On Easter Sunday the Church is full of rejoicing! That rejoicing is expressed in many ways, but never more beautifully than in the Exultet, the Easter Proclamation, which is sung at the solemn beginning of the Easter Vigil. In the Exultet, Mother Church unites with all heaven and earth in exulting with full-throated gladness in the triumph of our mighty King, Christ the Morning Star, who, coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on all humanity. The Exultet names multiple causes for rejoicing. We are invited to rejoice that Jesus wiped clean the record of our ancient sinfulness... banished the darkness of sin... broke the prison-bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld. We cry out, O wonder of your humble care for us... O love, O charity beyond all telling... O truly blessed night! But amidst these jubilant outbursts, the Exultet names something that might not strike us as joyful: O truly necessary sin of Adam...O happy fault!
Why is the sin of Adam necessary? Why is the fault of our first parents happy? And why is it named along with all those other reasons for Easter joy? The answers are right in the Exultet. It sings, O truly necessary sin of Adam, destroyed completely by the Death of Christ! O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer! The sin of Adam was necessary so that it could be destroyed by the death of Christ. Adam’s fault is happy because it necessitated Christ’s redemption. The sin of Adam is greeted with jubilation because it created the problem to which Christ’s redeeming death and resurrection is the solution. It brought on the disease for which Easter is the cure.
To be sure, the sin of Adam is not itself good. It is not, in itself, a cause for rejoicing. It is, rather, an occasion for good. It is the tragic plot twist that sets the stage for the story’s glorious resolution. Our rejoicing is therefore not that Adam sinned, but that, out of Adam’s sin, God brought about a greater good. Indeed, in the redeeming death and resurrection of Christ, God brought to humanity a good far greater than the paradise Adam lost by his sin.
Adam’s fault is happy because it is the occasion for the saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the first and most consequential human sin that, as a sickness calls for a remedy, called forth the greatest and most consequential act of love. Adam’s fault is happy because it is a great evil that God turned to even greater good. It shows us how God has turned evil to good in the great story of human salvation that finds its climax at Easter. It can also show us how God can and does turn evil into good in our own lives.
God allowed the evil of Adam’s sin to take place, and God allows evils to take place in our lives as well. Those evils include the harm we do to ourselves through sin, aa well as the harms that come to us in the form of persecution, heartbreak, sickness, pain, and loss. God allows those evils, but only in order to bring about greater goods. Just as God did in the case of Adam’s sin, so He will do for us. That is the faith that we joyfully profess in the light of Easter. It is the faith articulated by the Apostle Paul when he wrote, “We know all things work for the good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28).
Sometimes we can see how God turns evil to good, working all for the good of those who love Him. Sometimes we stand at a vantage point from which God’s redeeming purposes are visible. That is happily the case with the fault of Adam. The Church, standing in the light of Easter, is able to see why God allowed Adam’s sin and to exult in the wonder of God’s providence. That is also the case with some of the events in our lives. All of us can reflect of events in our lives and recognize instances when God has brought good out of evil.
However, sometimes – perhaps most of the time – we cannot see how God brings good out of the evils in our lives. We are not yet at the vantage point from which God’s providential purposes are made visible to us. At these times, we are invited to trust in the God who showed His love for us in the death and resurrection of His only begotten Son. We are called to rely upon the God who has brought untold good out of the sin of Adam and the crucifixion of Jesus and who has turned evil to good in my life and in yours. And we are encouraged to believe that one day we will be led to the heavenly vantage from which we will look back on the entire course of our lives in the radiant light of Easter.