Way back in the past, when street lights, one by one, had to be put on and later put out, an old municipal lamplighter was asked by a reporter if he ever grew weary of his work. After all, it was a lonely job and the night was cold and damp. “Never am I cheerless,” said the old man, “for there is always a light ahead of me to lead me on.” “But what do you have to cheer you when you have put out the last light?” asked the news writer. “Then comes the dawn,” said the lamplighter.
It seems that Jesus had a similar task of putting out lights: the lamp of popular acclaim, the lamp of patriotic approval where many expected him to take up arms and drive out the Romans; the lamp of ecclesiastical conformity which says one should never heal on the Sabbath etc. Jesus was busy getting rid of old wineskins so as to make way for the new. He was busy letting go of old ways so as to forge out a new path and all for the sake of God’s love, which burned in his heart and showed him the way. At last even the light of his life was to flicker out on the hill of Calvary. What then? We hear his voice: “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.” And then came the dawn.
Because all did not end at Calvary because the cross was but a passage to everlasting life, we celebrate today the Christ who lives and by whose arising a new day has dawned for all of humankind. It is indeed a new creation. One of the prefaces says it very well: God has wonderfully created us but has still more marvellously redeemed us in Christ. Tonight we heard the wonderful story of creation. It was of course written way before Hubble sent us some dazzling pictures of what is up there in the sky. Today we know so much more about the vastness of the universe and just how tiny our beautiful planet is in this immense ocean of stars. We can only concur with the Psalmist when he says: ‘what is man and woman that you should think of them or the children of humanity that you care for them?’ And yet tonight God does care and love and embrace us. It may feel cold and lonely out there at times like the lamplighter, but there is promise in the air, the promise of a new dawn, not of our making (and perhaps we can say thank goodness for that) but of God’s making.
There are two eloquent signs that mark this holy night. First, there is the fire that becomes light. We have just walked in procession from outside, shrouded in the darkness of the night, and followed the light of the Paschal Candle which became a wave of lights as we entered the Church. This speaks to us of Christ as the true morning star that never sets – the Risen Lord in whom light has conquered darkness. The second sign is water. On the one hand, it recalls the waters of the Red Sea, decline, and death, the mystery of the Cross. But now it is presented to us as spring water, a life-giving element amid the dryness. Thus, it becomes the image of the sacrament of baptism, through which we become sharers in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Another essential feature is the ample encounter with the words of sacred Scripture that it provides. The Church wishes to offer us a panoramic view of the whole trajectory of salvation history, starting with creation, passing through the election and the liberation of Israel to the testimony of the prophets by which this entire history is directed ever more clearly towards Jesus Christ. Our response can only be: ‘how great is our God!
The key story of the Old Testament is the Exodus which is always read. There was one point on their journey which proved to be quite scary. They had escaped Egypt and into the desert after the angel of death had passed over them. But when they arrived at the shores of the Red Sea they found themselves trapped with the sea before them and Pharaoh’s troops behind them. It was the proverbial between a rock and a hard place. They kept vigil there, with a mysterious angel of the Lord and a pillar of fire guarding them through the night. Their lives hung in the balance, and they could only stand firm in faith. There was nothing they could do. Everything depended on God. But they did not find God wanting.
Jesus’ disciples found themselves in a similar situation after the crucifixion. No amount of effort – not Peter’s grief at denying his Master, not the women’s kindly preparations to anoint Jesus’ body with spices – nothing could bring back the Master’s body to life. There was nothing they could do but wait. But it is precisely here, at the end of all human resources, that God’s power shines through most gloriously. When we were dead in sin, God sent his Son to restore us to life. When we could not save ourselves, Jesus rescued us. When we were enslaved to evil, God loosed our chains.
Even though salvation has been promised to us, both personally and communally, there are times when we too feel trapped, when we have reached the end of our resources and are inclined to despair. It is then that we too must keep vigil and wait. We have only to keep still, and God will act on our behalf. For it is when we are weak and helpless that God’s power shines through most gloriously.
May this holy and blessed night light up all our hearts with joyful confidence in the Lord and as each lamp goes out may there always be another until we reach the true dawn of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Saturday, 15 April 2017