A sermon preached at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Wilton, Connecticut for the Great Vigil of Easter, March 26, 2016 ( Roman 6:3-11 and Matthew 28:1-10)
Why is this night different than all other nights? That is the ultimate question to be asked by the youngest male as Jewish families gather on the night of Passover. For them, it is a series of nights to remember how their ancestors, the Israelites, were liberated from slavery. It is a spring festival, with the words “to pass,” “to spring over,” or “to spare” translated from the word pesach. Throughout history, and even today, this is a commemorative occasion, reminding the children of Israel of their deliverance out of Egypt.
For us Christians, tonight is also a night different than all nights. It, too, is a night of remembrance. We might have begun our liturgy asking, “Why is this night different above all other nights?” And the answer we could receive is very similar. It is about an all-night storytelling session about who we are and where we came from. It is about death, as well as life. But this time it is our re-membering, our re-constructing in our hearts and minds the great deliverance we have received from Jesus Christ – the Messiah who has brought all his people from the doom of death on account of sin, and from the bondage of sin itself – something much worse than Egyptian bondage.
The Paschal Candle is a large, white candle used in Western Christianity in such traditions as the Episcopal, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic Churches. Lit during the season of Easter and at special liturgies of Holy Baptism and funerals, “Paschal” comes from Pesach, which is Hebrew meaning “Passover,” relating to the Paschal mystery of salvation. Dedicated during the Great Vigil of Easter, the Paschal Candle is symbolic of the eternal light of Christ – the Alpha and Omega: the beginning and the end; it symbolizes the eternal light of Christ from the beginning of Creation to the end of time.
Typically these candles are sold with decals and/or wax decorations on them from a variety of church supply companies. They can be very ornate or very simple. In recent years hollow candle “shells” have become available to fill with oil in order to be used over and over again, not burning down as a traditional beeswax candle might after much use.
Many years ago when I was the Director of Children’s Ministries at my home parish, I asked my daughter and her friend if they wanted to decorate a special Paschal Candle, to replace the church’s previous years’ candle that could no longer be used again. I gave them carte blanche to design the candle as long as the traditional components were present: the cross with incense points, the date, and the Greek letters α (Alpha) and Ω (Omega). I provided the supplies: a blank, white Paschal candle, incense points (taken from the “old” Paschal candle), small sheets of colored beeswax sheets, and a Book of Common Prayer. Continue reading Salvation History on a Paschal Candle→
Today is often called Low Sunday, not because it is a particularly low point, but simply because of the contrast from the previous week of uniquely emotional and engaging liturgies. In some communities, it is also a Sunday with low attendance since everyone had their fill of coming to church last week. But that doesn’t seem to be the case today at St. Matthew’s!
Easter continues this Sunday (and every Sunday). Today we hear the two appearances of the Risen Lord before the disciples. After a Sunday of proclaiming this remarkable miracle of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the joy and proclamation and song that goes with it, now we get down to the hard question.
Do we really believe this?
Yesterday I joined my family for an excursion into the city to see The Book of Mormon on Broadway. I’m not sure sharing the plot here is quite appropriate, but it does involve the belief in something that is seemingly ridiculous – to me and probably to lots of other Christians. But many of these dancing and singing young men in pressed white shirts tucked neatly into trousers with non-descript neckties showed the passion one can have about one’s belief system. Continue reading What Do You Believe?→
How do we effectively communicate to our kids that the gloriousness of Easter is about much more than colored eggs and baskets of candy? Many of us now use the term “Resurrection Sunday” instead of Easter, to clarify what it is we are truly celebrating. But the thing is we can’t talk about the Resurrection without talking about Jesus’ death, and we can’t talk about His death without talking about crucifixion.
Is crucifixion too scary of a subject for kids?
The Crucifixion is indeed a powerfully disturbing event, even for adults! But if we tackle it as age appropriately as possible; remembering each child’s developmental readiness, the story of Jesus’ death, burial AND resurrection becomes personal and purposeful. This article gives some great ideas, but I would skip the part about sin and salvation.
Many parents have told me that they do not attend Good Friday services with their children because the services offered on this day are not appropriate for them. Many churches do offer services and “Stations of the Cross” for children that are experiential, following the events of Holy Week in which each child can take part in waving palms, washing feet, feeling nails and a wooden cross, followed by entering a darkened room or stairwell. In doing such re-enactments, we must remember to go from darkness to light, allowing children (especially those who are very young) to experience the joy of resurrection while not dwelling on death.
With very small children, using the metaphor of the transformation of a caterpillar to butterfly as a symbol of resurrection is helpful. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is a great picture book to discuss the mystery of new life. Check out some other ideas on my Pinterest pages of Lenten Ideas & Resources that include Holy Week ideas and other books for children about this season.