Year C, Easter Vigil
March 31, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.”
Welcome to the mystery of Easter. It is totally fantastic, this story. The capture, torture and execution of a messianic figure in a time and place rife with messianic figures, of a backwater religious and political radical in a time of religious and political radicalism… Somehow that action, that horrible death ontologically, that means fundamentally, it ontologically changed the fabric of existence, changed humanity’s relationship with God and everything. It is fantastic.
Without a doubt, the fantastic is why I am Christian. I am Anglican because I think we remember it well, our rites and rituals are potent tolls for focusing human attention and intention, for conjuring holy remembrance, but I am a Christian for what we are remembering.
What are we remembering? The incarnation of our Lord. What are we remembering? The revelation and conduct of Jesus Christ’s earthly ministry: lifting up the lowly and casting down the mighty, freeing the needy from needless suffering. What are we remembering? The death, descent, and rising again in power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We remember these fantastic stories because they give us a glimpse, a vision of God active in this world, of God alive in this world, fully, and somehow, mysteriously, we remember a vision of the world as it is supposed to be. And this is not imagination; this is cellular, soul-ular memory. We know how it is supposed to be, our beings remember it. We are made of dust that was there at the beginning. That is the mystery. Revel in our immersion in the mystery of this night, when earth and heaven are joined and we are reconciled to God.
Immersion in mystery, in mystery enacted in the rites and rituals we practice tonight, rites and rituals that have been practiced for two thousand years much like this, that alone is a take away message. It is an Anglican truism that praying shapes believing, and praying like this, together, by this flame, in this particular way that comes but once a year, that helps us believe. But believe what? It helps us believe that things aren’t always what they seem. It helps us believe that God’s ways are not our ways and that we are the ones that need to do the adjusting. It helps us realize that those adjustments that are needed are hard; for God does expect the impossible, God does demand what we can’t even begin to comprehend, God doesrequire sacrifice and forgiveness, loving-kindness and humility solely on the basis of faith. Faith that there isa way things are supposed to be, faith that the Kingdom of God is at hand and faith that in faith we can make real the Kingdom of God on earth, faith that in faith we can make it real in our life times, faith that in faith we can make it real in this very moment. Great is the mystery of faith.
Why is this mystery so critical? Why is a cosmic humility that we don’t understand it all, that we can’t, why is that such an essential aspect of our approach to understanding ourselves and our relationships with God, our neighbors and everything? Why is a bow to the unknowable the key to knowing anything?
Mostly, it is because it is the nature of reality. We all float in a great sea of unknowing. Our memories are fatefully flawed; any historian or expert on witnesses at trials will attest to that. Our perception of what is happening right now is inconsistent at best: someone right now is having a deep religious experience, someone else is learning something about themselves or maybe even God. Someone else is bored, annoyed by my droning on, someone else is thinking about how cute Amelia is or the basketball game that she is missing or his high school boyfriend. We have so few things in our collective existences that ground us, that anchor us to some modicum of common shared experience, we share so few reference points to connect us to the true nature of things. Great is the mystery.
The mystery of faith posits that even though we are all adrift in the fog, that even as mired as we all are in darkness, there is a way. There is an eternal reference, a known point in existence that intersects with our realm, the realm of time and space. That point, that reference point is Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He is the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. Jesus Christ transcended life and death in the mystery of the Passion and Resurrection as He transcends the probable and possible in His eternal and actual presence in the hearts, minds and bodies of the faithful, and in His eternal and actual presence in the church and in her sacramental being. How? Why? I am afraid that these are unanswerable questions to the point of being unaskable.
We are drawn to God in the light of Christ because we carry that light within. We are not separate from God, we are not estranged from God, not really, it just seems that way. If we had the eyes to see it, the ears to hear it, the tongue to taste it, the memory deep enough to hold it, we would see that the distance between us and God is a figment, a very massive and convincing figment, but a figment of our imagination. That is the nature of sin: distortion and distraction. This is the atonement, the reconciliation of us and God that Jesus Christ offers. Jesus removes that distance, closes that gap and reminds us of how it is supposed to be. What do we need to remember? That it is in God that we live and move and have our being. That it is in Christ, the Morning Star that all of creation is enlightened. That it is the Holy Spirit that moves across the abyss and fills our lungs with life.
Tonight we remember welcoming the light of Christ into the world with the words of the Exsultet. “How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and man is reconciled to God.” And when we rest into this deep mystery, this cloud of unknowing how and why it is the way it is, we have the chance to remember that there is nothing, nothing, nothing to worry about. It all just is. This is the Good News of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior with whom we commune this night. Great is the mystery of faith. Hallelujah!
Let me end with this poem by Lynn Unger that Bryn up in the choir shared with me.
They thought they were safe
that spring night; when they daubed
the doorways with sacrificial blood.
To be sure, the angel of death
passed them over, but for what?
Forty years in the desert
without a home, without a bed,
following new laws to an unknown land.
Easier to have died in Egypt
or stayed there a slave, pretending
there was safety in the old familiar.
But the promise, from those first
naked days outside the garden,
is that there is no safety,
only the terrible blessing
of the journey. You were born
through a doorway marked in blood.
We are, all of us, passed over,
brushed in the night by terrible wings.
Ask that fierce presence,
whose imagination you hold.
God did not promise that we shall live,
but that we might, at last, glimpse the stars,
brilliant in the desert sky.
Great is the Mystery of Faith. Christ is Risen! Happy Easter. AMEN