The rest of the story...
This evening when the sun sets the waiting of Holy Saturday ends; sometime between sunset tonight and sunrise tomorrow morning most parishes celebrate the Great Vigil of Easter**. We kindle the new fire, hear the Exsultet bid “all the round earth” to rejoice because “darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King,” and then hear the good news: Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Among the many gifts of the Holy Night proclaimed in the Exsultet is this one: “How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and [we are] reconciled to God.” That image of the realms of earth and heaven becoming one, and the linking of that unity to the restoration of a good and holy relationship between God and humankind get to the depths of the Easter message: in Christ, the chasm has been bridged. All of creation is infused with God’s Holy Spirit; the idea of a rigid separation between the spiritual and the physical is shown to be a false dichotomy. That’s why the created world, the world around us is filled with signs of God’s grace ready for the noticing.
Christ’s joining of earth and heaven reminds us of God’s declaration that creation is good. If God had no love for the earth, if the only things that had meaning for God and, by extension, for Christians were “spiritual” things, the damage we have done to the earth would be of practical concern only. Knowing that God loves all of creation and that the Easter story means that heaven and earth are joined gives us cause to rejoice, but also another level of sorrow for the degradation of our planet.
But our grief for what we have done to the earth isn’t the whole story, just as Holy Week wasn’t the whole story. Now we have the message of Easter. This message isn’t that things aren’t really that bad, or that everything is fine now and we needn’t worry about the needs of the world. The message is that God is present with us both in our sorrow and in our joy, and in the end, joy triumphs.
What does it look like for joy to triumph for people living on the earth today? We don’t know, but we do know how faith in the Easter message informs our lives here and now. The message is that even as we work for the future of life as we know it on this planet, we look for joy and allow ourselves to experience joy. The message is that hope is truer than despair.
As we remembered on Maundy Thursday, even in the midst of the events of Holy Week, Jesus gave thanks at the meal; the practice of gratitude, of finding reasons to rejoice, can keep us focused on the whole story. The spring flowers and nesting birds and greening trees give us joy, and it’s good to rejoice in these things. Getting outdoors when the weather warms and planting a garden give us joy, and serves as a sign of hope and faith in the future. Getting away from the lights in town and looking at a clear night sky can give us joy and wonder.
The Exsultet ends with an entreaty for God to accept the offering of the Paschal candle: “May it shine continually to drive away all darkness.” The light of Christ drives away the darkness of despair.
When our hearts are wintry, grieving, or in pain, thy touch can call us back to life again; fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been: Love is come again like wheat that springeth green. (The words of John Macleod Campbell Crum, Hymn 204)
Easter joy to you!
**The words and rubrics for The Great Vigil of Easter are available here at The (Online) Book of Common Prayer.