Easter Vigil: March 31, 2018
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
One of the joyful, victorious Easter moments of my life was graduating from seminary. For three years my life had been immersed in a rich, vibrant spiritual community of daily worship, prayer, study, and service. I had never felt so close to God, so connected to others, so fulfilled in my work and calling to be a priest. My life became an outpouring of living, joyful Alleluias.
Following graduation, I spent my first year of ordained ministry working as a hospital chaplain. Leaving behind the spiritual supports and comforts of seminary life, I entered a world of illness, trauma, and death. Wading in the waters of real suffering, real sorrow, real spiritual struggles, each day became Good Friday — walking with others helping them bear their crosses.
After a few months of living Good Friday, I hit an all time spiritual low: my prayer life was in the gutter, I was nearing the edge of emotional, spiritual, and physical burnout. I felt like I had been through a warzone. Weighed down by the suffering, sorrow and needs of so many, I found that in my eagerness to care for others I had neglected my own needs.
This wasn’t what I had in mind when I became ordained. Good Friday is supposed to come before Easter. Not after! But sometimes, the holy week of our lives is shaped differently than the holy week of the church calendar.
So there I was in my Good Friday mode, thirsting for God. And like Jesus on the cross, I turned to the Psalms and found the following phrase cascading over my life, “For with you is the well of life, and in your light I see light.” (Psalm 36:9)
This short phrase became my prayer life over the next few months. This simple phrase was my food and drink every day. Immersing myself over and over again this short simple prayer became a well of life connecting my Good Friday to the joy of Easter once again. Drinking from these spiritual waters transformed the way I lived and experienced the world. This prayer became my Easter Vigil – the light of Christ shining through darkness and death, Noah’s ark holding me afloat in a world flooded in fear and chaos; Moses’ hand reaching out to hold onto while the waters of the sea parted and a new path towards freedom and healing emerged.
Dipping my life — a life renewed and immersed in prayer — dipping such a life back into that deep sea of suffering souls, I became more aware that these very souls were the ones who had the power to bring forth life and give growth. Being with the sick, the suffering, the dying, sharing in their journeys, listening to their stories is what made the Word of God come alive. Their seas of suffering rose up to become wells of living water where God dwelt. Their wisdom, their hope, their courage born in the face of suffering and death allowed me to look upon the face of Christ crucified and experience the risen Christ gazing back through their eyes.
Living this prayer among these Easter Vigil people taught me the true meaning of Christian discipleship. Following Christ is not just about being the love of Christ for others. If we try to be Christ all the time then we will feel the sorrows, the pain, the tragedy of the whole world. It’s not so much about being Christ, but about seeing Christ in all people and in all places. To walk the way of the cross together seeking deeper meaning and connection in our most vulnerable and painful places. To look upon the sea of suffering in every person and see a well of life in whose light lifts the world in hope and healing.
This holy week, we have descended into the chaos, evil, and darkness of the world. We have immersed ourselves in the well of life who is Jesus. We have drunk deeply from his sorrow, agony, and death on the cross. And out of his sea of suffering we encounter his living water of love rising up from the depths of darkness and death raising us to new life, freedom, and grace. Having drunk from the bright flowing waters of this joyful Eastertide, it is now our turn to share this well of living water with the world. To live our lives as living joyful alleluias: “For with you is the well of life, and in your light, the world shall see and know Christ, the morning star who knows no setting, whose light burns continually giving light to all.” (Exultet) Amen.