Homily for the Easter Vigil Service
Sunday 4 April 2021
This is the day ©Suzanne Grimmett
This is the day when we gather to tell how God’s story has become our story.
This is the story that stretches from the darkness before creation to the darkness of an enslaved peoples, to the darkness of the crucified body of God sealed in a tomb, to the darkness of our own greatest despair.
This is the new day when we have courage to believe that the forces of death will never prevail over the power of love and life.
Defeat and despair are what we see in the disciples who scatter and the women who come early in the morning expecting only to find death. If they slept at all, surely they had woken in the certainty that everything they had hoped for and believed in was lost.
I think sometimes we awake with few expectations of things being different, and little hope of being surprised by something new. But this day tells us that the God who was there at the dawn of time bringing this surprising world to life is still creating, still bringing light from darkness. This day tells us that no matter what tomb of defeat and despair we currently find ourselves in, it is not our future.
In the beautiful words of that ancient hymn of praise we hear;
This is the day when all who believe in Christ are freed from sin,
restored to grace and holiness and share the victory of Christ.
This is the day that gave us back what we had lost;
Beyond our deepest dreams
You made even our sin a happy fault…
Evil and hatred are put to flight and sin is washed away,
Lost innocence regained, and mourning turned to joy.
“Jesus in the tomb,” says Sr Joan Chittister, “is the one proof we have that darkness is not the enemy. Our greatest enemy is the unwillingness to believe in dawn, in resurrection.”
This is the day when we know that the darkness will turn again to light, whispering to us of the possibilities we may have given up longing for and imagining.
Hope keeps the soul alive, but it is not the same as optimism. Hope is the instinct that there is something greater than we know now- something more loving, more compassionate, more generous and more beautiful -that is waiting to spring to life in us, and in our world. The wonder and awe is that the means of such resurrection are the raw materials of our lives, with even our sin “a happy fault” – gathered up and transformed. But hope must be acted upon, with its dreams woven into the fabric of all our relationships with one another and all life, creating the reality of a more loving and generative future.
The women at the tomb were left with the responsibility of what they would do with the good news they received. When they rush off in wonder, their joy is made complete by meeting Jesus, an encounter possible because the hope of life had been rekindled in them at the sight of the empty tomb. We too are charged with the responsibility for the good news we have received of forgiveness and freedom. Hope opens our eyes to where life and goodness can be found, giving us courage to act for its realization.
In a moment we will renew our baptismal promises. This is no thoughtless ritual but an active taking up of the promise of new life kindled in us. It is a reminder to believe in the dawn despite this present darkness, and to trust in the crucified and risen one to bring the work begun in us to completion. Easter Day challenges our assumptions that the way things are is the way things always have to be, calling us to take the risk of surrendering to the Spirit who brings new life where there is only death, feast where there is famine and hope where there is despair.
And so with the wonder-struck women at the tomb, and all the grace-filled saints down the ages and our family gathered here this morning at St Andrew’s, we welcome this new day with the great cry of hope;
“Christ is Risen! Alleluia!” (He is risen indeed, Alleluia!)