Sermon and Worship Service Archive

This is the Night

The Rev. Kit Lonergan
April 16, 2022

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Trinity Church Boston 

Easter Vigil Year C 

April 16, 2022 


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. 


There are church services, and then there are church services.  


As an example, consider meals crafted solely to take in calories for energy and sustenance, compared to meals which linger and last in the memory and experience, which defy the simple designation of “intake of energy”—perhaps because of what was served, the transformation of simple elements into something sublime, perhaps because of the company. There are meals, and then there are meals. There is church, and then there is church


This is a church night.  


We don’t dabble in the adorable or precious tonight. We don’t dumb down or lighten up what we do. We don’t just perform the service, do it because it’s Sunday morning and that is what we do on Sunday morning before brunch. Tonight, we LIVE into it. Tonight is the night of all nights in the Christian tradition, in this clumsy designation of ‘Church’, that we the gathered faithful call ourselves, and tonight is the night when we don’t abridge who we are.  


It is a night filled with mixed metaphors: fire and water; darkness and light; sin and redemption; death and life. We move from place to place, from outside to indoors, from the past into the present and into the future, from hosanna to the cry from the cross to alleluia.  


We open tonight with the salvation history of God and God’s people—the stories that punctuate our corporate existence, our gathered faith. We re-tell the tales which ground us—the stories of our creation, of our redemption; and we speak of the moments when it was not all light and creativity, but darkness and doubt. We do not skip over the stories of the annihilation of humanity through a flood; the life-giving and death-filled story of the Exodus from Egypt; the valley of dry, rattling, empty bones.  


The New York Times ran an article[i] a number of years ago suggesting the strongest and most resilient families told their children the stories not only of the highs or good times of their history, nor of just the challenges the family and individuals faced, but stories which intertwined the two in a message of both life and death, and how those moments made them who they were.  


Tonight, we tell those stories from scripture because this is the night where death transforms into life. The thinnest of Christian days is this night—this time between placing Jesus’ lifeless body in the tomb on Good Friday, and finding that rock moved away at the first glimmer of dawn on Easter.  


This week we washed each other’s feet and closed the gates to our altar. This week we sat together at the foot of Calvary, as the music and thumping bass from the Marathon Community Service tent seeped inside these walls during our Good Friday service-- a strange and jarring mingling of ceremonies—the potentially distracting music and program offered in honor of the Boston Marathon bombing victims, death and resurrection working itself out in real life only feet from our own wooden cross.  


Since yesterday, we have kept the silence after the tomb was sealed. And now we approach it together, to see if the stories that Jesus told us might just possibly be true.  


Tonight is when the paschal mystery of the Resurrection happens—Jesus’ triumph over death and sin and darkness—Jesus’ life beyond the claim of death. 


Which is why this is church, tonight, friends. Thick, primal, gritty church.  


We, Church, are part of this Paschal mystery tonight—when death and life meet and meld and merge— when fire and water are blessed—when we clang open the gates that have been closed like the tomb. 


We, Church, are inheritors of this mystery tonight—hearing once again the stories of how our forbears’ trust in God was not relegated to the light of day, but to the fear-filled night when dawn felt so, so far away. 


We, Church, are the ones tasked with telling out this mystery tonight—that somehow, in our pragmatic, curated, disciplined and socially acceptable lives, we are to proclaim the fantastical message that through love, we were made for more than death, and our entire hope lands right there, right in that sweet spot of ‘alleluia alleluia alleluia’. 


And we mean ‘mystery’ when we say it.  


We may never understand the workings of the resurrection cognitively, intellectually, thoroughly. But we can learn how to live into the assertion that love is more powerful than death and that our promise is not life forever, but life beyond death.  


Because of this night, we promised not only to witness to, but to practice resurrection: to light our fires in the darkness, to proclaim that death is never the final word, to preach hope when we are bombarded with words of gain, win, success, earning, inevitability and power. In practicing resurrection, we slowly begin to understand it not with our minds—but with our hearts; our souls. We are drawn to it more and more because the life it brings with it defies the darkness which only serves to intimidate and divide. 


We are resurrected tonight along with Jesus. We become a new people, ones who know the darkness, recognize it, and continue to walk through it because we have walked through three days in the tomb with Jesus before, and risen from it.  


We are not nice people holding perfectly proportioned candles in our hands, carefully avoiding the wax, but we are the ones who have set a fire to lay claim the hope. We are not delicately receiving mass-produced communion wafers, we are claiming that God’s heavenly banquet is a banquet for all and feasting on it together. We sing, because that is what hearts filled with unexpected joy do in response.  


We do church tonight, friends because this is the night we became church, a resurrected body for Christ’s ever-descending, dispersing love for us.  


Because this is the night. The thin, beautiful, harrowing, liberating night when we, as a body, come alive. How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and we are reconciled to God.