Sermon for The Great Vigil of Easter 2019 | St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church

Sermon for The Great Vigil of Easter 2019

Published by Emily Tanis-Likkel on Sat, Apr 20, 2019 4:48 PM

Click here to listen to The Rev. Emily Tanis Likkel's sermon for the Easter Vigil.

Life bursts forth from the womb of darkness. Darkness can be uncomfortable. A heaviness, a cloud, a confusion. But we need the dark. In darkness we are nourished, held, kept safe so that we may grow. We need Holy Saturday because it is in the stillness and in the dark that transformation occurs. We cannot peek inside a chrysalis to see if the butterfly is about to emerge. It’s out of our control completely. We simply wait for that miracle to happen. It requires trust.

As Noah and Naamah and their family waited out the flood in the damp and dark, clothes sticking to skin and animal odors permeating the air, we wait. We wait for the storm to pass, the rains to let up, the light to break through the clouds. We wait for a place to set our feet. We exhale our relief when hope that thing with feathers perches in our soul at last. The rainbow comes.

In the wilderness the Israelites were beyond agitated. They were in full-blown panic. The text says “In great fear the Israelites cried out to the LORD.” Can you hear their desperation when they asked, “Why weren’t we left to die in Egypt?” We may identify with the Israelites at times, fearful and panicked. Purposeless and disoriented. Maybe you have experienced a  time of such intense darkness that you feel like it might consume you. Maybe you are feeling it now.   

It is in the fabric of our fight or flight response that at times fear threatens to tear at the seams. So often people rush to the emergency room with a tight feeling in their chest, and rapid breathing and heart-rate. So often the diagnosis is not heart attack, but panic attack. A panic attack occurs when we simply don't breathe deeply enough to get enough oxygen. Shallow breathing alters our physiological and emotional state. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and illness. Shallow breathing happens when we fear, so it is a vicious cycle. But it also means that we can immediately begin to calm simply by attending to our breath. It is not a coincidence that the Hebrew word for spirit is ruah, breath. God breathed the world into being and it is the breath of God that sustains us.

When the people began to panic, Moses told them, Do not be afraid. Stand firm. You need only to be still. They walked through dry ground with walls of water on both sides. God brings about a breakthrough and like Miriam we break out in song and dance.

Whatever darkness or confusion or heaviness we feel, may we know that God is in it with us. We stand firm, we breathe, we trust. The light will come. That is God’s promise. That is God’s covenant with us.

In Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones, when he prophesied to them and the bones got meat and skin, they still did not receive breath.  It was not until Ezekiel called upon the breath, the spirit, that they came to life. Our spirits might long to be quenched but self-help remedies only scratch the surface of our soul-weariness. We can’t force transformation. It’s not something we control. It’s something we receive. It is the Holy Spirit’s fire igniting within us.

There is a story of a little fish who has just learned that she is dependent upon water. The fish swims up to it’s mother in a panic: “Mama, Mama, what’s water? I’ve got to find water or I’ll die!”  The fish did not realize that the water was everywhere. The mercy of God is the water in which we swim. We reach for God at times, coming up empty, forgetting that God is not out there to be discovered but that within us and surrounding us and holding us always God is found, and in God we are found as well. We need only to be still and breathe.   

Grace and Naomi are being baptized in a little while. These remarkable two girls know the Bible. When I showed them the array of colorful beeswax they could use for making designs on their baptism candles, they immediately set out to tell stories on their candles. The parting of the Red Sea, the burning bush. They spoke with great profundity, about God being slow to anger and quick to forgive, revealing a spiritual depth that reminds me of the verse in Matthew of things being hidden from the wise and revealed to children. They know the Spirit’s fire. The promise that the storm will pass. They trust in God.

We may be fumbling in the dark, but the Lord is fighting for us. We have only to trust in God. The light will come.  

Naomi, Grace and Johnny will have times in their lives when they find themselves in the dark. But they will not be alone. They are loved completely. God will be there with them, fighting for them. They need only to be still. To breathe.

Because morning will come.

And in the morning, as mystic St. Symeon wrote, “We awaken in Christ’s body as Christ awakens our bodies . . . and everything that is hurt, everything that seemed to us dark, harsh, shameful, maimed, ugly, irreparably damaged, is in him transformed and recognized as whole, as lovely, and radiant in His light. We awaken as the Beloved in every last part of our body.”

This holy Saturday we come close to mystery, to darkness and fire, water and breath. Do you sense it? A miracle has happened in the dark.

We need only to be still and breathe.

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