A Sermon Preached at the Great Vigil of Easter, March 30, 2013
By the Rev’d Dane E. Boston, Curate of Christ Church Greenwich, CT
Texts: Genesis 1.1-2.2; Exodus 14.10-15.1; Ezekiel 37.1-14; Romans 6.3-11
May I speak in the Name of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen. Amen.
“In the darkness, the new fire is kindled.”
Though you may have missed it, that little rubric stands right at the beginning of your worship bulletin, underneath the words “The Lighting of the Paschal Candle.” It’s terse, practical, and rather to the point—after all, we need a flame if we’re going to light the candle. And yet it seems to me that that rubric offers a helpful summary of all that we have heard this evening, and of all that we have gathered here to celebrate. On this Holy Night, we have heard again the record of God’s saving deeds–God’s mighty acts in history–and each of them has offered a little reflection, a little glimmer of that short rubric: “In the darkness, the new fire, the new light is kindled.”
So it was in the beginning, when God in his abundant love, God in his overflowing goodness, spoke into the chaos, the nothingness, the void, the darkness, and said, “Let there be light!” And God saw that the light was good. And in the brightness of that light, God formed this good earth, in all its wonder and variety. God bound the restless wave by his mighty arm; God called forth from the rich soil plants in all their bright array; God filled the land and sea with creatures great and small; God fixed the sun, and moon, and stars in their courses; God made humankind in his image. And having wrought all this out of the darkness of nothingness, God sanctified with his holy light a day of rest. “In the darkness, a new fire, a new light is kindled.”
So it was when the Children of Israel, chosen by God’s sovereign design from among all the peoples he had made, languished in the darkness of slavery in Egypt. Groaning under Pharaoh’s bitter yoke, yearning for the fulfillment of God’s promised freedom, they cried to the Lord God of their ancestors, and he heard their anguish. And by the might of his hand, by the ministry of his servant Moses, by the power of his outstretched arm, God brought judgment upon their oppressors. Then, by the strength of his grace, from the depths of his love, through the waters of the Red Sea, God led his chosen people up out of the house of bondage, up out of the service of Pharaoh, up out of the darkness of slavery and into the light of freedom. “In the darkness, a new fire, a new light, is kindled.”
So it was when the Children of Israel fell back into slavery, fell back into servitude, fell back into darkness—not under Pharaoh, but under the tyrannous power of Sin and Death. Then in his never-failing mercy, God sent his messengers the prophets to speak his will, to proclaim his justice, to call his people to repent and to return to the Lord their God. And to show forth the fullness of this promised restoration, to foreshadow and foretell his plan for the undoing of Death itself, the Spirit of God carried his servant Ezekiel into the valley of dry bones, into the valley of darkness, into the valley of Death. And there God showed him the dread power of sin. There Ezekiel faced the full horror of Death. There Ezekiel met the deep darkness that is cast as a pall over all nations, all peoples.
And there, in that valley, Ezekiel saw the everlasting purposes of God. There Ezekiel received the word of prophecy: “Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your tombs, O my people…and I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live… and you shall know that I am the Lord.” There in the valley of the shadow of Death, Ezekiel saw the light of God’s life break forth upon the dry, dry bones. “In the darkness, a new fire, a new light, is kindled.”
And on this night, on this most Holy Night, we gather to celebrate that light shining forth once again. And more. For on this night, we behold yet a greater wonder. On this night, we see that the mighty works of which we have heard and for which we give thanks are but mirrors: they, in all their glory, are mere reflections of what God has accomplished this night, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
For now it is not by a word spoken into the void that God has brought light into darkness: but the Word Incarnate has stepped out into the void of Sin and Death, and has brought his new light into this world. Now it is not by the ministry of a prophet that God has led his people from darkness into light: but God our Savior has come to break the yoke of slavery; to bring us up out of the house of bondage. Now it is not in the ecstasy of a holy vision that God has resurrected his dead and dying people: but God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord, has entered into the valley of dry bones; has walked into the valley of Death; has stood in that valley of deepest darkness, and has, by his glorious resurrection light, banished the darkness forever, by the brightness of his Resurrection light. “In the darkness, a new fire, a new light is kindled.”
And tonight, beloved, we hear the great Good News that God’s light shining at the beginning; God’s light shining in Egypt; God’s light shining in the words of his prophets; and God’s light shining from the tomb of his Son, Jesus: this light is now our light. Listen again to the words of the Apostle Paul: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
The bright light of Jesus shining in the power of his resurrection is kindled now in us by the waters of Holy Baptism. The light that shines in and through this whole creation now burns bright in each of us: renewing us, restoring us, redeeming us, recreating us by the grace of God. The light that led the chosen people out of slavery in Egypt, through the waters of the Red Sea, and into the land of promise leads us now further and further into the new life that Christ has won in his victory over the grave. The light that shone in the valley of the dry bones, that brought life into that place of Death and deep darkness now shines in our souls, rescuing us from the dry decrepitude of sin, and bringing us up out of the tombs of our selfishness. In Baptism, a new fire has been kindled in the cold hearths of our hearts, and now makes us, in the holy words of holy Paul, “dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” For in the darkness, a new fire, a new light is kindled.
Dearly beloved, may the rubric that guides our worship tonight guide our lives each day. May the light of Christ shining in this Paschal Candle burn brightly in you, announcing to the world that you have been buried with Christ in baptism and now live by his life, through grace. May the gift of the Lord Jesus himself in the bread and wine of the Eucharist feed the flame of that love in you. May Christ at his coming in glorious majesty find it ever burning, ever shining in the darkness, for the praise of his glory. For a new fire, a new light, has been kindled: “And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall never overcome it.”
Thanks be to God! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!