Telling Stories and Singing Songs in the Dark: A Sermon for The Great Vigil of Easter

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

So what did you tell them? How did you explain to your family, friends and co-workers that you wanted, that you needed to be in church tonight?

I imagine that it might have been a pretty hard sell. It’s Saturday night and Madison is filled with attractive options: restaurants, theaters, music… The weather is finally beginning to feel like spring and people are anxious to be out and about… And I hear tell that someone is playing basketball tonight….

Funny thing is, no one asked me what I was doing tonight. I guess my family, friends, and co-workers all had a pretty good idea where I would be and what I would be doing. But if they had asked… I would have told them that I was going to be busy telling stories and singing songs in the dark.

Telling stories and singing songs in the dark… How would that have worked for you? How would people have responded to your describing this night in that way? They might have thought you were joking. They might even have laughed for a moment. But that’s when you would have had them.

“Yeah. It’s great! We light a fire and use the flames to light candles for everyone. We tell stories about our family: who we are, where we come from, and where we have been. We sing songs that describe what we hold dear and what we believe. Then, as we get to the real turning point in the story, the moment where it all comes together, we turn on all the lights, shout for joy, and share a meal together while we continue to tell our story!”

I am guessing that at this point anyone to whom you described the Easter Vigil in this way, even if they had never been to church, would be recognizing something very familiar and powerful in what you were saying. Something in your description of what we do this night would have resonated with them because there is something primal, something central to who we are, something that transcends all boundaries and divisions in the ritual telling of stories.

We engage in the ritual telling of stories all the time. We gather for marker events in the lives of individuals and groups, of communities and nations; at birthdays and anniversaries, when goals have been met or accolades won, at moments of celebration and of loss, on the occasion of important decisions or the declaration of decisions joined…

We play our music, dance our dances, relive and recreate our dramas. We dress in the way of our people. We eat the food that has fed us in the good times and the bad…

And we tell the stories that bind us together and form our identity; the stories that grind and polish the lens through which we interpret our lives and the world around us.

This is the night when we, beloved children of God, spiritual descendants of Abraham, gather to retell, to rehearse, to recollect the stories that bind us together, that define and shape our identity, that grind and polish the lens through which we interpret our own lives and the world around us. This is the night when we proclaim once again, who we are, and whose we are.

We gathered in the dark, and engaged in ritual, kindling a flame to represent the light that has come into the world. We have shared that flame among the people gathered and by its light alone we have participated in our story; claiming and proclaiming that God has created all that is, that all of creation draws its life and meaning from its creator, and that we: you, me, all people, are created in God’s image.

We have rehearsed the checkered history of our walk with the God who created us. Who created us not out of necessity or in response to any deficit within God, but out of extravagantly generative Spirit of creativity and love. We have recalled God’s promises and God’s faithfulness even when we were unable or unwilling to be faithful to God.

We have walked on dry land as the seas foamed and raged about us, finding our deliverance and freedom from slavery as God has delivered us through the waters of baptism.   We have heard once again Wisdom’s promise of a life lived in God’s joy, peace, and abundance and the promise that God will place God’s spirit with in us, that we will be God’s people and that God will be our God.

Here in a world lit only by fire we experienced the despair, the dryness of spirit and the desolation that falls upon us when we rely on ourselves alone and forget the God who creates, redeems, and sustains us.   And in a foreign land, far from home we have felt anew the vigor and life that comes when the Spirit of God fills us and breathes in us and through us once again.

And with God’s promise to restore us, a reaffirmation of God’s faithfulness and the promises that God has made to us, ringing in our ears, we stood and renewed our promises to God, binding ourselves once again to the one who comes among us to set us free, trampling down sin and death by rising victorious from the grave!

We engage in ritual story telling all of the time, at all sorts of events, and for all sorts of reasons. But this is the night when we, beloved children of God, spiritual descendants of Abraham, gather to retell, to rehearse, to recollect the stories that bind us together, that define and shape our identity, that grind and polish the lens through which we interpret our own lives and the world around us. This is the night when we proclaim once again, who we are, and whose we are.

Beloved of God, on this night, this is where we want and need to be!

Our story is compelling. It is life giving, but there are other stories, other narratives to pick from. Every day we are flooded with stories about our own self worth, about things, things that might make us whole, that might fill the hole we feel within ourselves. Every day we hear stories about the “others’ in our world, about their intent to do us harm, their desire to take what is ours, to destroy what they cannot have. Every day we hear stories that demean God’s children, that point fingers and cast blame, that divide, that alienate, that corrupt and destroy the children of God.

These stores are wrapped in rituals of their own: the Nightly News, Political Speech with all of it’s pomp and circumstance, the infallibility of the internet, Facebook… These might not strike you as rituals at first blush but look closely. They are presented with ritual and we create our own rituals around the way that we receive them.

This is the night when we, followers of Christ, must proclaim again and again, who we are, and whose we are.

We need to gather as a people, to engage the rituals, the liturgy that adds depth and meaning to the stories. We need to hear the stories as happening in the present, to live them as they are told, to recollect them. It is essential, if we are to be faithful to the vows and promises that we have made to one another and to God, that we gather in the dark, light a fire, tell stories, sing songs, and share a meal.

We tell this story not for ourselves alone but for him who died and rose for us. We tell this story to stand against the stories and narratives that demean, corrupt, and destroy. We tell this story as an offering to the world, as an invitation to life and love abundant. We, along with God’s beloved children all over the world, tell this story so that it’s light is never overcome by the darkness.

Our families, friends and co-workers may have been amused by our decision to spend this Saturday evening telling stories and singing songs in the dark, but even a short explanation of what we are all about this evening should strike a chord, might even stir some longing within them, and who knows… It might even offer you the opportunity to tell the story wrapped in the particular rituals, an early morning walk, a cup of coffee shared in a favorite place, a meal shared around your kitchen table, that mark your relationships with those people.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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