Easter Vigil by The Rev. Corbet Clark

Lessons:

Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation]
Genesis 7:1-5, 11-18, 8:6-18, 9:8-13 [The Flood]
Genesis 22:1-18 [Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac]
Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21 [Israel’s deliverance at the Red Sea]
Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all]
Baruch 3:9-15, 3:32-4:4 or Proverbs 8:1-8, 19-21; 9:4b-6 [Learn wisdom and live]
Ezekiel 36:24-28 [A new heart and a new spirit]
Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones]
Zephaniah 3:14-20 [The gathering of God’s people]

May God be with you this holy evening.

The Easter Vigil liturgy always begins in darkness. We are all now in a time of darkness, as a nation and as a world community. We know the darkness won’t last forever, but while it does, it’s hard for us to see the light and find our way.

I had an experience of total physical darkness many years ago, on an overnight school faculty retreat at Silver Falls State Park. Teachers were socializing in a common hall in the evening, and when I left the hall I was alone and without a flashlight. We were in the woods, it was a cloudy night, and as I walked out onto the road to go to my cabin I got to a point where the lights from the common hall were completely obscured, and I couldn’t see any lights on the cabins.

It’s a rare thing to be in total darkness outside. I had the eerie feeling that the night was
closing in on me – I could almost feel it. It was very disorienting. I stopped and thought about trying to turn around, but realized I couldn’t find my way back. I had no choice but to go forward. There were night sounds of the woods but no human sounds. I waited for a while, listening and hoping someone with a flashlight would come along. But I finally decided to feel my way along what I knew was the road (I could feel it underfoot).

Stretching my hands in front of me, I moved slowly ahead. After a time, I saw a faint glimmer from a light on one of the cabins ahead, and it was just enough for me to navigate forward with more confidence.

This is the night when the people of Israel began their escape from slavery in Egypt. I can
almost imagine how they felt that night, as Moses led them away from their homes in Egypt, away from their old lives, into the darkness, into the wilderness, with just the light of God to lead them. And I try to imagine what he might have been saying to them:
“We don’t know where we’re going. We don’t know how we’re going to get there. We don’t know what’s going to happen to us. But we know that we’re not going back. We won’t go back.

We can’t go back. And we know that the Lord has promised to guide us forward. So we’re going forward. And we know that wherever we’re going, it won’t be like the home we’ve left behind.

We pray it will be better. The way will surely be hard, but we will stay together, we won’t leave anyone behind, no matter how slow and weak they might be. And when we arrive at a new place, wherever it may be, we will find ourselves a new people.

That’s what I imagine Moses saying.

And I can imagine Jesus’ followers keeping vigil on the dark nights after his death and
burial. They have experienced an unexpected catastrophe. They have no idea what to do or where to go. They fear for their own lives. Even after Jesus’ appearance to them on Easter Day, and their experience of joy and hope, they still don’t know what to do.

According to Saint John, they go back to their lives as fishermen on the Sea of Galilee – until Jesus comes to them and gently reminds them that there’s no going back, no return to their old lives, they need to go forward to continue his work, God’s work, to care for God’s people. The way will be hard and the future uncertain, but God’s Spirit will guide them.

So, like the people of Israel, pursued by a dangerous enemy, and like Jesus’ followers,
stunned by a disaster they didn’t foresee, we, too, move forward, feeling our way along a dark path, trying to find the light that we know will guide us, trusting that the Lord is with us, but uncertain about where God is leading us.

It may be that in six months or a year, we will have gotten “back to normal,” as a church, as a city, as a nation, though I rather doubt it. But even so, I don’t think we will be the same. I don’t think there’s any real going back. I think we will find ourselves changed, in ways we never expected. I think we will find ourselves in a new place, thinking and acting in new ways.

Abraham Lincoln, in the midst of the darkness of the Civil War, said this in an address to
Congress, as he prepared to move the nation forward in an entirely new direction, by abolishing slavery: “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present.

The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”

We are indeed beginning to rise – to think and act anew, both as people of faith and as
members of our communities. To find the way forward will not be easy, but we as a people have done this before. We trust that God’s light is with us. We know we need to stay together, not to leave anyone behind, especially the tired and the weak, to seek out and care for those in need.

We know to follow the light wherever it leads, to expect that the Lord is leading us through this dark wilderness to a new place, where we will be renewed as God’s people.

I’d like to close with a prayer from Iona Abbey, that appeared in our Lenten Cookbook:

     May you be out of your depth –
     As the deeps of the night sky
     Contain but cannot explain God’s mystery.
     May you be in the dark –
     As the moon is eclipsed, but held safe,
     With all that is, in the palm of God’s hand.

     May you be lost for words –
     As the Word is spoken
     In the silence of the night,
     In the beauty of God’s creation.

     The loving blessing of God,
     Creator,
     Healer, and Holy Spirit,
     Be in us and around us tonight,
     Tomorrow,
     And all our nights and days.

Amen.