It is dark. Jesus has been in the tomb for over 24 hours now, wrapped in his grave-clothes. The sabbath is finally over and preparations can be made to visit his grave at first light to complete the acts of love that could not be done with a hasty burial after execution. Three days is a bit misleading, because the day of death is the first day, he lay in the tomb for the second and now, with nightfall, the third day has begun. The shock and the grief is still raw and, well, his closest friends and followers are still processing that he really is dead, even though some saw it close up and others from a distance.
No one knows when the resurrection happened. The Gospels do not tell us the precise moment in time – just after dark, just before dawn, with dawn. There are no witnesses to it. No one is identified as the one who saw it happen. All we have is confused disciples and friends, finding the body had gone at first light, in the early morning, and even then the first ones, the women, aren’t believed. So this service is a strange one. We have jumped between the pages of the gospels, into the gap in the story as we gather in the dark and affirm what we cannot see and no one saw. We enter the mystery of Christ’s resurrection itself and delight in it. At first light, later in the morning, we do something different, delighting in the discovery and what that means. Tonight we rejoice in the event itself which, according to the gospel writers, took place at some point in the night. It is an act of faith and trust in God’s redeeming love.
The readings tell, in brief truncated snippets, the story of salvation from creation (Genesis 1:1-5, 26:31a), rainbow promise (Genesis 8:15-18; 9:8-13), liberation at the Exodus (Exodus 14:10-22) to Ezekiel’s bringing life to dead bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). God does wonderful things and promises are always exceeded. But the resurrection is still a surprise, so much so they don’t all believe it at first and some take more convincing than others. It is not expected and new life comes where no one assumed it would. Creation is out of nothing; God’s breath sweeps over a formless void of nothing and brings things into being. That is the first surprise, that there is anything rather than nothing, and once that has been done nothing is beyond the scope of God. Into this comes promise that created matter will be loved unconditionally and unendingly, and the sign is the multicoloured rainbow that still delights, even though we know the physics. The rainbow is the central theme throughout the Bible.
The human sin of oppression saps hope, and the journey, the Exodus, to liberation is tough; it can seem like everything gets worse long before it gets better. But the waters that threaten to block the path and drown do part and safe passage opens. What seems impossible becomes possible; what seems impassable becomes passable. The dry bones, viewed in the valley by Ezekiel, where death seems permanent and unmovable spring to life with a dance of vigour and vitality, rather than a dance of death and decay. Death is the final ultimate oppression, whose chains are smashed in the wonder of this night and as a sign of that we pass through the waters of rebirth, of new life at baptism – and will be splashed with those waters in a moment to remind us of this.
In this night of wonder and astounding joy, we affirm God’s unstoppable presence. This makes our song Alleluia. We sing it, shout it from the roof tops, live it and let it define us. It takes the rest of Eastertide and beyond to teased out, work out the implications of Christ’s rising. Tonight the glory belongs entirely to God and we glimpse into the heart of the eternal Trinity on something only they can see, with adoration and great thanksgiving. We step between the pages in faith.
Easter changes everything. It completes creation, for it shows that the universe is not random and purposeless, but the outpouring of a love, a rainbow love that will not give up or discard. No one is rubbish to be thrown away – the image of those dry bones on the scrap heap coming to life affirms that God who gives life and brings it to an end, reignites it in the joy of God’s eternity.
It is dark and into this darkness the brightest light shines.
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
Sermon for the Easter Vigil, Newport Cathedral, Holy Saturday 16th April 2022