Great Vigil of Easter Sermon by Bishop Michael G. Smith
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral, Fargo ND ~ April 15, 2017
In religious news recently have been articles about the just completed renovation of the "Edicule" of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The headlines read, "Just in time for Easter" because extraordinary events happen there this time of year. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also known as the Church of Resurrection, is supposedly built over the sites of both Calvary, where Jesus was crucified, and also the tomb where the body of Jesus was placed and was raised from the dead. The Edicule marks the spot of the empty tomb.
Every Holy Saturday, and I assume earlier today, the local patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church enters the Edicule and emerges with candles lit from the traditional site of Jesus’ resurrection, whether miraculous or a natural event is the subject of some argument, but at any rate, the crowd goes wild. The fire is shared with worshippers through candles, torches, and lamps. Delegates from Orthodox countries such as Greece and Russia bring devices similar to the ones used to transport the Olympic torch in order that they might take home the "holy fire" of resurrection to their respective patriarchs, who in turn spread it to the churches under their pastoral care.
Our lighting of the new fire of Easter this evening, while a little less dramatic than what occurs in Jerusalem, represents a similar mystery. That is, the resurrection of Jesus kindles a holy fire that is shared with his disciples to be taken to the ends of the earth, or at least to your neighborhood, depending on how far you travel.
The light of the new fire of Easter, kindled in darkness, reminds us that Jesus is the "light of the world" who has defeated the powers of darkness. It also reminds us that Jesus is the "Resurrection and the Life" who has conquered death itself. We who rejoice that we are graced to be counted among the people of light and life are to share this good news with others.
This evening we have recalled:
• That on the first day of creation, God said, "Let there be light, and called it good."
• That God led and protected his chosen people from captivity to freedom with a pillar of cloud and fire.
The Easter or Paschal Candle represents both these realities and will burn during the next fifty days of Easter, and at baptisms and funerals as a reminder that the "holy fire" of resurrection is to burn brightly in this life and will light our paths even as we journey to the age to come.
There is a story told from the Desert Fathers about a disciple who visited a holy man and said, "Father, I fast and pray and contemplate and meditate. I keep silence and try to cleanse my heart of wicked thoughts. What more should I do?" In response, the elder rose up and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. The holy man asked: "Why not become fire?"
Jesus himself told a story during his ministry about ten bridesmaids whose job it was to greet the bridegroom by lighting his path on his arrival with their lamps. Five of the bridesmaids were wise and brought enough oil for the task; five were foolish and when their lamps ran out of oil, they were not able to fulfill their duties. They were not able to greet the bridegroom.