Sermon for Easter Vigil, Saturday, April 11 2020, 9:00 pm
Mtr. Maggie Helwig, Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto
Genesis 1:1–2:4a; Exodus 14:10-31, 15:20-21; Isaiah 55:1-11; Ezekiel 37:1-14; Romans 6:3-11; Matthew 28:1-10
In the darkness, an earthquake. In the darkness, fire. A voice. A rush of great waters. A valley of bones standing up, bone to its bone. In the darkness, disorder, confusion, mystery, rescue. And in this darkness, we light all the lights we have, to say that we are not lost, that love is not defeated, that all the chaotic mysteries are tending somewhere, that we are heading to Galilee, that the story is not over.
According to Matthew—and only Matthew, among the evangelists—there was an earthquake when Jesus died. And another earthquake now, which rips open the tomb to reveal an astonishing absence. Not evidence of life exactly, not yet, but at least the absence of death, an open space, possibility. The armed men who have been guarding death fall down as if they were dead themselves, helpless, and the women, those scared grieving vulnerable women who have gone through it all, who have silently met every challenge when all the men around them loudly fail, the women look into the absence, and there they find hope. Power has done its worst, but now the agents of power are disarmed, and the stubborn powerless ones step forward.
Go to Galilee, they are told. And it is a strange message. Like the disciples, they came from Galilee, and it was a nowhere sort of place, a backwater where nothing important happened, not a centre of the great world. They have come to the great city of Jerusalem, and found what seemed to be disaster; and now they are told that it was not the end, it was not the collapse of hope at all—but their next step is to go back. Back to that small, poor place and its small, poor people. Because life is there. It begins again from Galilee. Love stands on the horizon, meeting us briefly, a fleeting revelation, and then going ahead of us, beckoning, always calling us. And the call takes us both forward into the morning, and back to all that we’ve come from, into an unimaginable future which always begins in the most unlikely place.
We are here, tonight, in even more confusion than those women, in the midst of our own earthquake, staring into an empty space. We cannot yet even be sure if it is, right now, the empty space of hope, or of greater danger, and though the daily statistics show, in Ontario at least, the glimmer of a turning, we are still a long way from morning, and so much may still go badly. Even if we escape relatively lightly, we cannot be untouched by the devastation in Italy, Spain, New York City, all those lost a part of the body, gone from us now.
But there will be a morning, the empty tomb will not be absence merely—something will rise from the emptiness. It may be hard coming, but it will come. And even now, the daily graphs tell us that you, all of you staying home, washing hands, holding the line, you are saving lives, maybe even thousands of lives. You are doing this, you will go on doing it; the lives of the world are, almost literally, in your hands.
And when we emerge from this moment of crisis, as we will, we will be called to make a future. We are called to start the making of it even now. It begins again from us. And it must begin in our own Galilees, the small poor places, the places we come from. It begins in our communities, as we strive now to maintain and nurture social bonds even when they are under great pressure, and in all the work we will need to do later to rebuild. It begins in seizing those truths which this crisis has revealed, the value of the cleaners and the couriers and the clerks, and insisting that they be part of public policy. It begins as we ourselves, our lives thrown into unexpected disruption, go back to the smallest and truest hopes and gifts and longings from which we have made our selves, and imagine what we can recreate, or create for the first time. It begins here. It begins in us. All of our histories may be reclaimed, forgiven, redeemed, transformed.
Go quickly, with fear but also with joy, and tell the world that life is always starting again. Speak challenge and comfort. Make beauty. Meet truth on the road, fleetingly, unforgettably. Go to your own Galilee, for every small Galilee is the centre of the world. Creation is made again this night, and you yourself are invited to be there, at the beginning, in the flood, in the valley of dry bones, in everything that seems like an ending, in every place where you can be the messengers of life and love, however impossible it may be.
Take heart, for he is going ahead of you. Start your journey, and somehow, beyond all hope and reason, God—the God who died for love, the God who would shake the gates of hell to free each last sad one of us, the God whose desire is for all the created world to join in the general dance—this God will wait on your horizon until you come, until we all come, though our steps may be halting and our hearts almost empty. This God will meet you there.