Sadao Watanabe, "Mary Magdalene announces the resurrection", 1966
This is the night in which heaven and earth are joined—things human and things divine. This is the night in which we find ourselves in God’s beginning and God’s end, our alpha and our omega. This is the night in which we watch and wait, and find the living where we had expected only to find the dead. This is the night in which we claim our own place in God’s story of salvation. And this is the night in which we pass from death to new life.
We spent the first part of our evening telling stories of faith. Each of these stories recounted examples of passing through or passing into.
By God’s creative hand, the world passed from chaos into order, and from darkness into light.
By God’s sustaining hand, Noah and his family passed through the 40 days of the flood, and passed into a new covenant with God: the promise of the rainbow that God would never again destroy the earth.
By God’s triumphant hand, Moses and the Israelites passed through the parted waters of the Red Sea, passing from slavery into freedom, and passing from a land of oppression to a land of promise.
By God’s gracious hand, Isaiah promised the Israelites that they would pass from being thirsty to being quenched, from being hungry to being satisfied, from being needy to being fulfilled.
By God’s restoring hand, Ezekiel promised the people passage from uncleanliness into cleanliness, from hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, and we from the wilderness into the promised land.
By God’s saving hand, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego passed through the fiery furnace without suffering any harm.
At the heart of God’s ongoing story of salvation, we embrace this idea of passing into or passing through, and never more significantly and symbolically than here, in this vigil, when we watch and wait together. We come here to bridge the long night of faith between the cross and the empty tomb. We come here knowing only the cross and death, and we come here hoping and trusting in the promise of the resurrection. We come here as people who need to hear again God’s promise that we ourselves have passed through from death to life and from brokenness into wholeness.
Paul asks, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Our baptism is our burial. In the waters of baptism, we die to sin, die to brokenness, die to fear and condemnation. But we rise from those waters as people cleansed and claimed, people very much alive and full of life, and full of the promise of resurrection. “For,” as Paul says, “if we have been united with [Christ] in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”
Peter and the other disciple left the tomb, confused, scared, and not yet understanding. But Mary remained. She kept vigil at the tomb that first Easter morning, weeping for him who had died, weeping for him who could not be found. And it was there, as she watched and waited and wept, that she came face to face with the risen Christ.
We, too, are people of the resurrection. We are people who, through baptism, have passed from death to life. We are people who, in our weeping, have seen Jesus. And we are people who, like all the faithful people who have gone before us, have seen God’s salvation face-to-face.
Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we see God in fire – in the candles that have burned around us, and the Paschal candle that brings to us the light of Christ.
Like Noah and like the Israelites, we see God in water – in the font that is before us, full of the water of life.
Like the Israelites to whom Isaiah prophesied, we see God in food and drink – in the table and in our feast of bread and wine, the body and blood of the living Christ.
So this, brothers and sisters, is the night, when we take our place in God’s saving story. This is the night when we rejoice, for life has conquered death, once for all. In the words of St. John Chrysostom:
“O death, where is your sting? O death, where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are thrown down.
Christ is risen, and the demons have fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life reigns in freedom.
Christ is risen, and no one is left dead in the grave.
For Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. To him be glory and dominion now and for ever.”