Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which, by hearing God’s Words and celebrating God’s sacraments, we share in Christ’s victory over death.
With this ancient call to prayer we began the Great Vigil of Easter, taking our place with Christians dispersed throughout the world, gathered together on this night to hear again the history of God’s saving work in creation, and to take our place in that ongoing story.
The prayer declares that this night is the Passover of the Lord. Indeed, it is a night of passages, from chaos to order, from darkness to light, from fear to joy, from slavery to freedom, from despair to hope, from death to life.
Each of our readings tonight (and if we wanted to do the full vigil we would have read seven more) proclaim this theme of passage. We begin with the story of creation, with the universe a formless and chaotic void covered in darkness.
But God was not satisfied with chaotic void, and so God created the heavens and earth, the plants, animals, and human beings. And we passed over from chaos to order, from formless void to our earthly home.
Then we joined the Israelites escaping from a life of slavery in Egypt, poised at the edge of the Red Sea with the Egyptian army closing in on them. It seems like a hopeless situation.
But God parts the sea and the Israelites cross it without even getting their feet wet, and in doing so pass from slavery to freedom.
One of the readings for this night, which we heard earlier in Lent was from the prophet Ezekiel, priest to a people in exile, banished from the promised land because they have forgotten the Lord who led them out of Egypt. They fear that God has abandoned them.
But God shows the prophet a vision of a valley of dry, lifeless bones, and tells Ezekiel to testify to the bones. As he speaks the bones come to life. God assures Ezekiel and the people of Israel that they are still God’s people, and God is still their God. And the people pass over from despair to hope.
Finally, we go with Mary Magdalene and Mary to the tomb of Jesus, where they plan to anoint the body of their dead friend and Lord. But God was not satisfied that death should be the final answer, and so Jesus is raised from the dead.
Jesus passes over from death to new life, and Mary Magdalene and Mary pass over from fear and grief to great joy.
Christians are sometimes accused of denying the reality of the world and its problems, of the evil that continually confronts us.
But listen closely to the stories we heard tonight. All the problems of the world, all its evils, are honestly portrayed here.
Darkness does exist. Fear is real. Slavery, oppression, despair, and chaos are among us. Death does happen.
At various times in our lives we have all lived in darkness, known fear and despair, felt the chains of oppression. We have all grieved the death of someone we love and faced the fear of our own death.
This year we hear these words not in a beautifully decorated church with our friends, but in our own homes, perhaps alone, perhaps with a few immediate family members. Fear, sickness, and death surround us, and indeed seem to be shrouding the world.
We are not here tonight to say those things are not powerful and real. We are here tonight to proclaim that they are not the final answer.
We are here tonight to praise our God who turns a formless void into a created universe, who brings God’s people out of slavery into freedom, who brings forgiveness and reconciliation, and who finally conquers even death with the resurrection of Christ Jesus.
We are here tonight to proclaim that these stories are our stories, that the God who performed these mighty acts is here with us even when we are living in despair, darkness, and fear.
We are here tonight to proclaim that death is not the final word, that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will also raise us.
And so we rejoice tonight with the whole of our Mother Church in radiant light, resounding with the praises of her people – praise for a God who was not and is not satisfied with sin and despair, fear and death. A God who raises us all again to new life – restoring our innocence and bringing us great joy.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!.