You may listen to Mother Takacs's sermon here.
There is a scene in the new movie Noah that apparently made Russell Crowe rather grumpy. It wasn’t so much the scene itself, but rather the filming of the scene. You don’t have to have seen the movie to know which scene I’m talking about, because it’s been in all of the trailers. It’s the shot where Crowe, in character as Noah, is standing alone in the rain just as it begins to fall. He looks up, and there is a beautiful, focused, slow-motion shot of a drop of rain falling on his forehead and running down his cheek. The problem with filming this scene was that the director, Darren Aronofsky, wanted Crowe to keep his eyes open as the water, being dumped from above in an industrial movie set somewhere in Brooklyn, first spilled onto his face. And Crowe couldn’t do it. He’s a fearless, tough-as-nails kind of actor, but he couldn’t stop himself from blinking. This apparently made him grumpy, which in turn made everyone grumpy, but there was nothing for it. Each time the presumably cold water began to splash down on his face, he couldn’t help it. It was impossible for him not to start.
Now I think I get what Aranofsky was going for. This is Noah, after all, he’s been expecting this rain, he’s been counting on this rain in many ways. This water falling from the sky is a vindication of the crazy building project he and his family have been working on in their backyard for the better part of a year. In many ways, this water is his salvation. Yes! It proclaims – yes! I am a servant of the Lord. Yes, God has spoken to me. Yes, these plans will come to fruition in the way that God has promised. If anyone should have his eyes wide open when those rains begin to fall, it should be Noah.
But seriously, how do you keep your eyes open in the rain? How do you feel the water hit your face and not blink? Blinking is just what your body does, right? Even when you expect the water, you still start. A friend’s fingers, ready to flick water in your face at the pool – you start. One of those water squirting fans that feel so deliciously lovely on a hot day at the ballpark – squirt, and you start. A drop of early rain, a drip from the ceiling, a first spray at the hair salon – you start. It’s impossible not to.
Apparently it’s even impossible not to start during the Easter Vigil. I know, because I was watching you as I was spraying you – or aspersing you, to use the correct term – with Holy Water during our procession after the baptism. A tiny drop of water sent forth with a flick of my wrist from the tip of the aspergillum (now there’s a $10,000 church word for you), and you started. A whole bunch of you started. Even when you were looking right at me, ready to cross yourself, ready to be hit in the face with a little plop of holiness – you still started. It’s almost impossible not to.
And really, if there are any waters in the whole wide world that should cause you to start, it should be the waters of baptism. Because these are not just ordinary waters. These are the very waters of creation, the water that roiled and seethed before God corralled them under the earth and above the firmament. These are the waters the Holy Spirit moved over and blessed with Her breath to make them Her own. These are Noah’s waters, that raised the ark and all of its holy and hairy passengers into safety while razing the rest of Creation, the same waters that then reflected the light of the sun into a thousand tiny prisms that spread a rainbow of God’s promise across the sky. These are the waters of the great Exodus, swept aside by the prayers of God’s faithful servant Moses so that his people could pass through, and swept back over the servants of the faithless Pharaoh who could not stay true to his promise. These are the waters that the Israelites longed for in the wilderness, that ran out of dry rock, that gathered in deep wells where patriarchs and matriarchs met for matchmaking.
And these are the waters that flowed over Jesus’ own head in his baptism. These are the waters of new birth, the waters that promise a lifetime without thirst, the waters that flowed down Jesus’ face at the death of Lazarus. These waters are cosmic, eternal waters, transformed by our prayers on this cosmic, eternal night into the waters of baptism. They are sanctified by the Holy Spirit with fire and smoke, impregnated with the Holy Spirit to be for us waters that do something, that effect a real change, that become the physical sign of a miraculous internal grace. They are profound waters, heavy with meaning and potential, waters that transform us into one body, that connect the watery cells in my body to the watery cells in yours, that connect us now to Lily and to Don and to all of the saints who have come before us. They are no less than the very waters that bring both death and life. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death,” Paul tells us, “so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” These are the waters that were showered out upon us a moment ago. No wonder we could not help but start.
We are in good company. The Gospel tonight is filled with people who start. When the peace-filled hush of dawn is ripped in two by the roar of an earthquake, the guards at Jesus’ tomb start so badly that they pass out. When the angel descends from the heavens on high like a flash of lightning, he tells the two Marys not to fear, probably because when they saw him they started. And when those women run down the Jerusalem road with their improbable news, there, suddenly, is Jesus – Hail! – startling them yet again. This is a resurrection story full of starts, starts of shock and of fear, starts of joy and of disbelief. For when faced with the glorious, improbable truth that Jesus is alive, it is, apparently, impossible not to start.
It is right, and a good and joyful thing for us to remember this – to recognize that the starts are a part of the story. Those moments of surprise, even shock, come along, part and parcel, with the resurrection. They are tied to it, bound up with it. And all of these starts remind us of how we ourselves should respond to this story, even though we are looking right at the moment of the resurrection, knowing that it is coming, even though we have stared this particular story right in the face again and again for years, even though we know this scene so well that we even have our favorite resurrection moments and Easter phrases – he is risen, as he said…behold, he is going before you to Galilee. But even though we can recite the resurrection story along with the Gospel reading, the story itself reminds us that there is still a good start to be had. Christ is risen; he is not here. You will see him. What was only death and darkness is now forever life and light. This are all impossible statements and yet true; they should make it impossible for us not to start.
And the most startling thing of all is that all of this – all of this – is done for you. These holy and deep waters that echo through time and connect us to all of creation, these waters that we use to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit are given freely to you. This night, when wickedness is put to flight and sin is washed away, is made for you. This Son, given to redeem us from our slavery and sin, is offered for you. How wonderful and beyond our knowing is God’s mercy and lovingkindness, and how startling is his gift – new light, a new dawn, new members of the body, new bread and new wine, new life, a new world. So start with wonder. Start with gratitude and joy. And let those starts remind you that God can still surprise you with grace, that God does and will continue to startle you with beauty and gift and love. Tonight and tomorrow and for the next great fifty days, when you hear these words – Alleluia! Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia! – remember the wondrous surprise of these words, like a brilliant flash of lightning or the promise of the first drop of rain that falls upon your forehead. And it will be impossible not to start.
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
Easter Vigil 2014
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia