Preached by Carol Kidd on 20 April 2019: Easter Vigil
We began this evening in darkness before gathering around an ordinary fire which through blessing became sacred and provided the momentum for our return into the church building. Fire plays such an important part in the history of humankind. For wandering tribes, hot ashes were carried as smouldering fire; when they stopped they kindled it, and afterwards they shared a meal; they warmed themselves and around the fire made their home.
As humankind evolved, primitive round huts had a central space for the fire used for cooking, heating and for providing light. In the wilderness desert Moses was drawn to speak with Yahweh by the amazing spectacle of the burning bush. His Lord heard his people’s cry for food, provided manna and sent a pillar of fire to guide them by day and protect them by night. Jesus lit a fire on the shore at daybreak to guide his disciples that they might return to him and be nourished, fed and prepared for the task ahead.
Fire to attract attention, fire associated with gathering people together in unity. Fire is a great provider: it is necessary for preparing food to satisfy our physical hunger, flames are associated with candles used in our spiritual lives, and of course tongues of flames appeared at the coming of the Holy Spirit.
This Holy Saturday we have gathered around while the fire was blessed, and followed the light taken from the blaze as we walked behind the sacred flame which lit the way as our steps trod in the light of the new Paschal Candle from which our individual candles sprang to life. Soon we will come to the Eucharistic banquet at the centre of our worship – the sacred meal that is for all who wish to come, taste and see.
We are invited to receive the elements of Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacraments of bread and wine that are to us Jesus’ body and blood, prepared as he instructed in remembrance that he lived and died and rose again, to take away not just our sin but the sins of all the world.
Jesus came to be an eternal flame always in our midst, a fire at the centre of our lives, bringing light for dark times, filling us with the warmth of his Holy Spirit dwelling within. Out of darkness he came with his most marvelous light. From the darkness of death itself he came, and he is life itself to us. To those of us who have often found ourselves bruised and weary from day to day living, he brings light and new life. He came of his infinite love to gather our complicated lives for himself, and to give them back to us newly refreshed and restored. In his light all human life and love become immortal, undying and enduring, because Jesus Christ our Lord has vanquished death – and death being vanquished, what other evil can we ever really fear?
The feast of Easter is above all things a feast of hope and of courage. Christ the victor, risen from the dead, is a conqueror of death. The journey ends not in death, but life. Indeed our Christian journey has no ending if we think of death as the door to new life – with the light of Christ close at hand, we find he has taken the horror out of death, and if we invite him in we must be prepared to carry his light, not just into the midst of the people but also out into the world.
Are we ready to share Christ’s resurrection light? His message of good news?
Maybe we still – quite naturally for we are only human – have times when we are not quite sure what it all means and, like the women and Peter that very first Easter morning and Thomas at his first encounter with his risen Lord, we can find ourselves wondering about what really happened, trying to piece together the mystery of the resurrection.
Luke’s version of the story places Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of Jesus and Joanna as the bearers of the light of God as they tell others the great news. Interestingly they do not appear frightened at the beginning of the story. They saw the stone rolled away and went in. When they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus yet they did not hesitate; they only expressed fear at the dazzling appearance of the two messengers. Frightened by the presence of the two men in clothes that gleamed like lightening, the women heard the resurrection message: ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here he has risen!’
It is in the light of the knowledge of the resurrection that we come to understand that God has promised that he will grant us the greatness to start again if at first we fail. Out of darkness to us who so often live in darkness, he still comes with his marvelous light. He desires for us to do as the women did and tell others, even if at first we find that those we speak to about our faith seem to treat our testimony as nonsense. We are called to share the wonderful Easter message so others will wonder what truly happened, seek answers and come to know Jesus for themselves.
Life is triumphant. Life is eternal. The light Jesus brings will never from this time be extinguished and the life he brings us shall never die. The old are new, the new are old on Easter Day. In declaring Christ is risen indeed we preach the resurrection and join with Christians world-wide in celebrating not a dead hero but a living Saviour!