Easter Sunday Homily 2017:
I hope you will all excuse me if I mess up anything this morning. You see I was up pretty late last night. Last night we celebrated our Easter Vigil, which if you have never been is a pretty amazing event. We start with a huge bonfire. Then we blessed this beautiful candle. We heard many scripture readings, blessed the Easter water. We baptized people, we confirmed people. It’s an amazing event.
But, the reason I’m tired is because it started at 9:00 and I didn’t get home till after midnight. Why shouldn’t we start that thing a little bit earlier? Well, the laws of the church state that the entire Vigil must take place at night. This is why we start at 9:00, so that it takes place after sunset and after the twilight. The whole vigil takes place at night. And that got me thinking about the importance of the night at Easter. I mean think about it. Yesterday when it was light it was Holy Saturday. Jesus was in the tomb. There was sadness in the air. Now, here we are in the morning. It’s light again and we are filled with joy. So what exactly happened last night? And why does the vigil which celebrates the resurrection take place at night?
First off, we don’t know the precise minute when Jesus was raised from the dead. We just know that people were there Saturday, then Sunday morning the tomb was empty. So we know it took place sometime in the night. But, I think there is a deeper more symbolic reason.
What does the night symbolize? Darkness, emptiness, quiet. There’s something unsettling about the night, something off putting about the dark. How many parents out there have had to convince your children: there’s nothing to be afraid of in the dark? Yet, even as adults, we have had scary moments at night I’m sure… I remember driving home late from an ND football game. I was the only one awake in the car, it was after midnight. I was so scared I’d fall asleep and wreck the car (I didn’t obviously). One time I was on vacation with a friend and we had this idea of going into the ocean after dark. Seemed like a good idea. But, we both got so spooked after like 5 seconds that we practically ran out of the water. And don’t get me started on nightmares. Just the other day I woke up in a cold sweat because I dreamed that I accidentally fell asleep in my house and slept through someone’s wedding. People don’t usually appreciate it when you sleep through their wedding. The night can be scary. It’s dangerous too. Nothing good happens after 2:00 AM…
And yet, our Vigil takes place entirely at night. Amazing. Christ has the power to transform sin into holiness, death into life, even darkness into light. This is why we start our vigil outside by the Easter fire. That bonfire is a whole lot of fun, but it is also a proclamation into the night: you don’t have power over us. You might be dark and scary, but Christ has conquered over you. I won’t be afraid of the darkness, because I have the light of Christ.
Did you notice the message of Jesus when he rose from the dead? He says, do not be afraid. First, the angel says: do not be afraid. Then Jesus himself: do not be afraid. I think that this message works on many levels. First, the practical: do not be afraid about this empty tomb. Nothing has gone wrong. In fact, something amazing has gone right. Jesus, the one who died, has been raised again. Death seemed to win, but Christ is victorious. So do not be afraid. But, this message of Jesus seems to be a much deeper message: do not be afraid at all. I am here. I am alive. Do not let the darkness bother you, I am here. Do not be afraid of dying, all who believe in me will live. Don’t live a life of fear, I am with you always. Do not be afraid.
I can certainly say that this message hits home for me. I’m always afraid. I’m afraid I’m not good enough. I’m afraid that I’m a sinner. I’m afraid that I will stumble, fail, fall. Jesus knows this. No wonder Jesus says to me, you, and everyone: do not be afraid.
We know that Jesus came to deliver us from evil. We know that this means the forgiveness of our sins as well as the gift of eternal life. But, even more, Jesus came to deliver us from all evil. This includes fear, pain, anxiety, depression, addiction, you name it. My message for all of you tonight is to widen your vision for the power of the resurrection.
I think that when we think about Easter and the resurrection we know that this means that Christ destroyed death, which is amazing and true. But, Jesus is the light that came to banish all darkness. So, what’s the next level? The resurrection should change your life here and now, not just simply on the day when we die. Jesus wants to destroy all the darkness in your life, not just at some point in the distant future.
Thursday night we heard that Peter tried to stop Jesus from washing his feet. He felt inadequate. Yesterday we heard why he was inadequate when he denied Jesus three times. But, even after all that, Jesus tells the disciples this message: don’t be afraid. Jesus knows our weaknesses. He knows our sinfulness. He knows our darkness. Yet, he died and was raised to deliver us from all the power of the enemy, all the power of the darkness.
So, this morning we all declare that we are not afraid of the dark. This candle proclaims that Christ is alive. This candle is a symbol that darkness doesn’t get to win. Let this light shine in your hearts, in your minds, and in your lives. Jesus wants to get rid of all your darkness. Don’t hold back, don’t close up, open wide the doors of your hearts and your lives. Jesus died to enter into the darkness. And now he rises to bring his light into the lives of all who believe in him.
No wonder we sing alleluia. This work means: praise be to God. That is the song in our hearts tonight: praise be to God. Jesus is risen. Do not be afraid.