A couple years ago in Kosovo, in what used to be Serbia, the diocese dedicated the first cathedral in the world named for Mother Teresa: The Cathedral of St. Teresa of Calcutta. It’s a huge, soaring building, with a beautiful white interior, flooded with light.
One of the most memorable details is the pulpit.
It is beautiful: carved from white marble, with bronze details. It depicts the very scene we just heard in the Gospel: the announcement of the Resurrection to the women at the empty tomb.
The women look astonished and terrified. They can’t believe what they are hearing. But they are also in shock. Their world has been turned upside down.
This night, we all know how they must have felt.
This Easter, we are those women at the tomb.
We are living in a world suddenly changed — a world right now with more questions than answers.
Which is why Christ’s words to those women are his words to us.
“Do not be afraid.”
It’s a message so important, we hear it twice in this Gospel — from an angel and then from Jesus. They’re the first words he speaks after the Resurrection.
They are words we need right now.
A friend of mine, a Franciscan friar, told me the other day that this year, Holy Week has been “the week of the empty tomb.” I know what he means. So much is missing. In a way, the world is in a state of suspended animation. Everything has been paused.
But what can’t be paused is this night of all nights. It cries out to be heard. This cries out to be heard: he is risen.
It is a cause for joy.
In fact, the first words we heard tonight called us to “Exsult! Rejoice! Be glad!” The great Easter Proclamation announced it: “This is the night when Christ broke the prison bars of death and rose victorious…”
“This is the night.” We heard that again and again. “This is the night.” A night of victory. Of power. And yes, of joy.
This is the night when a new world was born.
Significantly, it is a night when we feel the overwhelming embrace of God’s love.
“Oh love, oh charity beyond all telling. To ransom a slave, you gave away your son.”
With God’s grace, and a firm belief in that “charity beyond all telling,” that love that made this night of nights possible, we are able to turn away from the empty tomb of uncertainty and fear.
And through the shadows we see the face of Christ.
Light breaks through.
He speaks to us tonight, as he did in the garden 20 centuries ago, reaching out to all who are worried or confused, all of us caught in this moment of great anxiety and doubt.
Have faith, he says. Have courage. I am here.
This evening, in this church and in our hearts, a flame burns — a “pillar of fire” that brings us back to the very beginning of creation.
I often like to remind people of the first words that God speaks in Genesis: “Let there be light.” We were meant to live in a world of light.
Well, tonight, it is here, the light of Christ — symbol of a new Genesis, a new Adam, a new beginning.
And tonight, too, we heard the first words of that new beginning, our challenge for the days to come:
“Do not be afraid.”
Carrying that in our hearts, we ask that God’s grace and mercy uplift us, console us, and encourage us during this extraordinary Easter — an Easter unlike any we’ve known.
Like the women in the Gospel, we are called during this moment to be people of faith…of prayer…of joy…and of courage.
And like them, Christ is also asking us to go forth — to tell the story to a worried and anxious world, to bear witness, to pass on to others what we know to be true.
We pray on “this night of grace” for resilience, and trust, and strength. May God help us to help others, however we can, with our hands and with our hearts, during the days to come.
And we look forward in joyful hope to the day when we can again celebrate together in this church, rejoicing together in the light that never dims, as we share this good news with our brothers and sisters:
“He is risen. Have hope. And do not be afraid.”
A recording of the full liturgy: