Sermon Preached by Fr Nicolas Stebbing CR at St Mary, Bourne Street, London at the Easter Vigil (Holy Saturday 7 April) 2012When the dark comes rising, six will turn it back, Three from the circle, three from the track; Wood, bronze, iron, water, fire, stone, Five will return and one go alone.
Susan Cooper begins her rather pagan quintet with this prophecy. It provides us with a haunting image of what has been happening this week.
“When the dark comes rising…” You cannot seriously walk the road of Holy Week without feeling the dark rising. In the life of Jesus the plotting gathers to a crescendo: parties which are normally divided – Jews, Romans, Sadducees, Pharisees, Herodians all join together to get rid of Jesus. The darkness gathers, the small lights are extinguished. All comes to a head on the Mount of Olives when the faceless crowd of soldiers and priests overwhelms the little band of disciples and sends them fleeing and Jesus is taken into captivity, judgement, death on that darkest and most desolate place – Golgotha, the place of the skull. The light which came into the darkness is finally overwhelmed by the dark.
At the same time we have looked at our own world through this prism of evil and seen the darkness rising here too. We like to think our human world is one of constant progress and improvement but wars, corruption, atheism, aggressive secularism and sheer old fashioned sin seem constantly to return out of the shadows. The dark comes rising yet again.
Yet the dark is defeated again and five of Cooper’s six symbols play their part in this defeat. Wood and iron – iron nails through the flesh of Christ nailed him to the wood of the Cross. Yet it was the wood of the cross which became the tree of glory, the place where Christ’s final battle with evil took place and he won. “Water, fire, stone.” A great stone was rolled across the mouth of the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. It should have put paid to any hopes of physical resurrection; instead it became a sign that Jesus had not been imprisoned by death: it was rolled aside to show the tomb empty of the Body of Jesus which should have lain there dead.
Fire we have seen just now, the elemental power against the dark; fire brings light; Fire is Jesus coming to us out of the coldest, darkest place of death; fire burns out the rubbish, lights up the place of despair, brings new hope and new light. Fire is Jesus coming back into the world.
The water we shall come to in a few moments – water of cleansing, water of life, above all water of baptism. We who are Christian have gone down into that water, died to the old life and been raised to the new. When we ask what the Resurrection of Christ means to us now, today in 2012 it means just that. We ourselves have been born into hope; the world is no longer the dark, depressing place it seemed; light shines in the dark and it shines in us. How can we make it shine still brighter?
Nicolas Stebbing CR