Pascha (Easter) Sermon, 2020
O happy fall,
to remedy which there was granted so good and so mighty a Redeemer!
From the Exsultet, sung at the blessing of the Paschal Candle
IN TIMES like these, we are reminded that we can take nothing for granted. This past week, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, the subject of many of my conversations has circled around the fact that our world, and lives, have changed in what seems the bat of an eye. While we all long for life to return to normal, we fear that it never can. I remember many moments in my own life where going back, where returning to normal, became impossible. We might call such moments growing pains. May our current situation be this for us. Paradoxically, there are so many ways in which it can be, if we step up to the occasion.
Celebrating the liturgies of Holy Week never fails to exhaust me. There is real angst in these liturgies: singing the harrowing crucifixion narratives on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday, the somber quietude of the Good Friday liturgy, and the utter silence of Holy Saturday, the Sabbath of the tomb. We hear the cry from the cross, “Why have you forsaken me?” We watch the vital beauty of our Teacher, our Master and King, drain away into affliction and grief; the one who spoke the words of life, now dead. Truly dead. The hope of Israel, lost. We can take nothing for granted.
Yes, Holy Week is exhausting. Holy Week also is a paradox. Maundy Thursday holds up to us both friendship and betrayal; Good Friday holds up to us brute hatred and absolute fidelity and love; Holy Saturday nothingness and anticipation. It is mind-blowing.
Then (talk about mind blowing!) comes the impossible. An empty tomb? Preposterous! We cannot understand it—we refuse to understand it, for our sorrow. After all, there is one thing that we can take for granted, and that is the finality of death.
But what is this empty tomb? A light dawns in our hearts. The glimmer grows. Then, the whole universe is gilded with lilies as we meet our Master face to face. “Oh death, where is your victory?” our souls cry out, “O death, where is your sting?” O happy fall, that merited such a Redeemer! Truly, we can take nothing for granted—nothing! And now, especially, let us not take anything for granted.
This Bright Week, let us meet reality in all of its paradoxical grandeur, taking nothing for granted. As the world around us undergoes a crucifixion, let us mourn and lament the bitter pains of it all. Let us fear for our own lives, and the lives of those we know and love, while understanding that life is given as a gift, and is not ours to control or to own. As the world around us wakens into spring, let us savor every calm breeze, every peep of the frog, every spring color emerging from the rank deaths of the autumn past. Not a single being born into this world will escape death, and yet not a single being born into this world can escape life. You cannot escape life—the whole catastrophe of it, the blessed paradox of it. Christ has shown it to be so, and he has blessed the sorrow as well as the exultation. Holy Week and the Resurrection blesses and redeems the whole gamut of life; may our lives be redeemed also.
Dwell in the One Who Is, the Risen One. Dig down into the depths of your soul and know that, while all things come and go, God is life eternal, and his love for you and for his creation is eternal, everlasting, undying. He shows this to us this week, trampling down death by death, sorrow by sorrow, bestowing life to those in the tomb. Are we not, in our current isolation, living as if in a tomb? God has entered here, and blessed it. Not so that we might wallow away here, but so that through it we might discover where our true life abides—that we might discover that true life abides.
We can take nothing for granted … or can we?
Yes, we can take something for granted; we can take God’s life for granted, granted to us in his Son, in whom we abide in glory. To him be all honor, praise, and thanksgiving unto ages of ages.
Mons Nubifer Sanctus: Christian spiritual training in the fullness of the ancient faith.