So this is the night. 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. This is the night of memory and prophecy, of fire and smoke, water and light. This is the night that is holy beyond our knowing and blessed above all other nights.
This is also the night when we are reminded, at least this year, that the disciples could kind of be jerks sometimes. For in the Gospel of Luke, when the women rise up early in the morning to go to the tomb, shouldering their spices, and when they see that Jesus is not there and hear that he has been risen, and when they return to the disciples to tell them what they have seen and heard and remembered, the disciples not only do not believe them, they do not believe them because they think that their story is, in our translation, “an idle tale.” Only Luke provides this explanation. In the other Gospel accounts, when the disciples doubt the story, we never really hear why. They are tired; they are terrified or bewildered or depressed. The story seems too good to be true; they don’t want to jinx it. They just don’t believe for whatever of the many, varied, and very probable reasons we can imagine.
But Luke tells us that the disciples don’t believe the women because they think their story is bunk, and we get the sense from the language here that the men not only doubt the story, they also doubt the women themselves. The word that Luke uses here has a much stronger connotation than the benign phrase “an idle tale.” It’s the word “leros,” from which we get our English word “delirious.” It’s a word that’s rather pointed and pretty condescending, and in this story it plays just the tiniest bit sexist. You know, as if rather than just saying that the women’s report seemed pointless or uninteresting, the disciples were saying something more along the lines of, “Ach, now, come on ladies. Can you hear how hysterical you sound? Look, we know that the weekend’s been rough and that you girls don’t always handle that so well, but you all sound a little crazy right now. You’re probably just over-stimulated. Why don’t you just sit down and forget all about this ridiculous, silly story, this idle tale, this nonsense.”
Like I said, not the disciples’ most shining moment. But the difficult truth is that they’re right, aren’t they? Not about the women, of course, but about the fact that this thing, this whole thing, is more than an unusual tale. It’s nonsense. I mean, isn’t it nonsensical for us to sit here, in the dark, and listen to readings taken from an ancient book about things that happened to an ancient people as if they might apply to our lives now? Isn’t it nonsense to dip a candle into a bowl of water and to imagine that as a meaningful sign of God’s presence with us? Isn’t it nonsense to sing the names of a bunch of dead Christians in the hope that those dead Christians not only can hear us but actually care enough to pray for us? Isn’t it nonsense to do all of this in a world that really just needs food, or social workers, or health care providers, or better politicians, or people who don’t just exchange the peace but actually negotiate it? In the face of Brussels, and Yemen, and Paris, and wherever the next place will be, isn’t it nonsense for us to parade about in this place as if this isn’t just a silly show, an insiders-only spectacle of emotional catharsis that is divorced from the most real reality, the stuff and story of real life in this world?
And the answer is, of course it is. Of course all of this is nonsense. This night is the most nonsensical night of them all. Because not one thing about this night makes sense. Not one thing about this night has anything to do with logic or reason. This night is not about explanation or multi-purpose application. This night is not about being sensible. This night is about extravagance. This night is about luxurious gift. This night is about love beyond measure, grace that arrives unbidden and unexpected. This night is about something entirely unprecedented, outright un-explainable, and utterly unearned. This night has nothing to do with sense, and that is why this night makes all the difference.
Because the nonsense of this night is the only way that you and I can actually face the most real reality of the world. The nonsense of God actually claiming us, choosing us – again, and again, and forever and ever – is the only thing that actually makes sense of all of the heartbreak of life – of tragic accidents and punishing illness, of spitting hatred and violent revenge, of the waste of innocent lives lost and the cruelty of poverty in a world of such abundance, of the ordinary struggles with boredom and anxiety and the extraordinary battles against sin and death. None of this would make any sense, none of this would be at all bearable were it not for the nonsense of this night. For all of this nonsense assures us that God is, that God is love, that God’s love is for us, that God’s love was for us made man, that God made man was crucified and then raised from the dead, and that in this singular act, God has changed everything – has obliterated the power of sin, and dissolved the bonds of death for ever. This nonsense helps us to feel, deep in our bones, that what seems like those most real realities – illness, hatred, death – are, in fact, the illusion. They have no power here. They have no power anywhere anymore, because of this night.
So this is the night. This is the night when broken people sit in the dark and hear ancient words that tell their own stories. This is the night when we take fire and press it to water and so invoke the earth-shattering holiness of God. This is the night when we not only sing with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven but even sing some of them by name, knowing that in the breadth of their eternal life they will pray to the depth of ours. This is the night when we take, bless, break, and share the body of the living, resurrected Christ in such a way that we ourselves are taken, blessed, broken, and then shared with the hungry and the poor, the grieving and the angry, the alone and the sick. This is the night from which all peace, and all peacemakers, come. This is the night when the ancient stuff and story of the worship that we enact here is the most real reality, when the impact of that profound reality colliding with our world sends ripples of peace into that world – not ripples, but shockwaves that will put wickedness to flight and bring the mountains of hatred and need and intolerance and rejection crashing down to dust. So rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels. Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth. For this is the night, the night of holy, blessed, saving, life-giving nonsense.
Preached by Mother Erika Takacs
Easter Vigil, 26 March 2016
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia