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The Great Vigil of Easter

This is the night.

We have gathered in the dark tonight. And surely we gather in the night of our world and our souls.

We live in a world that is constantly at war, a world where genocide not only takes place, but we are not surprised when the news tells that one people is trying to kill all of another across the world. Only this week, we dropped ‘the mother of all bombs’, the largest non-nuclear weapon in our arsenal. Days ago we watched as Syrian children were the victims of chemical weapons sent by their own government.

This is the night that 10,000 people will die of hunger, just a few of the many of our world who struggle daily with poverty. This is the night in which racism still runs quieter but powerful fingers through every major institution, especially in our own city. In parts of the world, this is the night LGBT people are rounded up into concentration camps, decades after we promised ‘never again’. This is the night that 93 people will die from gun violence, more of them taking their own lives than having them taken by another.

We try to give money, write letters, protest, volunteer, and do our best to make a difference, but we know it will not change the powers that are already present in systems, and that somehow hate will cause more violence soon, and there will be nothing we can do to stop the suffering.

Yes, this is the night.

And this night that we live in is not new. It has been night for a long time.

This is the night when 105 years ago, over 1,500 people drowned in the waters of the Atlantic on the unsinkable Titanic. This is the night a century and a half ago when the president of this nation died after being shot, just after years at war with each other finally ended, leaving wounds that continue to plague us today. Ten years ago, this is the last night the the families of Virginia Tech students knew their loved ones to be safe at school. And just four years ago, this is the night when we knew that even the finish line of a marathon could be a place of terror rather than joy.

Yes, this is the night.

We have gathered in the night, in all the night of our world, the night of our souls, all the nights we carry in us, from the beginning of time.

We gather in this night to tell the stories of our people, stories that have been told many times before. We heard the story of creation, then of attempted genocide that ended in the drowning of an entire army, and of a valley full of bones of people long dead, bones that represented people still living lives as lifeless as the bones.

Tonight we gather to remember those nights. We remember, as our Jewish brothers and sisters at Passover, not simply in an assent that these things happened in the past, but that that we are re-membered into them, that we join and claim them as our story. And so tonight we sing ‘this is the night, this is the night, this is the night’… because this is the night when all of these things happen, on this night we know ourselves as part of them. We gather tonight, and we hold together all of the darkness of our world, all of the night.

So this is the night… not just the night when we claim all of these stories, but we claim and hold within us all the night in our world. This is the night when people were lost in Oklahoma City and the Twin Towers, in Columbine and Sandy Hook, in Paris and Orlando. This is the night that millions of our brothers and sisters died in Auschwitz and Dachau, in Syria and Sudan, in Russia and Rwanda.

And this is the night, the night we carry within each of us. This is the night that one of my grandmothers holds her son as he dies of leukemia, and this is the night that my other grandmother waits and wonders how drunk and angry her husband will be when he comes home. Tonight we hold together the night that I carry deep in my bones, and you carry the nights of your family and your ancestors too.

This is the nights of our own souls too.  This is the night that we received that phone call, “He didn’t make it.” This is the night of that diagnosis. This is the night when there was not one particular pain, but just the cloud of numbness that made us wonder if there was any hope, any point to this struggle. This is the night that we wondered where the hell God was.

Yes, yes… The is the night.

This is the night.

Gathered tonight in all of the darkness, we read how in the beginning, that darkness covered the face of the earth. And then, then… the Spirit of God swept over the darkness. Literally, we are told the Spirit of God is hovering over the darkness.

And there, in the darkness, God speaks, and begins to work and create this beautiful, amazing world we live in, and the beautiful, amazing people from whom we come, who we are.

The is the night.

Since the very beginning of our world, it is over the darkness where God has continued to move.

It was dark when God heard the cries of the Israelites beaten down and brought them through the Red Sea on dry land, giving them hope and promise of a future.

The is the night.

And it was dark in the depth of that valley when God gave flesh and breath to bones and made them live. It was dark in the graves of a hopeless people who could not imagine the future for them or their children, dark when God gave them a new start.

The is the night.

And it was night, it was the darkest of all dark nights in that cave where the body of Jesus was laid, It was dark in that tomb this night when he arose.

It was dark, it was night…

This is the night when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell. This is the night death could not hold him, darkness could not overcome him. This is the night when he rose victoriously from the grave.

So yes, my friends, this is the night.

And that is our hope!

Again and again in our stories, in our souls, God is most powerfully present in the darkness, in the night.

This is the night when we have gathered and lit a candle to represent this Christ, the light that has come into the darkness, the light the darkness could not overcome.

This is the night, when in our own deepest hurt and suffering, we found some unstoppable joy that was stronger than the pain. This is the night when someone walked into our darkness and was the light which gave us the hope to keep going, to kindle the flame in us again.

This is the night.

This is the night in which the women walked to the tomb and saw the first hope of resurrection. In the breaking dawn, they are overcome with great joy but also fear. When they see Jesus, he repeats the words of the angel, which clearly they, and we, need to hear, “Do not be afraid.”

They are told Jesus is going to Galilee ahead of them. What is in Galilee? It is where Jesus had his ministry – it is where the sick, the hurting, the lonely, the terrified, the hopeless are. It is where it is still dark, still night. He goes ahead, and they are to follow.

Why follow him there? Because there they will see him! There he will be working still – still going to heal the lame, make the blind see, and bring good news to the poor – there he will be in the suffering, unable to be stopped by any darkness, even death.

Triumphing over death does not mean that Jesus has left suffering behind, that he will live untouchable in pristine light. No, Jesus rises from the dead and heads straight back to this night, and he calls us to follow him there.

This is the night.

This is why we gather in the dark tonight – because here is where God is and moves, and here is where we run because here we will see God. We gather because we have been touched by the light of this candle, the light that came into our darkness and the darkness did not overcome. We gather because once we know that this night is where God is, we know it is where we too must be.

This is the night we welcomed Olivia into our gathering. As we did, we gave her a candle lit from this light to remind her that she is part of the body of Christ in the world, and so now she is the light of the world.

And that is why we gather this night. We gather because this is still where God is present, where God is hovering, where God is moving. And we gather because this is the night we are made part of the mystery that God is giving new life to us and our world.We cannot just gather this night and keep the light in this place.

This is the night – it’s the night out there, and that is where we are to be. This is the night of our world, a world longing for light.

Do you know that you are the light of the world? It is for this night that you were born!

You were born with some gift to transform the tragedy and terror of our world today, you were born with gifts that can heal the pain of someone who lives alongside you now.

This is the night for which you were created, the night for which born with light to shine where it is needed most. This is the night into which you must now go.

So do not be afraid for this is the night.

This is the night God is moving over.

This is the night God brought us into freedom.

This is the night in which God rose up from the dead.

This is the night in which Christ lives, and so do we.

This is the night the light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it.

This is the night of the Light.

This is the night of the Resurrection.

This is the night of Life.

This is the night.

This is the night.

This is the night!


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