Preached on Saturday, 31 March, 2018 at S. Margaret of Scotland’s Anglican Church, Diocese of Toronto, Barrie, ON.  

Lections: Exodus 14: 10-15,21; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10

When my wife Kay and I were dating, I persuaded her to come to an Easter Vigil service with me.    Not being from an Anglican background, she thought it all was very strange to be celebrating Easter on Saturday night.   Easter to her mind was celebrated in the light of morning, perhaps the first light of sunrise, but morning nevertheless.   Anything else was quite foreign to her Presbyterian upbringing.   To her, starting Easter the night before was like opening all the Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, it was simply too early.


Nevertheless she was willing to give it a try, but we were both quite unprepared for one of the customs of that particular parish we had chose to visit that night.   You see, if you look at p.329 of the Book of the Alternative Service, the rubric says “Glory to God, You are God, or some other suitable song of praise is sung.  Bells may be rung, according to local custom.” 


I think the idea behind this instruction is that when the Gloria is sung for the first time since the start of Lent, the bells are rung in celebration of the resurrection.   Well, the choir took this to extremes, so there were cowbells, symbols, airhorns, and the organist let out every stop on the pipe organ for what seemed like minutes.  Poor Kay almost jumped out of her skin.   She was frightened, and then she got mad.  WHY DID THEY DO THAT?  she asked me.   WHY DID THEY SCARE ME LIKE THAT?   To this day i’m surprised that she later agreed to marry me, but for years afterwards she acted like the entire Anglican church was to blame for that night.


While that choir certainly took things to extremes, they did understand something about the liturgy that we celebrate tonight.   They know that this is the moment, even in the gathering darkness of night, when the light breaks through.  In the first reading from Exodus, this moment is not arrival in the promised land of milk and honey, but it’s also not slavery in Egypt.    In the second reading from Romans, it’s not yet the renewal of our souls, but it’s also not our old lives of sin.   In our gospel reading, it’s not yet the encounter with the risen Christ, but it’s also not the sealed and brooding tomb.


Tonight is a transitional time.  Tonight we we stand on the borderlands of hope.   Tonight is that magical moment in the worship of the Christian church when we realize that all things are possible.


If you’ve ever sat vigil with a loved one as life ebbed from their body and the cold seeped in, tonight is for you.   If you’ve been scarred by abuse or violence and thought that nothing good could ever happen to you again, tonight is for you.  If you’ve ever believed that you were unlovable and that not even God could care for you, tonight is for you.   Tonight is when the darkness starts to crack and the light gets in.


Our three readings all begin in dark places.   Exodus starts with the Jews huddled on the edge of the impassable water, watching their doom approaching.   Romans begins with Paul speaking of the physical death that Jesus chose to share with us, reminding us of the words we heard on Ash Wednesday, speaking of our mortality: Dust you are, and dust you shall return.  Luke begins the grey light of dawn, as the Marys walk sadly to the tomb.     


All of these disasters are turned around.  The Israelites pass through the muddy sea bottom.  Christ’s death opens up the possibility of new life.  The risen Jesus gives the Marys instructions and tells them to go to Galilee where a new life awaits them.  Tonight is the end of the old story and the beginning of the new story of our lives.  


Because they knew that is a threshold moment, the early church chose it as the time for baptisms.   Converts were carefully instructed in weeks approaching Easter, and on this night between the death of the cross and the resurrection of the Sunday dawn, they committed themselves to the new lives that God offered to them.   We follow that tradition by renewing our own baptismal covenant on this night.   We do not know the details of how the rest of our lives will unfold.   But we do know that tonight we cross that border between light and darkness, between fear and hope, between death and life.   We know, as we stand between crucifixion and resurrection, that the light will always break into the darkness.   We choose light.  We choose hope.  We choose life.  We cross the border, and we move forward.   We are immigrants from the lands of shadow and the realm of death, who joyfully find ourselves to be citizens of the Kingdom of God.

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