Sermon for Easter Vigil, Saturday, April 15 2017, 9:00 pm
Mtr. Maggie Helwig, Church of Saint Stephen-in-the-Fields, Toronto
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; that no matter what the governors and the police may say, the story is still going on.
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.
In the darkness of this sad world, in the darkness of our lives, 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—which begins in us, in these very small, poor selves. It begins in Saffiya Khan, the girl from Birmingham, smiling in the face of neo-Nazi hate, because she knows who she is, and she knows where she belongs—right there, in the centre of her own city, defeating them with that radiant smile. It begins in Standing Rock, in Grassy Narrows, it begins in Attawapiskat, where the youth are taking the tragic history of colonial violence and exploitation and challenging it, are bringing life back into their community. And 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, that love is stronger than death. Do it as you can and as you must. 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.