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"Darkness gives birth to light" Easter Vigil - April 8, 2023

Updated: May 8, 2023

This is it! This is the night. This is the night all of this is about. Every Eucharist we celebrate, every peace we pass, every child we bless, every brow we anoint with oil, every sin we forgive, every prayer we live into, and every hope we get to hold onto is because of this night.

We begin this night, this Great Vigil of Easter, in near darkness. With flint and steel, we light a new fire. From it we light the Paschal candle, and from the Paschal candle we light our candles until this nave, this sacred space, becomes a sea of lights in the darkness. By these lights we can see one another, even in darkness. By these lights we read the stories that tell of our God bringing light to those in the dark over and over again. Beginning with Genesis and ending with Jesus fulfilling the ultimate task; to unveil for us, that not even death can keep us from God’s loving embrace. God brings the light of resurrection to the darkness of death. It is no wonder then, that in the Exulted, so beautifully chanted by Deacon Dede, we pray that the Paschal Candle may shine continually to drive away all darkness.

We Christians are very invested in this idea of light vs darkness. As a matter of fact, I think all human culture, everywhere on this beautiful earth, is filled to the brim with stories and legends of heroes fighting evil. From Theseus freeing his city from the minotaur to Harry Potter laying down his life for his friends, we are all familiar with the archetype of a hero. We are all familiar with the fact that the hero is light, and the villain is darkness. In some old Western movies, you can tell who the villain is simply by looking for the guy with the dark hat and clothes riding a black horse. In these stories we read and hear and watch, the plotline and cast changes. But every time, every time the hero must bring light to the dark. And the moral in these stories and legends is always something along these lines: light will always defeat darkness because darkness is only the absence of light. Many sermons, books, and hymns advise us of the goodness of light; God is light. So, of course we assign value to the light and to the dark. We are convinced that only the light is good, and that darkness needs to be conquered. And it makes sense. It’s in the dark, we stub our toes against furniture. It’s in the dark our eyes cannot scan our space for danger and our imagination turns a coatrack into a two headed monster. It’s during the cover of the dark of night, that thieves enter our homes and take what’s ours, sometimes even our life. The dark makes us feel helpless and scared, of course we dislike it. Of course, it must be conquered. So, we place lights strategically to make the darkness safer. Did you ever see pictures from orbit at night? The more advanced countries are clearly marked by their lights, while the poor countries stay in the dark.

In our final reading today from the gospel of Matthew, the brave women who come to Jesus’ tomb with spices and oils to anoint the body of their dead rabbi and friend one last time, do so in the safe light of dawn. Even though the women must wish to avoid being known as followers of Jesus for fear of being arrested or worse, they wait for the safe light of dawn rather than risking the dangers of the dark night. We women today still do that, we avoid dark parking lots. These women didn’t have keys to hold in their hand like a weapon, but I imagine that even though they have the light of dawn, these brave but traumatized women turn their heads and scan for possible danger on their way to the tomb, maybe carrying a walking stick as defense. And when Mary Magdalene and the other women arrive, an angel, dressed in snow white, the lightest and brightest of garments, rolls back the stone that sealed the tomb to reveal that it is empty. Fulfilling his prophesy, Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.

Only that is technically speaking wrong. Jesus did not rise during the day. The light of day only revealed what took place during the dark night. In the oppressive darkness of a tomb, it happened. In utter silence, it happened. Can you imagine that? Imagine, a darkness so complete that you cannot see your own hand in front of your face. A silence so absolute that it screams at you. You smell the dark earth. The solid stone is hard and unyielding. It’s terrifying. This darkness we wish to avoid at all costs.

And yet, and yet, it is in this darkness that the miracle occurred. In the darkness of the night and the darkness of the tomb, the most unbelievable, unthinkable, earthshaking, and momentous miracle happened.

And here is why: because as much as we try to avoid darkness, as much as we vilify it, darkness gives birth to light. Darkness gives birth to light. It is in darkness that seeds crack open and give birth to the plant. It is in darkness that caterpillars give birth to butterflies. It is in darkness that our bodies sleep and are restored. It is in the darkness of the womb that all of us were created. Darkness gives birth to light. There can be no light without darkness. The darkness just as much as the light, is of God. Belongs to God. Serves God. God is present in both, inhabits both, he created both, darkness and light. Night and day. Fear and joy.

It is with great fear and joy, that the women in our gospel reading leave the empty tomb to tell the other disciples that the risen Christ is going ahead of them to meet them in Galilee. With fear and joy. We tend to believe that you cannot feel joyful when you are scared. Or feel fear when you are rejoicing. These two feelings do contradict each other. Yet we are created so perfectly in God’s image, that we are indeed capable of experiencing, of holding, of giving space to, we are capable of honoring both: fear and joy, night and day, darkness and light. Because darkness gives birth to light. We can safely accept both, because our God not only created us to do so, but because God abides in both and dwells at our side all the while. Even in the darkness.

Actually, without darkness, we couldn’t even see the light. A match lit during the day is almost invisible, but the same match lit in the dark shines brightly. And isn’t it right, that light casts shadows? What seems so contradictory to us, at closer inspection, depends on one another. Exists in one another. There is no darkness without light, and no light without darkness.

Tomorrow morning, we will celebrate Easter Day by honoring the light. We will wear our best and brightest clothes, meet friends and family, take pictures, watch our children hunt for eggs. We will greet Easter with trumpets, and brunch, with lilies and the flowering of the cross. But this is the night. This is the dark night that made the light possible. This is the night when darkness gives birth to light. This is the night that enlightens us. Tonight, we honor the dark. Tonight, we know, that all things in heaven and earth and under the earth bow and obey and delight and rejoice in God. Even in the dark. Because all things do come of thee, O Lord. We know this. We know this because He is risen. Christ is risen indeed, Alleluia!

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