9 April 2023 – Easter
by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
It always begins in darkness.
Creation emerges out of darkness… In the beginning, when God began to create…the earth was “welter and waste and darkness over the deep” [Alter, Five Books of Moses].
Creation begins in darkness…Incarnation begins in darkness…The darkness of the womb…the gestating divine baby held safely in the womb of the one who said “yes.”…The child…birthed in a shadowy stable… who grows to adulthood in the shadows of empire…a gentle flicker of light in the darkness…That tiny spark that awakens something in us, and once awakened…like shepherds and magi…we are drawn to that Holy Child, through the night…through the dark…by the light of a star.
Like Nicodemus, we come to Jesus at night…our minds darkened with questions and confusion…[sermon from Lent 2]
Like Lazarus, Jesus calls us from the darkness of our tombs…and we emerge stumbling over the stones of cultural expectations, and still bound in the cloth of old hurts and self-protection. Squinting into the brightness of the Divine Light. [sermon from Lent 5]
The light that shines in the dark…the Word that spoken into the silence…
Darkness and the Word at creation…Darkness and “yes” at incarnation…Darkness and “do not be afraid” at resurrection…
Today, it is not the darkness of the womb, but the darkness of the tomb that enfolds us. The women venture out…in the dark…pre-dawn…and with whatever little light they have, we make our way, with them, to the tomb…only to find another darkness…another void…another silence…but this time…it is not a bleakness that hovers over the void, not a darkness…or a silence…but a light…a blinding light like lightening…and a voice shattering the silence…”Do not be afraid.”
It always begins in darkness. And our world seems perpetually dark at times…And it often feels like we can’t escape the darkness that surrounds us…but Holy Week reminds us that while we can’t escape it…we can be transformed by going through it.
Every year, our Holy Week liturgies take us on a transforming voyage…through the darkness…the void…the abyss…to the other side…the Easter side.
From the confounding ritual of foot washing on Thursday, we descend quickly into the shadows of betrayal and denial…and then to shock of execution and death on Friday. On Saturday night, we gather…often shivering and cold, and always in the gathering dark…around a fire that we often have real trouble lighting. Somehow, we always manage to light one candle…then another, then another…and by the light of these few sparks we tell the story…again. The story of light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it.
Every year these stories vary slightly…This year, we told stories of God’s power and our vulnerability. We heard, God speaking out of a whirlwind…asking us, “where were you when God laid the foundations of the earth? Or shut in the sea with doors when it burst from the womb…?” And we had to admit that when all of that happened we were nowhere…still part of the void. [Job 38:1-13, 16-18; 39:19, 26-27; 40:9-14 and Psalm 104:1-7, 20, 25-32]
We heard the story of a great climate catastrophe…a flood…and how God repented of harming the earth because of humanity’s malfeasance…and again we were reminded of our vulnerability. [Genesis 7:1-5, 11-12, 17-18, 8:6-13, 15-22, 9:1, 8-13 and Psalm 46]
We sang a song of praise as we watched God protect Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they refused to bow down and worship false idols. [Daniel 3.1-21, 24-28 and The Song of the Three Young Men]
We stood amazed as God gathered a field of dry bones, reassembled them, put flesh on them, and breathed life into them. [Ezekiel 37:1-14]
We stood on a precipice with a churning sea…the primeval void…in front, and a conquering army bearing down behind…Surrounded by forces we could neither escape nor control…and on that precipice…we complained. We despaired, and asked: ”Why God? Why us?…” [Exodus 14:10-31; 15:20-21]
As we sat in the dark, candles flickering, telling these stories…we were reminded over and over again of God’s eternal faithfulness…of God’s inexplicable grace…of God’s ineffable power…to make a way out of no way…to brighten the darkness…to speak comfort into the deafening silence…to anoint with healing balm, and above all…to transform death and defeat into life and peace.
I’m sure I’m not the only one, who is profoundly aware of how dark our world continues to be…the long shadows of empire and oppression still fall upon far too many of us…I’m also sure that I’m not the only one who feels really vulnerable a lot of the time…who feels that everything is somehow more precarious… more out of our very limited power to control.
And so this year, for me, Holy Week became…a powerful reminder that it always begins in darkness…creation…incarnation…resurrection…God’s work always begins in darkness. And that with God…the cold darkness of the tomb…can be transformed…into the warm darkness of the womb…That vulnerability is often the greatest strength we have…and that…very little of the world is really in our control…
Creation happens because God wills it, with very little input from us…Incarnation happens because God wills it, and only one of us needs to say “yes.” Resurrection happens because God wills it, and it doesn’t matter whether we are ready for it or not…or if we can even understand it.
So, even if we are vulnerable…and on a precipice…in the gathering darkness…Let Holy Week and Easter be a reminder to us, that…to (sort of) quote the late Bishop Barbara C. Harris…”the God who is behind you (and beside you…and always with you) is more powerful than anything that is in front of you.” Let us remember that…and then let us go courageously into the light of the future that God is holding out for us.