Fire, Water, Bread, and Wine
Fire, water, bread, and wine makes for a lively party, doesn’t it? This is the night we burn, swim, and feed on the reality that a new world is indeed emerging in the midst of the old. And what better signs - sacraments, even - of this event, this Christ event, this divine blow to structures and relationships built on domination - than basic elements like fire, water, bread, and wine.
Fire recalls God delivering Israel from enslavement in Egypt as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Water recalls God’s Spirit hovering over the primordial waters in the beginning. Bread and wine recall the way God sustained Israel during it’s forty year sojourn through the wilderness. These elements shock our bodies into remembering that God’s liberating power isn’t just something that happens in stories told long ago.
No. God liberates, breaks chains, and sets folk free even today. Right now, in this moment. We just witnessed it as we baptized three people into God’s household, sealing them with oil, reminding them that they are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. The bond forged between God and the newly baptized is indissoluble.
Which brings us to this evening’s Gospel: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women arrive at the tomb of Jesus only to find that then guarding it has been rolled away. They walk in and find it empty and are asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” And then the women rush back to tell the eleven remaining apostles who write it off as an idle tale. (How men in power have tended to write off insightful women throughout history). And yet, they too, come to know the crucified and risen Christ. And that was the first Easter. No fanfare, flower arrangements, elegant processions. Just an empty tomb and a community of women no one with power believes. And that is the genius of Jesus’ resurrection: its relative vulnerability.
We are not forced to believe in the resurrection. Ushers will not stand at the doors asking if you really believe it or not. News of the risen Jesus did not make the headlines of the Jerusalem Times or Rome’s Commercial-Appeal. It was a quiet, almost-hidden event.
Resurrection does not happen outside of death, suffering, and trauma, but in the middle of it. In a world still marred by sexual, racial, gender, and economic violence. A world in which our loved ones still die. A world in which the middle and working classes are being forced out of their neighborhoods at alarming rates.
A world in which - without a moment’s notice - terrorists disrupt workaday life in places like Brussels, Paris, and Charleston, South Carolina. Easter isn’t the erasing of our individual and collective traumas, but the gathering of our glooms and transformation of our traumas. It is God staring us in the eyes and saying, “Death, oppression, and grief are real and so are joy, love, and resurrection.”
And so, as the baptized, crucified, and risen Easter people of God, we are invited by God in Christ to mine not only the depths of our own traumas, but to become companions with those who find themselves in circumstances of great suffering. We are resurrection scouts: people claimed and loved by God, invited to mark and point toward surprising moments of beauty and resurrection. We are people of fire, water, bread, and wine; people wooed by a God who respects our suffering too much to forget it; a God who has no qualms entering our messy and chaotic lives with good news: “You are not alone in this.”
The Great Vigil of Easter
Grace-St. Luke’s Church