Easter – New Fire!

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

Last night we began in darkness and kindled the new fire – the Christ Candle is a figure of our Lord – the custom is very early in the Church’s history.  Even earlier than the Exsultet, a song that was sung in that darkness.  The words of the Exsultet are from the 5th century.  Imagine Christians continuing this custom – we celebrating, with an innumerable host of Christians through the ages, this great feast day in the same way!  We keep this candle here in the Nave (the place in our church symbolizing the earth), lit for services during the 40 days that Jesus appeared on earth before his Ascension.  It will be snuffed out on Ascension day, as sign of his Ascension into heaven.

We lit the Christ candle with the new fire – a sign of the Resurrection of our Lord, the Resurrection of hope, and we share in that joy of the first disciples.  And the spreading of the flame from this candle to each of the candles held by the congregation last night, was a sign of the new life that he has given to each of us.  As the Exsultet says:

Now therefore we sacrifice our Passover,
Wherein for us the very Lamb of God is slain,
By whose Blood the doors of his faithful people are made holy.
The night is come, whereby all that believe in Christ
upon the face of the earth,
delivered from this naughty world and out of the shadow of death,
are renewed unto grace, and are made partakers of eternal life.

The Resurrection of our Lord is seen as proof, that the Father has accepted the offering of the Son, and so reconciliation is possible between God and humanity.  Everything Jesus said, has come true!  “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” [Mark 9:31]

Easter - Passover Angel of Death - Arthur Hacker
“And there was a great cry in Egypt”, Arthur Haker, 1897

Our first Lesson (Exodus 12:21-28) today spoke of the call of God through Moses on the night before they left Egypt, to sacrifice a lamb and sprinkle the blood on the door posts and the lintel of the door of their homes, and the angel of death would pass over their homes leaving them untouched by God’s judgement.

Those Passover lambs, pointed to the ultimate Passover Lamb who is Christ.  Through our Baptism and in the Holy Communion, Christ’s Blood is sprinkled on the doors of our souls and we no longer stand under God’s condemnation, but are forgiven and raised up, made partakers of God’s life, of eternal life!  Death has no more dominion over us!  When our bodies die and return to the dust, we will not be held back from heaven!  We don’t allow fear of death to control our lives, we are freed up to love and to the risks of love, even to lay down our lives for our friends.

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The words of the Exsultet are:

The mystery therefore of this most holy night
putteth to flight the deeds of darkness, purgeth away sin:
restoreth innocence to the fallen, and gladness unto them that mourn:

Having been forgiven our sins, and knowing again innocence of heart, we seek out the holy life.  This is what our Epistle (Colossians 3:1- 7) speaks of: Having been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  We die to sin and rise to the new life, the spiritual life, the life of true love.

Our Collect for Easter, the special prayer appointed for today, might seem a little weak when you first read it:  We prayed to God that, as by your special grace you put into our minds good desires, so by your continual help we may bring the same to good effect.  What? is that all?

But think about it – there has been a breakthrough in our souls because of Christ’s death and Resurrection.  Each one of us can expect now a direct communication with God – who by His Spirit puts into our minds good desires.   God shows us, individually, how to love in every circumstance – the spiritual blindness caused by sin is healed, we are being shown God’s thoughts.  And then, having seen heavenly ways, the thoughts of God, we pray for the power to act on them to be like God on earth!  Knowing and willing as God knows and wills what is good – and to will the good that we know is true love. [St Augustine]  That is to live the Resurrection life, the life of heaven here on earth.

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In the Exsultet we sing that the Resurrection of Christ:

casts out hatred, brings peace to all mankind
and bows down mighty princes…

Our Easter faith has profound implications not only for us as individuals but for the societies in which we live.  We saw in Brussels last week, and in Paris last November, violence against the innocent, and I understand in Utrecht there has been an increased police presence since Tuesday around certain government sites.  Sadly, we will probably see more violence, as not every threat can be thwarted.  Does Christ really cast out hatred and bring peace to all mankind?

One thing that gives me hope is the response in both cities – in Paris and Brussels, people didn’t go into a rage in the streets calling for death – they responded with calm and with a coming together and even holding hands to be silent – Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of other backgrounds.  But, I would suggest this is the Spirit of Christ revealing Himself.  The wounds to these cities are like the wounds to Christ.  The security forces must do their thing to protect.  But there is no mob rule, no vigilante, no rage, but only sorrow and, in fact, the growth of love.  And I don’t know about you, but after these tragedies, when I see a women with a head scarf, or a man who I think might be Muslim, I want to be especially kind, so that they don’t think somehow that I hate them for the acts of a few extremists.  Is that not what is happening in your hearts?  That is not a natural fallen human reaction, that is the risen Christ dwelling in us.  The increase of love.

Christ’s Spirit indeed casts out hatred, and will bring peace to all who receive Him.  And, remarkably, over the past 2000 years as the Christian Gospel has spread, many mighty princes, have, truly, bowed their heads before this meek and humble King from some obscure land in the Middle East.

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Easter Eve - Three Marys at the Tomb, William Bouguereau2
Three Marys at the Tomb, William Bouguereau

Today’s Gospel (St John 20:1-10) and the account last night from Matthew’s Gospel (St Matthew 28:1-7) reveal something special about the way the glory of Christ’s Resurrection was revealed.  Last night we heard that an angel appeared, there was an earthquake and the stone was rolled away.  Both the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb and the two Marys who had come to watch over their Lord saw it.  In last night’s Gospel, the physically strong soldiers were overwhelmed, the humble women, though afraid, were not overwhelmed.  Now it might be an opportunity to make a joke about men and women – but I think that would be to misunderstand what is really happening.  The women were no doubt more spiritually prepared, through their encounters with Jesus, for this Divine encounter, than the rough pagan Roman soldiers.  Their souls were also purer – Mary Magdalene, we are told, had 7 demons cast out of her – the tradition would see this as having been purified of all the disordered passions of her soul.  Her soul was ready even before the other disciples by purity and by love to be told first and to become a witness to the apostles of the Resurrection.  In the following verses in Matthew’s Gospel, we learn that Jesus later appeared to these two Marys, who remained at the tomb after Peter and John left, and they fell down and took hold of Christ’s precious feet and worshipped him.

Easter - “The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection” by Eugène Burnand
“The Disciples Peter and John Running to the Sepulchre on the Morning of the Resurrection” by Eugène Burnand

We are told that the disciples didn’t believe Mary Magdalene when she first told them her Lord was gone from the tomb.  But can we not see that this was the very way their souls needed to be prepared?  Despite the initial unbelief, two of them, Peter and John, who loved Jesus most, ran to the tomb to see for themselves.  Mary Magdalene would then later return to tell them all that she had in fact seen Him as she lingered by the empty tomb.  Again they wouldn’t really believe it until Jesus appeared Simon Peter and then to ten of them later that day.  And since Thomas was not with them that afternoon, he could not believe it either, until Jesus reappeared a week later.

Our certainty of the Resurrection of Jesus grows as we spiritually mature in Christ, as our hearts are purified by Christ, as we come to know more profoundly His presence within us.  Perhaps our certainty will be tested in the greatest way, as we ourselves prepare to leave this life.

But we can know Jesus’ risen presence, even today in the Holy Communion – where Christ communicates to us not His dead body, but His Risen life, and from that foretaste, we leave off fear and we grow in the joy of His promise to each of us.

In this Passover meal, judgement passes over us, passes by us, as we trust in His offering – true peace comes to our hearts, there is certainty of reconciliation with God, and love is rekindled in us.  We step out of our situations of bondage and slavery to the past, to walk, in faith, in the new life that He’s communicating to us and bringing about in us.

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

Easter - Grunewald Resurrection
Resurrection (Isenheim Altarpiece), Matthias Grünewald, 1512–1516