Harrowing Of Hell
March 30, 2013

Day 8 – The Great Vigil of Easter

Preacher: The Rev Doyt Conn

Luke 24:1-12

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

The journey from the tomb to Resurrection is one that invites us to move from darkness to light. The Resurrection happened once, but it also happens over and over again as we match the rhythms of our life with the permanence of the Resurrection.

The way the Jewish tradition orders a day helps to build a framework for understanding Resurrection living. When the sun sets in the Jewish tradition the new day begins.  It begins in darkness and moves into the light.  The day begins as the family gathers, tired, and the sun sets in the sky.  A meal is shared and stories are told. Community is where we make sense of what has happened to us.  Then beds are turned down, blessings are exchanged, and we all settle into our dreams.

We dream dreams so unique to our souls that we can barely recall them through the smallness of our minds.

The next thing we know the sun illuminates the sky and we awake with renewed strength.  The day is now half done.  We move to consciousness, finding our best footing when we follow the advice of the Psalmist, who writes, “The morning belongs to God” (Ps 5:3).

Morning prayers press together hopes with dreams and set them, as blended clay on the potters wheel, to be formed into vessels that are fired in the light of day.  Our vessels are made to hold love to be poured out on a parched and thirsty world.

The day moves quickly now.  We leave the sanctuary of prayer for work, to apply the power of our greatest gifts to the benefit of others.

This is the pattern of a day, made to orient lives towards Resurrection.

The days move from darkness to light, and are organized in a block of 7.  We hear why in this evenings reading from the book of Genesis. There is chaos, then lightness and darkness, the first day.  There is earth and seas, the second day.  Then vegetation appears the third day.  The seasons and the stars blink into being on the fourth day.  Fish and birds are made to swim and fly on the fifth day. And then, on the sixth day, wild and domestic animals are born followed quickly by a strange creature that is us. We are hybrid beings: part priest made for dreams, part king made for work.  We are this priestly king, created to migrate freely between the wilds of worship and the work of domestication.  We are made to freely hold dominion for six days.  The seventh day belongs to God.

This is the pattern we were created to live as Resurrected people.

Yet, somewhere along the way the order of our day got turned up-side-down. Light became the beginning and darkness the end. In this up-side-down world dreams finish the day  as monochromatic movies running backward in an effort to unwind the misery and confusion wrought by a world living on its head.

The dance between the dreams of ours souls and the hopes of our hearts fell clumsily out of step.  We left the garden and the gate shut behind us.  Knowledge was the stolen fruit we took with us. We sought it as compensation for what we abandoned in Eden. Good and bad became the tools of our trade, plied as judgment from the primacy of our point of view. Billions of points of view collided on the highway of human enlightenment. And the end became the beginning and the beginning became the end as light faded into darkness. And since we didn’t know what to do, as priestly kings made to do something, we set out to find what we had lost, even though we couldn’t quite remember what it was.

Moses became our guide.  The story is told in the book of Exodus.  We hear some of it tonight.  The Israelites are freed from the endless repression of purposelessness.  They are given reason to be and it has everything to do with God.

They escape across the wet recesses of the Red Sea.  It was a baptism of liberation from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to the Promised Land, from nothing to something, from darkness to light.  And yet even still, somehow along the way, they lost sight of the point, and again they fell out of rhythm with the day. Light and darkness got flipped again as they fought with neighbors and rubbed the land into ruin.

The Prophets cried a lament, and God responded saying, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you.” In other words, God promised permanence to the rhythms and patterns we as priestly kings were given to live by.

But no new dreams returned; no new rhythms were danced; no new patterns were employed.  “Darkness turned to the darkness of a pit,” as the Psalmist cried, and the priestly kings fell in.

So God came as a man to pull us out. Jesus walked among us, to teach us, and be with us, to show us how to blend the clay of dreams with hopes, and throw it on the potter’s wheel, to show us how to fire our vessels in the light of day, and fill them with the love of God, to pour out on a thirsty world.

This is the gift given by Jesus, freely, with no stings attached.  No coercion takes place.  No tricks or magic or divine spells are employed.

And yet this gift, so lovingly given, is hatefully received, and Jesus is nailed to a cross.  This could have been the end of the story and the world would have permanently remained up-side-down with life beginning in light and fading into darkness.

But God loves us more than that. Jesus returns!

He opens the gate and meets us in the garden as the one sent to enlighten our souls. He is the light that draws us up out of the dark soil of death, like a seed reaching toward the sun. The Resurrection is the beacon, a fixed, permanent point of light to guide our lives.

Jesus life sets the rhythm. He is our metronome. His life becomes our calendar synchronized by his birth, life, death and Resurrection.  Set once and for all, in a way that invites us and maybe even compels us, to look to him and live as priestly kings were meant to live, in days that move from darkness to light.