Let’s imagine for a moment that we’re gathered around a campfire. Somewhere out in the woods, or on the beach, or maybe just in the backyard. Wherever we are, the night is cold, but the fire is warm. Beyond the intimacy of the circle, we see nothing but the dark void—yet, the glow of the fire illuminates the faces of those seated around.
The flames are mesmerizing, the sparks and the smoke float straight up into the starry sky. Everyone is silent, caught up in the moment. But a night like this calls for some stories, so one of the elders, a storyteller, begins a familiar story: “In the beginning…”
What we are doing today is not unlike what has happened for centuries and millennia before us. Imagine the desert nomads of ancient Israel, gathered around the cooking fire, telling the myths and the histories of their people. “Do you remember?” they would ask. “Do you remember when God created the world? Do you remember when God led us out of slavery in Egypt? Do you remember when God delivered the faithful three from the fiery furnace?”
These are the stories passed down from generations to generations, voices from an ancient time—a lost world far different from our own. Yet they speak to us in their humanness. We know these people. We are these people.
Do you remember that time that God brought a new life into your world? Do you remember that time when God kept a promise? Do you remember when God brought you out of danger and led you safely to dry ground. How about the time that God refreshed you, renewed you, set in you a new heart and a new spirit. Or how about a time that God walked with you through a fiery trial of fear or grief or despair?
We know these stories, not only because we’ve heard them again and again since Sunday School, but because we live these stories every single day.
And how about that ultimate story—The time when God conquered death? The time when God declared that love and life have the final word. The time when Jesus was raised from the dead?
We, of course, know what Mary is going to find when she goes to the tomb on Sunday morning. We know who the gardener really is. This doesn’t need to surprise us. Yet it delights us all the same.
Those of you who were here last year probably knew what we were doing here at this altar when your backs were turned a few minutes ago. But I bet your heart swelled a little all the same when the lights came on and the bells started ringing and you turned and saw the Easter flowers again.
The risen Lord stands before us on this night. It’s beautiful and mysterious and new, but also familiar and known. We’ve been here before, and we’ll be here again. Because even in our darkest nights, the comforting glow of the fire draws us in from the cold, that pillar of fire stands to remind us that God is always raising us from the dead.
And so, hearing that old story yet again, we hear Jesus call out the name of the ones he loves.
And with Mary, we proclaim again—“I have seen the Lord!”