Why is this night different from all other nights?
This is the question asked during the Passover seder. On Thursday we heard the of the preparation for the Passover, where the Israelites were told to prepare by sacrificing a lamb and painting its blood on the door posts of the homes so that the final plague of the death of first born would Passover the homes of the Israelites.
Why is this night different from all other nights?
Beloved in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to linger in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord in which, by virtue of our baptism into his death, into the hope of his resurrection, we celebrate the New Life we have received by his Mercy, awaiting the time when we may gather again around your holy altar.
And with these words begins the Great Vigil of Easter. A careful look at what is printed in the Book of Common Prayer will show that we have adapted it for our current situation, but make no mistake. This is the Passover of the Lord. This is the Christians celebration of when Jesus Christ passed over from death to life.
The Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the fundamental event for our community- just as the Passover/Exodus event was and is the fundamental event for the Jewish people. They are both about deliverance, they are both about the miracle of God saving the people from certain death.
Central to this service of the Easter Vigil is the lighting of the Easter fire and the entrance of light into the darkened church. We light the Paschal candle that symbolizes the light of the resurrected and Christ and will burn at all services from now through the Day of Pentecost.
So why is this night different from all other nights. That song, the Exsultet- the first song of Easter that sings to the light says:
This is the night, when you brought our fathers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on 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.
This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave
This is the night we celebrate Resurrection. We read in the gospel that Mary and Mary Magdalen went to the tomb on Easter Morning. So perhaps we think that the Resurrection happened in the early hours of just before dawn. Actually, we don’t really know what the actual time was. But we do know this: Christ broke the bonds of death and hell and rose victorious from the grave.
On Good Friday we mourned and grieved. I invited us to consider the innocence we have lost and the things we mourn and grieve as a result of this current pandemic. We are all mourning or grieving something. We greive for the sins that weigh us down. We grieve in the crucifixion and death of Christ; we mourn for those we love but see no longer, we morn for the lost opportunities. But not matter the girefs we carry as we mourn not being able to gather in church; not being able to gather with family and friends in larger groups; having to stay at home or work at home, the resurrection reminds us that grief and loss are not the end. That joy can be ours and as such this night IS different from all other nights.
When we renew our Baptismal vows we are struck by the way our new life is cast: fellowship and prayer, resisting of evil, proclaiming the Good News, respecting the dignity of every person, these all are part of our new life in the risen Christ.
And it is in the risen life of Christ that we live. The Easter Vigil may be an aspect of the rich heritage and tradition of Christian worship that has been with us for more than 1800 years, but we are not here to simply light some candles, read the bible and pray a little.
This service does not happen because we know what happened at the Tomb when the women first arrived. Easter is an invitation for us to discover what this event means for us in our lives, in the lives of others and in the world.
Certainly, there is a part of us that wants to know what Easter is all about - about why or how the resurrection took place. And there is nothing wrong with the very real and human desire to understand what happened- what happened to the soul of the Rabbi from Nazareth when he breathed his last; what happened when the stone was rolled into place and the body lay in the linen bands of death; what happened to the body of Jesus who now stands outside the tomb and speaks to the women.
Tonight is a night we declare victory over death. This is a time to meet the One who changes everything.
Tonight is when we proclaim “Alleluia Christ is Risen and we say the Lord is Risen in deed Alleluia.” We shout it from the roof tops that Jesus Christ is alive- that death does not have the final word.
We believe that Christ is alive and that one day he will return in his second coming. Until that time WE then are he Body of Christ, we are Chrsit’s representatives on this earth. We are that community of the faithful are called to be the very living presence of Christ in the world. Our joyful task is to tell one another and the world that God is real and at work in the world. Whever it is we are we are to give thanks for the ways God’s presence is made known. When we proclaim and live our lives with compassion and mercy; when we uphold and defend the dignity of every human being regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, or political affiliation, or economic status; when we strive to heal the wounds of our earth and its resources we live out the Easter message.
The imagery of the Easter vigil is the imagery of God’s dream and our place in it. Yes, these times and this world seem dark and foreboding. We live in uncertain times but it is a place that the Church has been before. And into this darkness comes a light.
The Light of Christ.
and once this light pierces the darkness the darkness cannot exist. Together, wherever we are, we hold the light of Christ- each of us a beacon of hope for the a dark and dreary world. We have encountered the risen Christ here tonight and our lives are different as a result. Nothing is the same.
So it was for the women, nothing was the same. The tomb is empty and they run and tell the others. They go on to share the stories of the transformational power of Christ. So it is for us as well. Easter ISN’T something we remember. It’s something we live and breathe. How will you live out the resurrected life? How will you become that evidence of living God?
The Rev. Daniel L. Leatherman is priest in charge of St. Timothy's Episcopal Church.