, that means as Christians, we need to be in constant communion with God to be sure of what he desires of us.

Being in connection with God means that we need to be in constant communication with God. Just as data is often sent between a mobile phone user and his friends, we also need to communicate with God in prayer. The Church has a huge treasury of prayer which we can tap on to be in connection with God. Be it through quiet meditation, the use of Scripture to encounter God, or the use of song to bring ourselves to union with God, there is an important need for us to find the most suitable way to be with God and then continue.

This also requires us to be part of a community where we get to live out our lives in joy and happiness. Community living allows us to discover what it means to appreciate our faith as we journey with each other to discover what the will of God is for us. As we continue to reflect on our Easter Vigil readings, let us discover the great plan which God has for us in the Scripture readings and allow it to unfold in our lives.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for us to remain connected to you in prayer and in worship as we enter into the wonderful love you have shown us.

Thanksgiving: We pray for those who continue to share the faith with others.

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SIXTH READING

Baruch 3:9-15,32-4:4

Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life;
hear, and learn what knowledge means.
Why, Israel, why are you in the country of your enemies,
growing older and older in an alien land,
sharing defilement with the dead,
reckoned with those who go to Sheol?
Because you have forsaken the fountain of wisdom.
Had you walked in the way of God,
you would have lived in peace for ever.
Learn where knowledge is, where strength,
where understanding, and so learn
where length of days is, where life,
where the light of the eyes and where peace.

But who has found out where she lives,
who has entered her treasure house?
But the One who knows all knows her,
he has grasped her with his own intellect,
he has set the earth firm for ever
and filled it with four-footed beasts.
He sends the light – and it goes,
he recalls it – and trembling it obeys;
the stars shine joyfully at their set times:
when he calls them, they answer, ‘Here we are’;
they gladly shine for their creator.
It is he who is our God,
no other can compare with him.
He has grasped the whole way of knowledge,
and confided it to his servant Jacob,
to Israel his well-beloved;
so causing her to appear on earth
and move among men.

This is the book of the commandments of God,
the Law that stands for ever;
those who keep her live,
those who desert her die.
Turn back, Jacob, seize her,
in her radiance make your way to light:
do not yield your glory to another,
your privilege to a people not your own.
Israel, blessed are we:
what pleases God has been revealed to us.
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Responsorial Psalm 18:8-11

R/: You have the message of eternal life, O Lord.
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Growing Old In A Foreign Country

…why is it that you are in the land of your enemies, that you are growing old in a foreign country…

 It’s been a long time since I last contributed to Oxygen. Last summer, my family and I moved back to New York after having lived in Hong Kong for over a decade. The journey has been long and oftentimes arduous. There has been an endless list of ‘to dos’ which, whenever one task is completed, a few more emerge. We’ve had to tie up many loose ends while trying to find new routines to follow. There have been many goodbyes and farewells said while trying to amalgamate into a new community. For my kids especially – they’ve had to start over in a new school while trying to navigate in an entirely foreign system. The list can go on and on… but the truth is…

My absence from writing has less to do about my life circumstances and more to do about my spiritual condition. I concluded that of all the things that have been going on with my life, contributing to Oxygen required me to sacrifice the most. I had grown tired of committing the time and energy to preparing the devotionals. I no longer wanted to be held to writing deadlines. I didn’t want to be accountable for studying and then interpreting scripture. Even more so, I didn’t want to write about standards and values that I myself could never live up to. I simply just don’t like to write. And so, I opted for the path of least resistance. I quit.

While I’ve found myself with more free time, that ‘freedom’ has come at a price. I’ve ended up devoting less time to God’s Word and have become a lot more anxious about the future. I’ve become more pre-occupied with the decisions and actions needed to be taken. And even bitter when things haven’t gone my way. It has been tiring and I’ve grown weary.

In the second passage from today, we read an excerpt from David’s song of praise to God. David’s passionate declaration of his love towards God was grounded on his view as to who God was to him… “my rock, my fortress and my deliverer… in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2) Despite being under siege by his enemies and on the verge of defeat, David turned towards God to ask for deliverance from his troubles… “The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.” (Psalm 18:4-6). And so God, in His infinite mercy, responded. He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. (Psalm 18:16-19)

A few weeks ago, I felt a desire to catch up on some old Oxygen contributions. Upon loading up the website, I came across the call for volunteer writers for this upcoming Holy Week. Maybe this was God reaching down from on high and taking hold of me.

(Today’s Oxygen by Steven Su)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray for forgiveness for all the times we’ve turned our backs to You. May the Holy Spirit guide us according to Your will.

Thanksgiving: Lord, we give thanks to You for Your great mercy. As we journey through this life, may we see that we are all living in a foreign country and that Your kingdom will be our eternal home — made possible not on our works, but through the sacrifice of Jesus.

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SEVENTH READING

Ezekiel 36:16-17,18-28

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘Son of man, the members of the House of Israel used to live in their own land, but they defiled it by their conduct and actions. I then discharged my fury at them because of the blood they shed in their land and the idols with which they defiled it. I scattered them among the nations and dispersed them in foreign countries. I sentenced them as their conduct and actions deserved. And now they have profaned my holy name among the nations where they have gone, so that people say of them, “These are the people of the Lord; they have been exiled from his land.”

‘But I have been concerned about my holy name, which the House of Israel has profaned among the nations where they have gone.

‘And so, say to the House of Israel, “The Lord says this: I am not doing this for your sake, House of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I mean to display the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned among them. And the nations will learn that I am the Lord – it is the Lord who speaks – when I display my holiness for your sake before their eyes. Then I am going to take you from among the nations and gather you together from all the foreign countries, and bring you home to your own land.

‘“I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you, and make you keep my laws and sincerely respect my observances. You will live in the land which I gave your ancestors. You shall be my people and I will be your God.”’
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Responsorial Psalm 41:2-3,5,42:3-4

R/: Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul is yearning for you, my God.
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Protect His Kingdom

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.

When I read this passage, one of the first things I noticed was how God isn’t asking Ezekiel to ‘watch’ over His people. Rather, He is commanding Ezekiel to do it and protect the faiths and lives of Israel’s people. “Be their watchman”, He orders.

To put things into perspective, we need to understand that back in those days, watchmen were sentinels, posted along the outermost walls of a city. They were tasked with keeping an eye out for enemies both within and outside the city. Without them, a kingdom would fall into the hands of her enemies, her people’s lives ended or they would be forced into slavery. Basically, lives will be completely ruined.

We know that God has told us to defend his kingdom.

But what does this mean for us, the modern-day layman who doesn’t belong to an armed force? What enemies are we keeping an eye out for? What kingdom are we trying to protect?

The answer — We are in charge of keeping watch over the kingdom of God. This kingdom is the one that lies in our soul.

Our enemy — sin

Our weapon — The Word of God.

I try to make it a point to read the Bible every day. For me, it is how God talks to me and lets me know which turnings to take along the path He leads me. Not only does reading and hearing His word keep me from straying (too) far from that road, but it is also the best form of defence against the spiritual warfare we face everyday. The ways of the world are such that it is okay to tell white lies to save your back, promiscuity is perfectly normal, forgive but don’t forget, the list goes on and on.

It’s not enough to just read it though. We have to practice what we read and pray as well, just like Jesus commanded in Matthew 26:41 (NIV)

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

Brothers and sisters, as we prepare to celebrate Easter tomorrow, let us begin anew our journey towards God. Let us rebuild and strengthen our defences against sin. Let us pray we never fall asleep as we keep watch over God’s Kingdom that dwells in our hearts.

(Today’s Oxygen by Rebecca Grace)

Prayer: God, our holy Father, give us the strength and the willpower to stay awake to protect and defend your Kingdom against the evils of the world.

Thanksgiving: We thank you God, for the season of Lent, which has made our spirits stronger and brought us closer to You and to your son Jesus.

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EPISTLE 

Romans 6:3-11

When we were baptised in Christ Jesus we were baptised in his death; in other words, when we were baptised we went into the tomb with him and joined him in death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s glory, we too might live a new life.

If in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection. We must realise that our former selves have been crucified with him to destroy this sinful body and to free us from the slavery of sin. When a Christian dies, of course, he has finished with sin.

But we believe that having died with Christ we shall return to life with him: Christ, as we know, having been raised from the dead will never die again. Death has no power over him any more. When he died, he died, once for all, to sin, so his life now is life with God; and in that way, you too must consider yourselves to be dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.

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Responsorial Psalm 117:1-2, 16-17, 22-23

R:/ Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

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Images of God

Death has no power over him anymore

There is a saying that a person is ‘a chip off the old block’ if their behaviour and, sometimes, even physical resemblance is similar to their parents. Indeed, the way people behave can sometimes tell us a lot about their upbringing and the company they hang around with. Similarly, as Christians who have experienced the death of the Lord on Good Friday, we also get to experience the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

The joy of being an Easter people means that we get to live in confidence that the sufferings which we go through on Good Friday, whilst tremendous and seemingly overwhelming, are actually nothing compared to the glory of the Resurrection which we will go through. All of us are going through or have been through suffering. Be it through the challenges we face at work, being a caregiver to a loved one, or even the financial problems, these things overwhelm us and make us realise how challenging it is to stay sane amidst these problems. We must remember that there is a reward to be seen at the end of the suffering, and this is how we enter into the life of Jesus more closely.

Just as Jesus went through much suffering when He was alive, we also have to go through suffering on this world. Yet, the suffering of this world will allow us to appreciate the joy which the Resurrection will bring to us once the suffering is relieved. The Epistle reminds us of the need to stay strong on our task and to never lose sight of our heavenly goal – which is to return to heavenly union with God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Nicholas Chia)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I pray that you let us see that our problems are slight and that you will take care of us.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for all who bring hope to this world.

 
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GOSPEL

Matthew 28:1-10

After the sabbath, and towards dawn on the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala and the other Mary went to visit the sepulchre. And all at once there was a violent earthquake, for the angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on it.

His face was like lightning, his robe white as snow. The guards were so shaken, so frightened of him, that they were like dead men. But the angel spoke; and he said to the women, ‘There is no need for you to be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said he would. Come and see the place where he lay, then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has risen from the dead and now he is going before you to Galilee; it is there you will see him.” Now I have told you.’

Filled with awe and great joy the women came quickly away from the tomb and ran to tell the disciples.

And there, coming to meet them, was Jesus. ‘Greetings’ he said. And the women came up to him and, falling down before him, clasped his feet. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers that they must leave for Galilee; they will see me there.’

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Nothing to Fear

Do not be afraid.

It is interesting how, in today’s gospel, the first words Jesus speaks to the women were comforting words of reassurance. “Do not be afraid” he said, before giving them further instructions to pass on to the apostles. At almost every CER I have served, He inevitably sends me one of the prophet Isaiah’s well-known verses to reassure me that He is indeed lifting me up each and every day and giving me eagle’s wings to soar. For indeed, Christ has conquered death. So what else have we to fear?

In the past, I never truly understood or connected with the significance of Easter. It was just Christ ‘waking up’ after three days in the tomb. But now, Christ’s resurrection is more than just a physical one fo rme. I truly believe that His resurrection is a daily reminder that we must die to ourselves each and every day — at home, at work, in ministry. And in dying to ourselves, we are to surrender all our attachments to sin, to pride, envy, anger, sloth, greed, lust and covetousness. Easier said than done, especially when we also have to die to our loved ones, parents, colleagues, bosses and anyone else we encounter each day on our mortal journey here on earth.

If you think about it, we ‘die’ each night we lay down to sleep and are ‘resurrected’ each time we arise to a new day. How is it then that many of us are able to face each day with a strength and conviction that allows us to get out of the door? I think it is because we have some semblance of a ‘plan’, boring as it may seem – have breakfast, read the papers, head to the office, have lunch, attend meetings/do our work, head home, have dinner, watch some TV/surf the net, then go to bed. And the cycle repeats itself again. IF indeed we arise the next day.

But brothers and sisters, have you ever thought about those who are in depression, out of work, in counselling, or with nothing to look forward to each day? How would these people feel upon waking up in the morning? Some would dread having to face a new day with nothing to do, with no friends to meet up with, no-one to talk to. Life for them would literally be a ‘prison’ or a tomb of sorts, with darkness all around to engulf them. Perhaps that is how the apostles and Jesus’ followers felt after His death on the cross. That all was hopeless and life was going to be futile, not worth living at all.

Christ’s resurrection was more than just a physical ‘statement’. It symbolised an awakening of the spirit within his apostles and followers and it gave them the courage to persevere amid all kinds of challenges as they went about evangelising to the rest of the world. Today, as we prepare to welcome Christ again in his physical form, let us all take courage and live out our calling – to be prophets and evangelisers, to proclaim to the world that Jesus Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Abba Father, we thank you for the gift of Jesus Christ, for His sacrifice on the Cross and for fulfilling the promise He gave to us.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Father for reawakening in us the spirit of your son, Jesus Christ.

 

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