Dawn Vigil Sermon

Easter comes like the dawn.
She comes like new light on a new day.
Easter comes like the dawn.
She comes like dew softly fallen,
jewelling the ground.
Easter comes like the dawn.
She comes like a gentle breeze
stirring the leaves
and cleansing the air.
Easter comes like the dawn.

Dawn over the Sea of Galilee

Dawn over the Sea of Galilee

As soon as the first streaks of dawn coloured the sky over Jerusalem. Matthew tells us that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary left the place where they were lodging and went back to where they’d so hurriedly left Jesus on the Friday evening. The Sabbath was now passed, the day of rest had finished that they had to observe and so this was the first opportunity they had to go again to the tomb in the garden.

And Easter breaks into their world. Matthew is keen on earthquakes as a sign of God’s action. He mentions that there was an earthquake when the Lord died on the cross, when the graves were opened and the veil of the temple was torn in two. Now, in Matthew’s version of the resurrection story the mighty work of God is proclaimed in another earthquake. He’s the only gospel writer to mention this, and whilst it’s not for me to dispute what he says, I do think that there’s something powerfully true in the account of Elijah on the mountain encountering the Living God, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, not in the wind, but in the sound of sheer silence, the sound of a gentle breeze.

Easter creeps up on them as the dawn creeps up on us and with that same gentleness as the new creation comes into being – and it is good.

C S Lewis’ first book of the Narnia saga is an allegory of the passion and resurrection of the Lord and a masterful retelling of the story and the truth that we’re here to celebrate. The lion Aslan had been captured by the witches and goblins, bound and sacrificed on a stone table, an altar. Once a majestic and powerful figure, now as the children see him, he is pathetic and defeated in death.

Then another day begins and we’re told

The rising of the sun had made everything look so different – all colours and shadows were changed that for a moment they didn’t see the important thing. Then they did. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.

Aslan then appears and says to the children, of the wicked witch who killed him

‘If she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.’

We began this Vigil by doing precisely that. We began by gathering in the dark before the dawn to listen again in the stillness and the darkness to those former days and to hear again the story of salvation, that ‘different incantation’.

We’re like children asking our parents ‘Tell us the story again of what happened, when I was born, when you first met, tell me what I was like, tell me how you love me’. And your parents rehearse again the story.

At the Passover it’s the head of the household who reminds those gathered for the meal how they came to be here, in this place, at that meal, rehearsing again the story of creation, rehearsing again the call of the patriarchs, rehearsing again the story of the exodus, rehearsing again the wanderings of the people, rehearsing again the goodness of God who with milk and honey, with manna, and water flowing from the rock, cared for, fed and nourished his children ‘til they came to the place he had prepared for them.

And we do the same – we put this dawn in context, we put this Easter in context, we put this resurrection in the context of the great salvation that has been wrought for us. We go back to the beginnings to make sense of today; we go into the past for Christ dawns in our present.

The poet Eleanor Farjeon wrote a wonderful poem which has become a much loved hymn and a song that millions know through the likes of Cat Stevens. It does the same; it takes us back to the time before the dawn.

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the word.

‘The rising of the sun had made everything look so different’ writes C S Lewis and it’s true for us. From the gloom and desolation of Good Friday we’re brought into the freshness and the beauty and the gentleness of the dawn in which all creation is made new, when the events in a second garden resolve the chaos of the first, when a second Adam undoes the sin of the first, when a second tree bears fruit which bring life rather than the fruit of that first tree that brought death.

It was an earthquake in our relationship with God, the old altar was shattered and a new one is made in Christ. It was an earthquake but of the gentlest kind.

And as the light intensifies, as dawn becomes day we see Jesus, standing before us, calling us by name, the light of the world, the life of the world. And he is beautiful and in him so are you, so are we.

This is a new day and a new world and we tread the dew-jewelled grass as if for the first time and breath the sweet fresh air and blink in the sunlight, and know, yes, it is true. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.

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