Homily Delivered at Holy Saturday Easter Vigil

Have you ever found yourself in complete, total darkness? The kind where you
can’t see your hand in front of your face? It can be a terrifying place.
I remember one time when I was about 8 or nine years old I went with my big
brother and one of his friends to a baseball game at the Red wing Stadium in
Rochester. At one point in the game I had to go to the restroom (as often happens
with 8 year olds). So I got up walked to the restroom under the stadium and then
began to walk back but I could not find where we were sitting. Although it was in
daylight I sure felt like I was in darkness and began to panic. Then I saw a police
officer and told him I was lost and could not find my brother…
Have you ever been in a place like that? We all have. Maybe you haven’t been lost
or in actual darkness, but sometimes it sure can feel like it. It is the darkness of the
loss of someone dear to us, whose absence we fear we will never be able to deal
with. The darkness of a terrifying diagnosis. The darkness of not knowing where a
child of ours is. The darkness of a shattering reality that we had no idea was
coming our way. Or the darkness of an unknown future…
The Easter Vigil service begins in darkness, at least it’s supposed to. It is the
darkness of the closed up tomb where Jesus’ body lay on Holy Saturday. The stone
has been rolled in front of it. No light enters. It is utterly dark. Jesus’ torn and
beaten body is already beginning to stink-the women are planning to bring spices
to help preserve his body in the morning. But now, it is Saturday, in the dark,
airless, deathly still tomb. It is not a pleasant place to be.
Unlike the hosannas of Palm Sunday and the glory of Easter Day that we yearn for,
this day in Holy Week, Holy Saturday, speaks most directly to the daily reality of
our lives. After the shock of death or words that bring despair–words like cancer,
divorce, terminal, downsizing–we find ourselves living with the “what next” of
life–and we enter the dark void of unknowing.
This is where many of us live, from time to time. Yes, there are times when we
experience the stark gut-wrenching pain of Good Friday, and there are also times when
we know the jubilation of Easter. But this night, Holy Saturday, is the time in
between death and resurrection. It is the valley of grief and unknowing; for us as
well as for the first disciples. On Holy Saturday we, and they, don’t know what the
future will bring. Whether the cancer will be cured, or we will love again, or find a
job that fulfills our calling. It is a time of dark uncertainty.

“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a
formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…” (Genesis 1:1-2a). In the
beginning, all was a dark void. And in this tomb we find the same reality–it is a
dark void. Beloved, how many times will we find ourselves in that dark place?
A place where any ray of hope is extinguished in the vacuum of fear, of not
knowing, of total emptiness.
But…in that place, somehow through the grace of God, we must be patient. We
must wait for the wind of the Spirit, the “wind from God [that sweeps] over the
face of the waters” in Genesis 1, to fan the dim embers of our faith.
“Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light…. God called the light Day
and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning,
the first day” (Genesis 1:3,5).
You see, both darkness and light are part of the first day. Darkness and light are
halves of every day ever since that first day. Darkness and light are essential parts
of our lives. And when we find ourselves in that dark, tight, stinky, lonely place,
we must remind ourselves of this truth. There will always ultimately be light
(God’s light to shine) in the midst of the darkness.
Barbara Brown Taylor, wrote a book that’s called Learning to Walk in the Dark. In it she writes, “Darkness is shorthand for anything that scares me–either because I am sure that I do not have the resources to survive it or because I do not want to find out. If I had my way, I would eliminate everything from chronic back pain to the fear of the devil from my life and the lives of those I love. At least I think I would.

The problem is this,” she writes, “when, despite all my best efforts, the lights have gone off in my life, plunging me into the kind of darkness that turns my knees to
water, I have not died. The monsters have not dragged me out of bed and taken me
back to their lair. Instead, I have learned things in the dark that I could never have
learned in the light–things that have saved my life over and over again. So that
there is really only one logical conclusion: I need darkness as much as I need
light.
” In her book, Barbara guides us on a journey to understanding darkness and rereading scripture to see all the times God shows up at night. Because God does.
In the reading from Exodus 14, as God leads Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt
at night, the Israelites cry out to God in fear and uncertainty as they see the
massive army of Pharaoh in pursuit behind them, while in front of them is the sea–
they are trapped in the darkness of fear and faithlessness. “It would have been
better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness!” they cry out. But
Moses tells them, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the
Lord will accomplish for you today…. The Lord will fight for you, and you have
only to keep still.”

It is so hard to keep still in the fearful dark, isn’t it? It is so hard to trust that the
wind of God’s spirit will, finally, blow on the dim embers of our cooling faith.
And did you notice verse 19 and 20 in Exodus 14? “The angel of God who was
going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of
cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them.” Why? “It came
between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with
the darkness, and it lit up the night.”
The divine presence, the angel of God, glowing within the cloud in the darkness,
blocks the oncoming threat of the Egyptian army. You see, there will always be
light in the midst of darkness. God will show up at night. We have only to keep
still.
Brothers and sisters, darkness is part of every day. But there will be light! What would our lives with God look like if we trusted this rhythm of darkness and light instead of fighting it?
The Exsultet, which is sung during the Vigil, beautifully proclaims this rhythm of
dark and light, of night and dawn, of death and resurrection: “This is the
night
…when you brought our ancestors, the children of Israel, out of bondage in
Egypt….
This is the night…when all who believe in Christ are delivered from the gloom of
sin, and are restored to grace and holiness of life….
This is the night…when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose
victorious from the grave….
How holy is this night, when wickedness is put to flight, and sin is washed away.
It restores innocence to the fallen, and joy to those who mourn…..
How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and we are reconciled
to God.”
Even in the darkness of our lives–darkness that comes and goes like the night–we
are reconciled to God. Our baptism is the sign of this reconciliation, when we are
marked as Christ’s own forever. So hear the invitation of God through the prophet Isaiah, whose words we heard tonight: “To, everyone who thirsts”– for hope, for joy, for light, for reconciliation-everyone who thirsts, “come to the waters.” We may find ourselves in darkness now, but just wait. Wait for the dawn of hope and resurrection.
How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and we are reconciled
to God.”

And so now we have moved from our darkened church to the light of Baptism;
ESPECIALLY FOR ZACHARY LINCOLN AND TED AND STACY ILLI WHO WILL BE RECEIVED INTO THE CATHOLIC CHURCH AND FOR ALL OF US AS WE WILL RENEW OUR BAPTISMAL PROMISES.