Saturday, April 11, 2020

Holy Week 2020 at All Saints', Benhilton - Easter Vigil Mass

Don’t you love those war movies that show prisoners in concentration camps planning their escape! The big day comes, and the prisoners go about their duties as they nudge one another and whisper “THIS IS THE NIGHT.” 

You feel their sense of expectancy!

It seems to have been like that for the Israelite slaves as they got ready to escape from Egypt. On Thursday night we read Exodus 12, all about the preparations that had to be made. Do you remember how each family had to kill the Passover Lamb and put its blood on the doorpost and lintel of their house, eat the Lamb together and be ready to leave quickly? 

The saga of this great escape through the waters of the Red Sea, then the long journey through the desert to the Land of Promise, is the backdrop that has ever since defined the Jewish people as well as the “new Israel” the Church, the community gathered around Jesus.

Well, I want to tell you: THIS IS THE NIGHT!

As we stood here in the darkness, at the start of this service, around the paschal candle, holding our own candles with their new flickering flames, an ancient chant from around the year 400 was sung. Did you notice that four times those words were sung: “THIS IS THE NIGHT”? 

THIS IS THE NIGHT when God freed the people of Israel from their slavery and led them dry-shod through the Red Sea.

THIS IS THE NIGHT when the pillar of fire banished the darkness of sin.

THIS IS THE NIGHT when Christians throughout the world, freed from worldly vices and washed clean of sin are led to grace and grow together in holiness.

THIS IS THE NIGHT when Jesus broke the prison bars of death and rose victorious from the underworld.


The early Church saw the saga of those slaves escaping from Egypt as picture of you and me, slaves of sin, being set free by Jesus, who is the true Passover Lamb - the Lamb without blemish. (See 1 Corinthians 10). In fact, did you notice that the blood on the door posts and lintel of the houses marking out the families that would be rescued was smeared in the sign of the cross? 


The waters of the Red Sea are a sign of OUR journey to freedom when we followed Jesus through the waters of baptism.

So, you see, we are liberated slaves!

And even the big Paschal Candle represents the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the darkness as they made their escape – another sign of Jesus, who, risen from the dead, is our light in the darkness, around whom we gather . . . Jesus, who leads us and guides us as we make his light our own.

THIS IS THE NIGHT! Not  a history lesson, but an actual experience of God’s mighty power.

THIS IS THE NIGHT of our salvation. The stone is rolled away. Jesus is Risen. Sin and death are conquered. 

THIS IS THE NIGHT when many thousands of people around the world are making their escape from slavery to the powers of evil through the baptismal waters.

THIS IS THE NIGHT when we renew our baptismal promises and are sprinkled with water from the font, recalling that wonderful moment when we were plunged with Jesus into that watery grave, buried with him in his death, and then raised with him into the love, power and wonder of his new life.

              NEW BEGINNINGS. 


There is so much war and violence in our world. So much disease and despair. You - the community born and reborn tonight - have a huge role to play as the body of the wounded but risen Jesus in this world, reaching  out with his love and healing. 

As an Anglican missionary in the Middle East wrote a couple of years ago: 

‘Christianity is built on the conviction that out of the most radical and disastrous despair, God turned the tables on the Empire and the Temple that killed his Son, and his resurrection was nothing less than the victory of God. 

‘THE POWER OF LIFE IN THAT RESURRECTION FLOWED OUT INTO A COMMUNITY CALLED OUT BY GOD, THE CHURCH. That community was called to be a sacrament of secret life and an imperfect but real embassy of God’s reign, which, like yeast in dough, spreads and leavens.’
- Abu Daoud  in St Francis Magazine Vol 8, No 2 April 2012

In the resurrection of Jesus a good God is bringing us to victory, the God who has wept with us so that we can laugh with him. The joy he gives us is an undercurrent of new life even in these dark days when there seems so little hope for our culture and civilisation.

Every Sunday proclaims it. Every baptism sees another person plunged into the dying and rising of Jesus. Every Mass takes us to the Bridal Chamber with Jesus, the Church’s risen Bridegroom. In fact, everything in our faith is seen in the light of Jesus’ Resurrection. The whole of the Church Year is based on Easter Day. The Paschal Candle is by far the largest in the church.  

THIS IS THE NIGHT! The Resurrection is huge. It is supernatural, and its power breaks into your life and mine right here in this world. Just ask our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters! Their direct focus on the Resurrection of Jesus is what got them through seventy years of persecution at the hands of totalitarian atheists in the old Soviet Union and its satellite states. 

And in the dark days to come for OUR culture, the power of Jesus’ Resurrection surging through our lives and parish communities will see us through. 

We are heralds of the new creation and we see Jesus, tonight, crowned with glory and honour, risen from the dead, triumphant over sin and death. United in love with him in his dying and rising, we are ‘more than conquerors’ (Romans 8:37), and ‘neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This ‘Mass of the Resurrection’ uses ancient symbols, to take us to the heart of ‘The Paschal Mystery’ - the saving death and resurrection of Jesus. 

1. THE SERVICE OF LIGHT: The church  is in darkness. A fire is lit near the main door symbolising the power of the Holy Spirit to bring new life. The fire is blessed and the big ‘Pascal Candle’ is lit from it.  This Candle represents the Lord risen from the dead. It is carried through the church and raised three times, while ‘The Light of Christ/THANKS BE TO GOD’ is sung. The people’s candles are lit from the Paschal Candle, and then the ancient ‘Easter Proclamation’ is sung.

2. THE WORD OF GOD: As many as 9 Scripture passages are read, telling of the great things God did to deliver his people, culminating in the resurrection of Jesus. The sermon, as usual, follows the Gospel.

3. THE LITURGY OF BAPTISM: We process to the font as the Litany of the Saints is sung. Water is blessed, and there are usually baptisms. Then all the people renew their baptismal promises and are sprinkled with the baptismal water. This part of the service concludes with the intercessions.

4. THE EUCHARIST: Mass continues as usual, and we receive Holy Communion. Eastertide has begun. ALLELUIA!

The Paschal Candle, a sign of Jesus’ resurrection, stays in the sanctuary until Pentecost, the climax  of Eastertide, when it is put by the font - a sign of the relationship between the resurrection and Baptism. It is also put by the coffin at funerals as a sign that Jesus shares his victory over death with all his people.


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