The healing and restoring and resurrecting power of God

Great Vigil of Easter

Rev. Dr. Deborah Meister, ODM

We have heard so many stories tonight that it seems a bit foolish to offer you one more, but I’d like to share with you some words from the writer Loren Eisely. Eisely writes that one day, when he was hiking, he stopped to rest in a quiet glade, when suddenly he awakened by a great commotion to find “an enormous raven with a red and squirming nestling in his beak” perching on a crooked branch above him. “Into the glade fluttered small birds of half a dozen varieties drawn by the anguished outcries of the tiny parents. No one dared to attack the raven. But they cried there in some instinctive common misery, the bereaved and the unbereaved. The glade filled with their soft rustling and their cries. They fluttered as though to point their wings at the murderer. There was a dim intangible ethic he had violated, that they knew. He was a bird of death. And he, the murderer, the black bird at the heart of life, sat on there, glistening in the common light, formidable, unmoving, unperturbed, untouchable. The sighing died.

It was then I saw the judgment. It was the judgment of life against death. I will never see it again so forcefully presented. I will never hear it again in notes so tragically prolonged. For in the midst of protest, they forgot the violence. There, in that clearing, the crystal note of a song sparrow lifted hesitantly in the hush. And finally, after painful fluttering, another took the song, and then another, the song passing from one bird to another, doubtfully at first, as though some evil thing were being slowly forgotten. Till suddenly they took heart and sang from many throats joyously together as birds are known to sing. They sang because life is sweet and sunlight beautiful. They sang under the brooding shadow of the raven. In simple truth they had forgotten the raven, for they were the singers of life, and not of death.”[1]

Can you not imagine that scene unfolding in the pre-dawn darkness when the women went to the tomb? They went to lament, to weep, to sing the songs of death. But there in that quiet garden, a different song was beginning to unfold: the song of life, and not of death, the song of joy, and not of sorrow. There amid the cedars and the olive trees, the angel reminded the women of their true vocation in life: not to lament the the suffering and pain of the world, but to bear into the world the renewed life of God, our first, last, and best calling.

Un jour, quand l’écrivain Loren Eisely était entrain de randonner, il il s’arrêta dans une clairière. Soudain, les oiseaux qui l’entourent se mettent à pousser des cris de détresse. En levant les yeux, il vit un énorme corbeau avec un petit oisillon dans la bouche. De plus en plus d’oiseaux sont venus se plaindre, gémir, juger la corneille pour sa violation de l’ordre qu’ils estimaient tous juste. Puis leurs cris s’estompèrent dans le silence, jusqu’à ce qu’un moineau courageux rompe le silence et recommence à chanter. Le chant passa d’un oiseau à l’autre, jusqu’à ce qu’il devienne un hymne à la beauté de la vie. Les oiseaux avaient oublié le corbeau ; ils se souvenaient qu’ils étaient les chanteurs, non pas de la mort, mais de la vie.

Ne pouvez-vous pas imaginer cette scène se déroulant dans le jardin, lorsque les femmes se sont rendues au tombeau ? Là, au milieu des cèdres et des oliviers, l’ange a rappelé aux femmes leur véritable vocation dans la vie : ne pas se lamenter sur la souffrance et la douleur du monde, mais porter dans le monde la vie renouvelée de Dieu, notre première, dernière et meilleure vocation.

That hope has been hard to hear, this year. Between wars and climate change and the economic difficulties that they bring, it has too often seemed as if we have been naïve about evil. As if we have underestimated its power and its force, its grim tenacity. Not to be the characteristic of a few particularly terrible leaders, but to exist all around us, every day, in the breaking of God’s people.

But Easter reminds us that what we really underestimate is the power of life and goodness, the healing and restoring and resurrecting power of God. That’s what we honor tonight, why we gather in darkness around the new fire: because we need to hear and to remember that even the worst of the damage that we human beings can do to one another is as nothing compared with the mighty river of the grace of God. Where sin has brought suffering, God has brought healing. Where we have brought death, God has brought life. Where we have pushed one another down and climbed over one another in our quest for more, God has reached tenderly into the ash-heap and raised up those we have consigned to the dust.

L’espoir a été difficile à entendre cette année, une année au cours de laquelle il a souvent semblé que nous avions sous-estimé la puissance et la ténacité du mal. Mais Pâques nous rappelle que ce que nous sous-estimons vraiment, c’est le pouvoir de la vie et de la bonté, le pouvoir de guérison, de restauration et de résurrection de Dieu. Les dommages que nous, les êtres humains, pouvons nous infliger les uns aux autres ne sont rien comparés au fleuve puissant de la grâce de Dieu. Là où le péché a apporté la souffrance, Dieu a apporté la guérison. Là où nous avons apporté la mort, Dieu a apporté la vie. Là où nous nous sommes poussés les uns les autres vers le bas, Dieu a tendu la main vers le tas de cendres et a relevé ceux que nous avions relégués dans la poussière.

Le fait que cette victoire ait été remportée sur la Croix révèle une chose cruciale : la souffrance humaine et la souffrance du monde sont importantes. Jésus-Christ nous montre le contraire de l’indifférence divine : il nous montre que Dieu se soucie si profondément du mal humain qu’il a permis qu’il évoque la vie, la mort et la résurrection de son Fils. Et seulement ensuite, une fois que le mal a fait son œuvre, il sort tranquillement du tombeau, portant les cicatrices de cette épreuve jusqu’au cœur de Dieu, et nous y ramenant aussi.

That this victory was won on the Cross reveals something crucial: that human suffering and the suffering of the world matters. It’s not that God wipes it out, shrugs it off as if it had never been. That would have left us with a world empty of ethics, a world in which anyone could do anything to anyone else, because none of it would matter. But what Jesus Christ show us is the opposite of divine indifference: he shows us that God cares so deeply about human evil that he allowed it to evoke the life, death, and resurrection of the Son. That God does not deflect or ignore suffering and death, but takes them into his very flesh, stands in the middle of the demonic tempest and allows it to break even him. And only then, once it has done its worst, to step quietly from the tomb, without fanfare, and quietly go on his way, bearing the scars of that ordeal up into the heart of God, and bearing us back, too, where we had always been. Stripping evil not of its terrestrial power, but of its eternal weight. Death is conquered, we are free, Christ has won the victory.

Too often, we human beings have seen that victory in literal terms, seeking to claim victory by force, as if being holy were a matter of us against them, being more right, more powerful, more pure than some people we imagine are different from ourselves. That’s why, tonight, you are not hearing the usual reading about the liberation of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt, and the drowning of Pharaoh’s armies. You are not hearing it because it is a false story, or, rather, a story we hear in false ways. True liberation does not happen when one group of people rises up and kills another: God’s liberation, the only liberation that lasts, is what happens when we stop killing one another because we realize that war and death are not and never will be the answer.

Trop souvent, nous, les êtres humains, avons vu cette victoire en termes littéraux, cherchant à revendiquer la victoire par la force. Mais la libération de Dieu, la seule qui dure, est celle qui se produit lorsque nous cessons de nous entretuer parce que nous réalisons que la guerre et la mort ne sont pas et ne seront jamais la solution.  C’est pourquoi, ce soir, nous vous avons offert des récits de libération : libération de l’esclavage, libération de la mort, libération de l’ensemble de la vie, libération de l’exil et don de l’appartenance.

Instead, what we have given you tonight is stories of liberation — not one great story which falsely promises an arrival,  but many, because that’s how freedom unfolds in human lives.

Liberation from the bondage and oppression which caused the enslaved Hebrews to cry out to God,  in whose cries we can hear the desperation of all those, in every time and place, who are pushed to the edge by the threat and reality of brutality, economic and military. Liberation from the harm we inflict on one another in service of our own comfort or hegemony.

Liberation from death and the fear of death, God gathering the scattered bones of the dead and the lost and holding them so fiercely in the fire of love that they take on life and breath and begin to tend and to explore a world made new.

Liberation for the whole web of life, the waters of God spilling forth from the Shekinah, the presence of God, to heal the waters and plants and animals of this earth, and allow them to flourish again.

Liberation from exile, not only the exile which so many in our world are suffering — exile from homelands where they cannot feed themselves or live in safety or find a way to belong — but also from the exile which makes us alien to ourselves, coming between us and our own hearts, between our lives and what would make us fully alive. Liberation to come home, to gather in safety, to be whole, to rejoice without shame or shadow, for we will not rejoice alone, but in a chorus of songs of praise rising up from every corner of this round earth.

Liberation which pours from the foot of the Cross, spills from the empty tomb, impels the women to race toward the male disciples before they’ve even seen Jesus, and then greets them and allows them to touch him for only one moment before they are sent spinning into the world again, heralds of glad tidings: “Tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

I love this ending. I love it because it is no ending. The women have not yet arrived in Jerusalem; the men know nothing, and even once they do know it, they will have to stop moping and stand up and travel in order to see the face of the Liberator.  So often, our stories treat liberation as if it were the end: the slaves are free; apartheid is over; women have rights; the evil dictator has been thrown off. But as the last few years have reminded us, as human history ought to have reminded us, liberation is a journey, not a destination. Cole Arthur Riley writes, “liberation is not a finality or an end point; is is an unending awakening. It is something we can both meet and walk away from within the same hour. Our responsibility to ourselves is to become so familiarized with it, so attuned to its sound, that when it calls out to us, we will know which way the table is.”[2]

Cette libération jaillit du pied de la Croix, envoie les femmes courir pour répandre la bonne nouvelle. J’aime cette fin qui n’est pas une fin, qui se déroule encore dans nos vies. Trop souvent, nos histoires traitent la libération comme s’il s’agissait de la fin, mais la liberté est un voyage, pas une destination.

Ce que le Christ nous a donné dans la résurrection est à la fois l’acte définitif de Dieu et le début de son déploiement. L’amour de Dieu se déploie maintenant ; la vie de Dieu imprègne toutes choses maintenant ; l’Esprit de Dieu renouvelle la création maintenant. C’est l’œuvre élevée et sainte de notre vie, notre source de joie la plus profonde, que de venir aux côtés de Dieu et de participer à la transformation.

What Christ has given us in the Resurrection is both the definitive act of God, and the beginning of its unfolding. And the fact that God’s love is unfolding, now; that God’s life is permeating all things, now; that God’s Spirit is renewing the creation, now; does not mean we can afford to rest on God’s laurels. It is the high and holy work of our lives, our deepest source of joy, to come alongside God and be part of the transformation: to build community; to seek out the lost; to befriend the sorrowful; to wonder at beauty; to sing, even if we can’t hold a tune; and, yes, to pray and to hope, and to yearn for the continued healing of our own souls, too. Brokenness isn’t done with us yet, but by the grace given us in Christ’s resurrection, we now have the capacity to choose what will give life.

In a few moments, you will be invited to come to the table, to eat the bread of life, to drink the wine. Come not because you must, but because you may. Come with your hands stretched open, to receive once again, in this time of darkness, the goodness and love of God, which are for you: for you to have, for you to taste, for you in every struggle of you life. Receive this night the joy of God, the song which made the worlds and sings still and will never end. Let it fill your heart tonight; let it fill your life. Let yourself be Christ-ened anew.

En venant à la table ce soir, recevez la joie de Dieu, le chant qui a fait les mondes et qui chante encore et ne finira jamais. Laissez-la remplir votre cœur, laissez-la remplir votre vie. Laissez le Christ naître à nouveau en vous.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

[1] Loren Wisely, “The Judgment of the Birds.”
[2] This Here Flesh, p. 183.

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