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Holy Saturday 11 April
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THE VIGIL OF EASTER
An ancient homily
What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh, and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.
Truly he goes to seek out the first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam’s son.
The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: “My Lord be with you all.” And Christ in reply says to Adam: “And with your spirit.” And grasping his hand raises him upon, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light. I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: have light, and those who sleep: Rise.
I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
For you, I your God blame your son; for your, I the Master took on your form, that of a servant; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.
Look at the little on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.
See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands mailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out our hand to the tree for an evil one.
I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.
But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would servants; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.
The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness, the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages.”
Sung by the Deacon at the lighting of the Paschal Candle on Holy Saturday evening.
Rejoice now, all ye heavenly legions of angels, all high things that pass understanding: for the King that cometh with victory, let the trumpet proclaim salvation.
Sing with joy, O earth, illumined with this celestial radiancy: and enlightened by the eternal God, thy glory, believe and know thou hast put away the darkness of humankind.
So likewise let our Mother, His holy Church, welcome the bright beams of light shed upon her: and let His holy courts be filled with the praises of His people.
It is very meet and right, that with the service of our lips we should glorify and should praise with heart and soul God the Invisible and Almighty, and likewise His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, who paid for us to the eternal Father the debt of Adam’s transgression, and with His dear blood wiped away the reproach of our former offences.
Now therefore we sacrifice our Passover, wherein for us the very lamb of God is slain, by Whose blood the doors of His faithful people are made holy.
The night is come, wherein, when our fathers, the children of Israel, were led forth out of Egypt, Thou didst divide the sea and made them to pass over on dry land.
Yea, the night is come, that with the fiery pillar hath purged away the darkness of our condemnation.
The night is come, whereby all that believe in Christ upon the face of all the earth, delivered from this disobedient world and out of the shadow of death, are renewed unto grace, and are made partakers of eternal life.
The night is come, wherein the bonds of death were loosed, and Christ harrowing hell rose again in triumph. For wherefore should we be born into this world, save that in being born we might be redeemed?
How wonderful then, O God, is Thy loving-kindness unto us Thy children! Behold what manner of love He hath bestowed upon us, Who, to redeem a servant, delivered up His only Son!
O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, that by such a death sin might be done away! O blessed iniquity, for whose redemption such a price was paid by such a Saviour!
O night verily blessed, to thee alone that time and that hour were made manifest, when our Saviour Christ rose again from death unto life!
The night is come whereof scripture says, “behold the night is as clear as the day: then shall my night be turned into day.”
The mystery of this most holy night putteth to flight the deeds of darkness, purgeth away sin, restoreth innocence to the fallen, and gladness unto them that mourn, casteth out hatred, bringeth peace to humankind, and boweth down mighty princes.
Therefore, in this Thy favourable time, accept, O holy Father, the evening offering of this lighted candle, which as at this time Thy holy Church maketh before Thee, and offereth to Thee by the hands of thy servants, the work of the bees, thy creatures.
Ye hear the meaning of this candle we have set up, whereunto in God’s honour the bright flame of fire doth set light, which though it be never so much divided, yet knoweth not variableness nor loseth ought of its splendour. For the wax that melteth doth but feed the flame, that it should give light in darkness.
O night verily blessed, which did spoil the people of Egypt and magnified the Hebrews! O night, wherein heaven and earth are joined, and humankind partaketh with the Godhead.
We pray Thee, therefore, O most Merciful, that this candle which we have lighted and consecrated before Thee in Thine own Name, may continue to shine forth without ceasing, and may vanquish all the shades of darkness; that being accepted before Thee as a sweet savour, it may be numbered with the lights that Thou hast kindled.
May the Daystar find it burning when He dawneth into day, the Daystar that riseth and knoweth not His going down, but coming forth from the places of darkness gladly giveth forth light unto all creation, Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
ALLELUIA : ALLELLUIA
CHRIST IS RISEN : HE IS RISEN INDEED
ALLELUIA : ALLELUIA
A Sermon for Holy Saturday
It is Holy Saturday, the evening leading to Easter Day.
On Thursday evening we saw a man kneeling in a garden at night. He was frightened. He had spoken out for life, for light’ for mercy, for forgiveness. He had spoken again and again to try to wake people to the truth that they are loved by God. He had healed the sick. He had spoken kindly to those who thought nice religious people didn’t speak to people like them. He had gathered a little band of friends and tried to make them see something of the new way of life he was beginning – a way of real trust and love toward God.
He had done all this, and more. He had grieved when people didn’t want to hear him. Even religious leaders had said he was a blasphemer because he said that God is bigger than laws, even long-respected laws. He had looked at the religious city, Jerusalem, and he had cried because people in it could be so hard-hearted, so resistant to the truth which would set them free for a life better than they could dream.
In that city, the darkness which is always festering in human hearts and minds was stirring. A false friend had left the dinner table where they were all eating and had gone out, full of darkness, to bring his enemies to the garden where he was kneeling. His other friends were in the garden too, but unaware that darkness was approaching which was far more than just the night.
He knew, though. He was frightened. It was like being awake in the dead of night, when the silence and the darkness can become un-nerving. And then fear threatened to overwhelm him, and he begged God to change things so that he need not face the darkness. But as he said it, he knew that could not be the way. This darkness, not just of the night, but the darkness of the world, the darkness festering in human minds and hearts, could be met in only one way. He stood up, and allowed the darkness to engulf him.
And so they came, the servants of darkness. They carried torches, but not to bring light, only to hold the darkness back long enough so that they could seize him.
Then they took him and killed him. And as he died the daylight was smothered in darkness. Others took his body and put it in a tomb, rolling a stone across the entrance so that all that was left of him was shut in darkness for ever. Dark victory was complete.
But as it happened, things were not finished. Jesus, who had surrendered to the darkness, had done what the servants of the dark could never do. He had entered the darkness trusting to find the light of his heavenly Father in the heart of the dark. And so he did. If there is one thing God does not know, it is the possibility of defeat, and Jesus put all his faith and trust in the undefeatable God.
In that tomb, through his wounded body lying dead, God’s light of life began to break out. Then it became a stream, then a river, a torrent of light which sent the darkness fleeing so powerfully that the door of the tomb was heaved open.
Then Jesus, Light of Light, stepped out into the dawn, his body remade by God’s light. Soon he would surprise his friends with the announcement that that morning is the beginning of endless day, endless life, endless joy in the endless light of God.
We are experiencing much darkness in the world now. Yet somewhere, Christ’s friends and followers will be doing what we would wish to do every year on this night. This is when we, the children of light, come together. In a darkened church we light a candle, the sign of the light which broke through our Lord to shine for the whole world. From it we light more candles, then more, then more, and we proclaim the wonder which has happened – “THE LIGHT OF CHRIST!”
The darkest night can not extinguish the light of one small candle.
All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the Light of Christ.
We must carry that light into the world, rejoicing.
A long time after that morning burst of light which we call the Resurrection, a hymn writer caught its staggering message in words we still sing, and must always sing:
It’s the spring of souls today;
Christ has burst his prison,
And from three days sleep in death
As a sun has risen.
All the winter of our sins,
Long and dark, is flying
From his light, to whom we give
Laud and praise undying.
The Light of Christ! A Light no darkness can quench.