This week, dear friends, we entered upon the contemplation of those mighty acts whereby God has given us life and immortality through Jesus Christ.
We have observed the entry into Jerusalem waving palms and singing. We have witnessed Jesus’ betrayal, trial and mocking, the momentum that led to his execution. We observed him being laid in the tomb, and this morning we sat in here in observance of his death.
But now the tide has turned. “On this most holy night…” we prayed together outside. And then again, This is the night, we sang together in the Exsultet. “This is the night,” dear friends, “when Christ passed over from death into resurrection life.” At the Easter Vigil, the apex of the Christian year, the layers of story align like a syzygy in our telling, opening the mystery of the good news that in Jesus Christ the domain of sin and death, brokenness and mortality, have been overcome. No longer do they hold dominion. Death’s chain has been broken. The life of resurrection, the forgiveness of God, and the redemption of our souls and bodies have been unleashed, graciously bestowed in a manner far beyond our logic or even our imagination.
This is the font. The sign, or perhaps for some of us (if we were baptized here) the literal location of our baptism. In it, says Paul in his letter to the Romans, “we are baptized into Christ’s death… buried with [him] so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by God’s glory, we too might walk in newness of life.” This is the outward and visible sign of our inward engrafting into this wild mystery.
Take, eat: This is my body. Drink this, all of you: this is my blood, Jesus said to his disciples and to us each time we celebrate communion at his table. This bread and this wine are his body and blood, they are holy food for a holy people, a people who come to the table again and again to be nurtured to grow, to walk with one another and with Christ.
This is the tomb.That’s what the women expected to say when they came upon it, grief-stricken and overwhelmed. As they approached prepared to fulfill the practice of anointing the body of their beloved Jesus, they expected to come face to face with an unmovable stone. Only when they arrived, their worldview was turned on its head once more. It was opened, not sealed; empty, not filled. “He is not here but has been raised,” a stranger in white proclaimed to them. The object of their affection and the focus of their grief had been transformed. They had been shocked into a life beyond their imagining, blindingly good news that opened a way forward that was in that moment far more terrifying and overwhelming than consoling.
Twenty years ago after I graduated from seminary, and when I was early in the ordination process, I began working on a mobile homeless outreach team at an agency called Tri-CAP. Much to my amazement and utter inadequacy, I was the “housing specialist” on the team, working with unhoused individuals, and sometimes couples—but not folks with children – to find housing. Because in greater Boston, housing prices were usually far beyond their means, I helped those who didn’t have Section Eight vouchers apply for them, or to apply for “elderly/disabled” housing, since most of them qualified for it whether by age or ability. But actually getting them into housing felt totally overwhelming and practically impossible. Whenever we had a victory—and particularly whenever one of them got housed – it felt especially important to celebrate. We celebrated in triumph, but we did so with a sense that the journey continued. We did so in a spirit of what I came to think of as an expression of “aliveness to God,” to use one of Paul’s phrase, of bearing forward and embodying in community the wild, surprising excess of resurrection life. The sign I chose for that celebration was a bell. It was a bell that came from my grandfather’s basement, brought to California from farm life on the Midwest, a bell I had played with as a child. I had eagerly brought it in when my high school chorus director had let us know that a piece we were singing called for cowbell. You should have seen her face—it clearly had hung around the neck of an actual cow at some point.
This is the bell. We rang it every time we had a victory at Tri-CAP, and we laughed every time. Everyone on our hall heard it and they would laugh too, reminded that we were all on our way together. In the years since I have always hung it in my office, mindful of the tradition of ringing bells to signal our joyous participation in the victory of Christ over death.
This is the night. This is the font. This is Christ’s body and blood. This is the tomb. This is the bell. These are our stories. Christ is raised. Alleluia!