From audio transcription
“In him there is no darkness at all.
The night and the day are both alike.
The Lamb is the light of the city of God.
Shine in our hearts Lord Jesus.”
In April of 387 St. Augustine was baptized by Ambrose at the Easter Vigil that year. He was 32 years old at the time and for those of you who know something about Augustine’s life, it was a rather rocky road that brought him to that Easter Vigil. Nevertheless, he had the courage and conviction that night to say yes to the prospect of a life transformed by the resurrected Christ. Later in a sermon he referred to the Easter Vigil as the “mother of all vigils.” Now I would have to confess that that expression probably carried slightly different colloquial freight in the fourth century than it does in the 21st, but he had an important point to make. For Christians, this night is the holiest night of the year. This night is about telling stories—our stories—stories of our salvation history from slavery to freedom, from sin to righteousness, from death to life. It is our story, and one that we need to hear over and over again.
Almost 19 years ago, I went on my first pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It was my honeymoon and the day after we arrived, a Christian guide and teacher from St. George’s College Jerusalem came to the hotel to meet my husband and me. He knew it was my first trip to the Holy Land, and he extended his hand and said, “Jan, welcome home.” Welcome “home”—a place I had never been. And it was in that moment, in that gesture, that I understood that that is our spiritual home, our deep rootedness, our story that ties together the salvation history of God and God’s people acting over and over and over again for our redemption and salvation.
This service is marked by four major movements: the service of light; the service of word—the Scriptures; the service of baptism—and tonight we will participate in the baptism of Layla and David as they are initiated as the newest members of this community of faith; and the service of bread and cup, the Holy Eucharist. Tonight I’d like to invite you to reflect with me for a few minutes on the promise and prospect of light and how it undergirds everything that we do this evening and everything that carries us forward from this place.
You couldn’t help but notice how the service began. We entered into a darkened cathedral. And the new fire, the new light of Easter was lit. And slowly but surely, as the cantor came forward and chanted, “The light of Christ, thanks be to God,” we slowly but surely felt that resurrection light starting to fill this place. And in the first Scripture we heard this evening, what was the first thing that God spoke into being? Light. “Let there be light and there was light.” And when we think about the purpose and place of light in all creation and particularly this spring, as we have blossoms and blooms and everything beginning to burst forward in new life, you think about a young plant. And what does the plant do as begins to grow? It leans toward the light, seeking the light that will give it strength to blossom and flourish and new creation and new life.
Why would we be any different? Don’t we long to lean toward the light, to go toward the light? Even in the Exodus story as the Israelites are being led from bondage and slavery in Egypt, it was the light of God that took them through the wilderness into the Promised Land—a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night. And in the passage you heard, just as they were approaching what seemed impossible—the Red Sea—the pillar of cloud got behind them and illumined the darkness and illumined their path. In the gospel story you will hear a little later in the service, the two Marys go to the tomb and then an earthquake happens. And an angel of the Lord descends and rolls away the stone that has sealed the tomb of death and darkness. And the angel tells Mary, “Don’t be afraid. I know you’re looking for Jesus; he’s not here. He has been raised just as he told you he would be.” And out of that death and darkness in the tomb poured in the new light—the resurrection light—that filled what had been darkness and death.
We too have things that we hold on to in the dark crevices of our own souls and our own spirits. And we know what happens when you keep things hidden away in the dark; they fester and decay and they will eat your spirit alive if you let them. Whether it’s fear or anger or addiction or depression or loneliness, whatever it is that you have hiding away in the dark recesses of your spirit, tonight is the night when you, too, have the opportunity to let the stone that covers your tomb be rolled away and to let the light of the resurrected Christ fill you, renew you, restore you to make you a new being, a new creation in the resurrected Christ. After the baptisms that follow this homily we will proclaim the resurrection. This Cathedral will be filled with light and bells and every part of our fabric proclaiming the resurrection of Christ. It’s your opportunity to let that light fill you, change you, transform you, make you a new creation in Christ. St. Augustine had the courage and commitment to say, “yes” to the prospect of new life in the resurrected Christ. Will you?