April 15, 2017, Easter Vigil – From Night to light (The Rev. Dr. Deborah White)
Updated: Aug 5, 2021
Happy Easter! How’s everybody feeling? Filled with joy? Energized? Relieved? Refreshed, Renewed? Or maybe just a teeny bit tired – or potentially a little confused. After all, you might be forgiven if you are experiencing a little bit of the sensory shock that sometimes causes Puxatawnee Phil to run back into his hole on Groundhog Day. Don’t get me wrong. I love Easter -but it can be a bit of a culture shock after six weeks of Lent. And for good reason.
Easter, according to the Book of Common Prayer, is about renewal- renewal of body and mind, renewal that should stir up our souls and our collective wills, renewal that should encourage us to more authentic worship and more powerful advocacy in our lives. Renewal that makes us feel as if we are “dead to sin and alive to God.”
The Easter Vigil liturgy is one of the oldest liturgies in the Christian church, and attempts to capture that transition – from darkness to light, from death into life. It was initially part of what was once called “The Great Week” of Easter, which celebrates both Christ’s death and resurrection dates back to at least the fourth century (and likely earlier). Instead of having separate liturgies for the three holy days preceding Easter – what we call “the Triduum” of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the ancient Christians instead celebrated the death and resurrection of Christ in one long drawn-out festival. It was the peace, freedom, and togetherness of Woodstock without the electric guitars, illegal substances, and sideburns.
The liturgy that we are taking part in this evening is designed to imitate that spirit of joy and unity, to recreate the sense of “Easter” as not one day or one worship service, but as a progression – from darkness to light – from waiting to fulfillment. When we are finally given permission to say or sing or shout, “Alleluia,” we are celebrating nothing less than our own spiritual rebirth.
It’s like one of those beauty infomercials that promises a “whole new you” if you just buy this, eat that, or use what they tell you. The protocol is always much harder than anticipated and the end result may not what you expected. Who knew what you were getting yourself into? Faith is a lot like that, but with much more significant repercussions. You never know what will happen when you are remade in the spirit of God.
Mary Magdalene and her companion discovered this when they went to Jesus’s tomb. They were anticipating the body of their beloved friend, but instead found a supernatural being so blindingly bright that it resembled lightning and whose appearance was quickly followed by that of Jesus himself. It was not what they imagined. But that’s what happens with makeovers. Sometimes, it doesn’t turn out quite the way you thought it would – maybe because you weren’t really ready for it.
Which is a surprise, given that we have been preparing for Easter for at least six weeks – and it sure seemed like long enough. That’s what Lent is all about after all, getting ready for Easter – cleansing our hearts and preparing a place for Jesus to enter, performing dermabrasion of our souls. We thought we were ready – but then again maybe we weren’t. Maybe we did too much planning, too much anticipating. Maybe we didn’t leave room for ourselves to be surprised by joy.
Easter can be like that. It is both everything we wanted and so much more than we expected. It is too big, too bright, too intense. That’s because we have failed to take into account what it means to have been saved by Jesus. We have failed to understand that we have not just been saved by Jesus, but we have been saved as part of Jesus. We have been fundamentally changed. And we have been changed for a reason. We have been changed so that we can change others, so that we can spread the Good News. And for some of us, that’s not good news at all. It’s just plain scary. In fact, it’s a thing that, if we think about it, may make us want to turn around like little Phil and run right back into the darkness of Lent.
But it is the core of what Easter is, the reality of what it means to have faith: we have been raised with Christ so that we can do the work of Christ. We cannot simply enjoy the bells and the music and the light of Easter’s dawn. We have to carry that light to others. Do not be afraid. Go, tell our brothers and sisters what you have seen and heard: Jesus Christ is risen today, and we are reborn. Alleluia.