Easter Vigil 2018
“Living in the mystery”
Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Genesis 17:15-22, Ezekiel 37:1-14, Romans 6:3-11, Mark 16:1-8
Tonight we are encased in mystery.
Symbols of this mystery are everywhere.
The darkness and the silence.
The absence of the cross.
The Easter fire and the Easter candle and the light we have shared.
The baptismal font and Eucharist.
The Exultant and the alleluias
And creation itself, the full moon.
These symbols are not ends in themselves, but mirror something much greater.
The mystery that envelopes us is not like a story written by your favorite mystery author.
It is not something to be solved with the mind and careful detection.
It is not like Sherlock Holmes paying attention to the kind of mud on a person’s boots to solve a conundrum.
The Paschal mystery is not a problem to be solved but something to be present to.
The root meaning of the word “mystery” is to shut one’s eyes and ears.
In other words, we must go inward.
This mystery must be discerned with one’s heart and body. We must go into our closets and pray in secret.
“Faith,” Olivier Clement writes, “is the doorway to the mysteries. What the eyes of the body are for physical objects, faith is for the hidden eyes of the soul.” (Roots of Christian Mysticism, p. 213)
The eyes of the body and the eyes of the soul.
Richard Rohr points out that this divine mystery is not something we cannot know. We can know it.
Mystery is endless knowability (August 23, 2016).
We are always invited to move deeper into it. But in this life we will never know it fully. As I Corinthians states:
For now we see in a mirror dimly; then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (I Cor.13.12)
Darkness and silence…..
Rilke writes in his Book of Hours (I, 3) of turning inward, of looking deep into himself. He observes,
It seems my God is dark…
More I don’t know, because my branches
Rest in deep silence, stirred only by the wind.
Rilke imagines a thousand theologians plunging like divers into the night of God’s name. (Music of Silence, p. 20)
Perhaps the darkness that Rilke contemplates echoes the darkness of the opening verses of Genesis 1:
The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the earth.
Within this darkness God spoke, “let there be light and there was light”
The light comes from within the darkness, not from outside of it. This, too, is a mystery.
So we have the darkness of vigil and the Easter fire and candles.
These past few days we have enacted the Paschal mystery..
Death and life are intertwined, they cannot be separated.
Resurrection cannot emerge without a dying.
Unless a grain wheat dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies it bears much fruit.
As Jesus said, you must lose your life to find it (Matt.10.39, 16.25)
The way down is the way up.
Jesus is the living image of this pattern. His crucified body is transformed in the Risen Christ.
Tonight’s Old Testament readings echo this.
Abraham knows he is as good as dead in any discussion about heirs. Sara knows she is, too. Both have laughed at God and God’s promises.
Sara engineers her own solution, instructing Abraham to lie with Hagar. Abraham goes along with her scheme. Hagar has a male child, Abram’s child.
Problem resolved, or so it seems.
God sees otherwise.
A death must take occur. Can Sara and Abram trust God and let God accomplish what God desires?
We cannot engineer or manipulate resurrection. It belongs in the realm of divine mystery.
But we can create the space for it to emerge.
The mystic Ezekiel has a vision.
A mystic is one who lives with mystery.
Ezekiel’s vision is of dry bones.
I can’t imagine anything more desolate and hopeless.
The bones only come alive as Ezekiel speaks as he has been instructed.
These bones, are also a mystery.
They are archetypal symbols both of mortality and immortality.
Bones are the last earthly traces of the dead. Bones seem to last forever. In the Jewish tradition they symbolize indestructible life and resurrection. But they also represent the transitoriness of life.
In Rome there is the Capuchin Crypt below Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. It contains the skeletal remains of 3,700 bodies. The church insists it not meant to be macabre but a silent reminder of the swift passage of our life on Earth and our own mortality.
I have been there. I have also hiked in the southwest and have come across the skull of a large animal. It is a powerful encounter.
At the same time, bones are about immortality.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes points out that bones are an indestructible force and represent our indestructible soul and spirit. Bones do not lend themselves to easy reduction; they are hard to burn, impossible to pulverize. The bones of the living are alive and continually renew themselves. Dry bones are home for living creatures.
Life and death intertwined.
Death, resurrection and baptism are also intertwined in the Romans passage.
Paul writes that we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God, so we too might walk in the newness of life. (Rom.6.4)
Olivier Clement remarks that baptism is the total immersion in the choking waters of death. What is lethal becomes life-giving. The tomb becomes a womb. (The Roots of Christian Mysticism, p. 103)..
Remember this when we process to the baptismal font, and dip our hands into the waters.
As we have blessed the Easter fire and will bless the waters of baptism, ourselves and one another, we experience the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit.
Out of death comes indestructible life!
We just sung this mystery:
Most Holy Night, most blessed of night,
When Christ broke the chains of the darkness.
God’s mighty love is stronger than death,
Christ our light shines forever.
Lastly, the Marken account.
There are more questions than there are answers.
Jesus is absent.
The women are told that Jesus who was crucified has been raised.
Hear this as the women heard it.
First century Palestinian Jews believed God would resurrect the bodies of the dead at the end of the age. No one ever gave thought to the idea that one person would rise ahead of everyone else.
Who is this person robed in white?
What is he/she talking about?
And where is the body they came to anoint?
No wonder that the women are alarmed, terrified, fearful and also amazed.
The last word of the gospel account is “fear”.
Today we are surrounded by so much fear and death.
Does the Paschal mystery matter?
The Paschal mystery is the story of all creation. Death must happen for new life to emerge.
We will do anything to prevent death.
We prefer what we know rather than what we don’t know.
But what emerges out of death is so much greater.
Are we willing to go into the silence, into the darkness, into the waters?
We are encased in mystery.
We will be transformed as we live and move and have our being in this mystery.