|Sermon by: The Rev. Erin Jean Warde
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration | Dallas, Texas
April 15, 2017
The Great Vigil of Easter
On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, we are joined as one body to move from darkness to light.
This is the night. This is the night that is transformed into day, through the resurrection of Christ, that we celebrate with our melodies, and our Alleluias. But we did not begin here. We have only just now walked in to the light.
The Easter Vigil is my favorite liturgy of the whole week—no, the whole year—because, this is the night, within this liturgy, that the darkness of gloom and sin are in such close proximity to the light of the resurrected Christ, that it feels like my life. It feels like this night might know me well enough to know about the other nights of my life—nights that have been full of as much darkness as they have been full of light.
If you left the church on Good Friday, and returned Easter Sunday, you would certainly see the difference—you’d surely see the juxtaposition of the darkness of yesterday and the light of this Sunday. You’d notice the smell of lilies, fresh, from the minute you got to the labyrinth. Yes, you would know that something had changed, and that the tomb you looked upon only days before must now be bare.
But somehow, even with the magnitude of that change, if I went to just Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I would only feel a partial understanding of the fullness of the journey that we began on Ash Wednesday.
So for me, Holy Week is not Holy Week without the Vigil. Because the Vigil is the resurrection of Christ, when Christ meets us in our greatest darkness to offer us the greatest light. And that, THAT triumphant light and the journey it took to get here, is the true story of our history. Tonight we have heard the story of God delivering the Israelites out of bondage and through the waters of the Red Sea. We heard about the commandments given to foster wisdom, knowledge, and life. We heard God’s promise to give his people hearts of flesh rather than stone. We heard the prophet Zephaniah’s proclamation of the day when we will be renewed with love. We witnessed God taking pen in hand to rewrite the story of Miriam Jane’s life, even in her infancy, inscribing onto her soul the story of new life in baptism. These stories we hear tonight—of creation, of commandment, of covenant—they are not the stories of someone else’s life. This is your story. This is your history, because you are a resurrected child of God.
The vigil is the divine collision of darkness and light. Tonight, the light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. The darkness is gone, and the light of Christ is with us, though we do not forget that we began in pitch black.
This is the night – the night that we hear the story of each of our lives, told to us, because we need to hear the story of who we truly are. This is the night that we rejoice, with trumpets that shout salvation. This is the night that we sing now, all the round earth, bright with a glorious splendor, for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.
It is the night when, at his resurrection, we recall also the story of Christ’s birth: the uncertainties that Mary faced, the challenges placed upon Joseph, the continued darkness they experienced following her visit from an angel. And we remember her words of obedience—Let it be with me according to your word—as the words of light that pierced the darkness, so that the light of the world could be born.
We are kin with Zechariah and we remember his prophecy, that “by the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high would break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” And this is the night when that prophecy is fulfilled—when the dawn from on high breaks upon us, by the light of a Paschal candle, giving light to us in our darkness, and guiding our feet into the way of peace.
We rejoice as a church, praying that God would give us grace to sing any praise at all, because it is through that grace that the story of our lives is rewritten to shout salvation. So, pray with me, that you would be given grace to sing praise—not only on this night, but in the nights when you face darkness.
This is the night that God pays for us the debt of Adam’s sin. This is the night that we are led out of bondage, and through the raging tempest of life, and onto dry land. This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life.
In the season of Lent, we are called to self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, and meditating on God’s holy Word, in order that when this night approaches, and we are told that God pays for us the debt of Adam’s sin, and the debt of our own, we know what that means. The release from my sin is all the more powerful when I know what I have been freed from. And I know I will wander back again, because that is also a part of my story. But knowing the sin that I’ve come from, I’m all the more aware of the eternal restoration I receive tonight. I’m all the more likely to feel the freedom of forgiveness over and over again, when I find myself back in darkness.
How holy is this night, when your wickedness is put to flight, and our sin is washed away. This is the night that our innocence is restored; joy is given to those who mourn. This is the night that pride and hatred are cast out, because they cannot survive the power of the light of Christ.
How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and we are reconciled to God. Or, as an earlier form of the Exsultet proclaims, “This night, truly blessed, when heaven is wedded to earth and we are reconciled to God.”
How holy is this night when the covenant we have made with sin is broken, and only our covenant with God remains.
This is the night that we offer the sacrifice of our lives, knowing that through the grace of God, our death to self will be transformed into eternal life, before we even breathe our last breath.
This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave. I read in my preparation that this is the night that “all creation assembles” at the feast. I read that this is the night when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin, and freed from all defilement are restored to grace and grow together in his holiness.
And if all creation assembles, from everywhere that we could ask to see, then we join not just with our church, not just with our choir, but with heavenly host and choir of angels.
The angel and multitude of the heavenly host that met Jesus at his birth, meet us tonight to praise God again saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!”
Miriam, with her tambourine, meets us after our passage through the Red Sea on dry land to sing her song, but this time to us: “Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.”
The bonds of death and hell are broken, and all songs of praise are sung as one. We join with the heavenly host, choirs of angels, and the saints in light, to sing the chorus that death is destroyed. We know that the end of our story is already written, finished tonight, and destined to end on a triumphant note of timpani and brass.
You have, no doubt, what you call your history—the debt of Adam’s sin, and what you would call the debt of yours. But tonight, your life is rewritten, and inscribed upon your heart there is an Alleluia. It is the Alleluia of eternity, and it will be what calls forth the triumphant light for you when you find yourself struggling to kindle a New Fire.
So, remember that the Vigil is the story of who you are. And you are who you are, because Christ is risen today. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!